NBA All-Decade 2000s: Best of the Playoffs
When David Stern memorably handed over the Larry O’Brien Trophy to "Lakers Alternate Governor" Joey Buss back in June, he effectively closed the book on the decade of the 2000s in the NBA, as the next championship will be won in 2010.
With that in mind, we wanted to take a look back at some of the highlights of the NBA decade. In the fourth and final installment of this NBA All-Decade series, we look back at the best of the NBA Playoffs from the decade.
Previously in our NBA All-Decade series, we have explored our choices for the best players (MVP: Tim Duncan), best teams (best franchise: L.A. Lakers), and biggest underachievers (MVP: Baron Davis) of the 2000s. We've got one more before we say goodbye to the 2000s: today, we highlight the decade's best moments, performances and series from the greatest sporting event in the world, the NBA Playoffs. Let's get right into it:
15 MEMORABLE PLAYOFF MOMENTS
1. Big Shot Bob at the Buzzer (2002 West Finals, Game 4)
Robert Horry with the dagger of the decade, hitting a three to give L.A. a 100-99 Game 4 win over Sacramento. The Lakers mounted a methodical, inexorable rally from a 24-point first-half deficit to take their first lead since 2-0 on Horry's shot, a true heartbreaker for the Kings, who let a chance for a 3-1 series lead slip through their hands. Best game of a great series, in our opinion.
Great call by Marv, too: "Horry... for the win... Yes!" Just in the way he says one word - "win" - he captures the essence of the play: Holy crap, it looked like the Kings had dodged OT at worst, and now they could lose the game with this one open shot by a storied clutch shooter.
2. Big Shot Fish: Point Four (2004 West Semis, Game 5)
Do you remember that there were actually three late clutch shots in this one? Kobe hits a jumper to put L.A. up one, then Duncan knocks in the impossible leaner from 20 before Derek Fisher delivers the "0.4" shot for which he is famous. See all three shots below
P.S. I love that a YouTube search for "0.4" returns the Fisher shot.
3. LeBron at the Buzzer (2009 East Finals, Game 2)
No, LeBron's big shot didn't lead to a championship, but it ranks high for degree of difficulty, with just one second left, and for turning a 95-93 defeat to Orlando into a 96-95 victory. A thrilling moment, and oh yeah, another great call by Marv.
Also, an all-time great local-news reaction from this Cleveland crew:
4. Baron Lowers the Boom Dizzle (2007 West Semis, Game 3)
Dunk of the decade. Gotta bring it hard against a good defender like Kirilenko, and Baron Davis did just that. Love Hubie's comment: "Hello." Love the goofy, T-drawing, pull-the-jersey-up celebration. Love it all. Part of one magic month at Oracle.
5. Big Shot Bob Does It Again (2005 NBA Finals, Game 5)
Oh, Sheed. You can't leave Robert Horry. Big Shot Bob gives the Spurs a 96-95 OT win in a decisive Game 5, giving San Antonio a 3-2 series lead in a Finals that would go the distance. It was a turn-back-the-clock game for Horry, who also had a big lefty slam in OT.
6. Tayshaun Chases Down Reggie (2004 East Finals, Game 2)
One of the great chasedown blocks in basketball history. Tayshaun Prince with a stunning, gorgeous block on Reggie Miller to secure a 69-67 lead in the final minute of Game 2, a key road victory for the Pistons, who would go on to surprise a Pacers team which won seven more games than Detroit in the regular season.
7. Quintessential Kobe-Shaq Oop (2000 West Finals, Game 7)
I don't know that this is anywhere close to the best alley-oop of the decade, but it is certainly the most iconic, and possibly the most important: Kobe and Shaq, working together, secure Game 7 against the Blazers as they near the completion of scaling Championship Mountain.
8. Big Shot Fish Does It Again (& Again) (2009 NBA Finals, Game 4)
Down three with 10.8 seconds left, L.A. has to be going to Kobe, right? Not necessarily, not when there's another proven clutch shooter like Derek Fisher on the floor. The old vet sends Game 4 to OT, and then hits the game-winner in the final minute of the extra session, giving L.A. a 3-1 series lead, and sending Kobe & Fish on to their fourth championship together.
9. T-Mac Scales Mt. Bradley (2005 West First Round, Game 2)
Tracy McGrady posterizes 7-6 Shawn Bradley. "He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!" Nuff said.
10. Kobe Sinks The Suns (2006 West First Round, Game 4)
Two plays here. First, Kobe hits a difficult layup to tie the game at the end of regulation. Then, he gives the Lakers a 99-98 win with his weaving buzzer-beater at the end of OT.
11. Kobe Sends the Finals to OT (2004 NBA Finals, Game 2)
It turned out to be the only Finals win for a heavily-favored Lakers team in 2004, but it was still sweet. Kobe drains the long three with seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie things up.
12. Indiana's Mr. Clutch Delivers Again (2002 East First Round, Game 5)
Two spectacular clutch plays at the end of Reggie Miller's career in a losing effort, as the upstart 8-seed Pacers took the 1-seed Nets to double OT in a decisive Game 5 in 2002 (the last year of best-of-5 first rounders).
First, Reggie hits a miraculous spinning 40-footer - "He banked it in!" - to send the game to OT. Then, he sends it to a second OT with a two-handed dunk right down Main Street of the New Jersey defense - a shocking play considering how rarely Miller dunked in traffic at that late stage of his career.
13. Joakim Noah Coast-to-Coast (2009 East First Round, Game 6)
So many plays to choose from in the thrilling Celtics-Bulls series from 2009. We'll go with Noah's steal and coast-to-coast run for the dunk and foul to help win Game 6 in 3OT - a supremely athletic play for a 7-footer.
14. Tim Duncan for Three?! (2008 West First Round, Game 1)
After the Suns had dealt with so much adversity in playoff series vs. the Spurs through the years - an injury to Joe Johnson, a cut to Steve Nash's nose which wouldn't stop bleeding, suspensions to Amare and Diaw - what could be next? How about Tim Duncan hitting his first three-pointer of the season to tie Game 1 at the end of OT, leading to a Spurs win in 2OT. Phoenix would never recover in the series.
15. Big Shot Fish Encore (2007 West Semis, Game 2)
One of the more emotional plays of the decade, Derek Fisher hits the jumper after a long, long day. Fish flew back to Salt Lake City from New York, where he was seeking treatment for his young daughter's rare form of eye cancer, arriving in the middle of the game before knocking down big shots in the fourth quarter and OT.
15 MEMORABLE PLAYOFF SERIES
1. Mavericks 4, Spurs 3 (2006 West Semis)
Stands with series like Celtics-Sixers 1981 and Celtics-Lakers 1984 as one the greatest playoff series ever played. A seven-game donnybrook between two 60+-win teams, played at a high level of quality, and with five of the seven games within two points at the end of regulation. Dirk Nowitzki
2. Lakers 4, Kings 3 (2002 West Finals)
The best rivalry of the decade, a dramatic California contrast between the Hollywood Lakers and the Cowtown Kings from up north. The last four of these seven games went down to the wire, including an OT Game 7 which L.A. won on the road at Arco as the Kings couldn't come through down the stretch. Because of all the compelling storylines, this one might be no. 1, if not for the atrocious officiating in Game 6 which marred the series.
3. Warriors 4, Mavericks 2 (2007 West First Round)
Yes, there were more competitive and more important series, but nothing was as fun and as exhilarating as 8-seed Golden State's shocking run-and-gun upset of 67-win Dallas, as Nellie got his revenge against Cuban. The crowds at Oracle Arena - taking full advantage of their only playoff action in the last 15 years - were among the most raucous of the decade.
4. Lakers 4, Blazers 3 (2000 West Finals)
A great heavyweight fight of a series between two deep teams who were clearly the best two teams in the league in 1999-2000. After shocking L.A. with a blowout win at Staples in Game 2, the Blazers blew a golden opportunity at home in Game 3. Still, Portland rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, only to famously blow a 15-point lead with a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 7.
5. Celtics 4, Bulls 3 (2009 East First Round)
We discussed this series and placed it in historical perspective back in May. In and of itself, it was certainly a classic, with 7 overtime periods in 7 games, and a remarkable 108 lead changes overall. Lots of thrilling moments, but Celtics-Bulls is held back a little just because it didn't really affect the course of the '09 Playoffs as a whole.
6. Lakers 4, Pacers 2 (2000 NBA Finals)
It wasn't a great decade for Finals, but we think this was the best of the lot. There were two outstanding games - Game 4, in which Kobe Bryant's OT heroics on a bum ankle gave L.A. the win, and Game 6, in which the Lakers clinched the series with a 116-111 win. Overarching everything was Shaquille O'Neal, turning in the most dominant performance of the decade.
7. Celtics 4, Lakers 2 (2008 NBA Finals)
Yeah, this one is probably bumped up a little bit because of the history of the league's most storied rivalry, but there were still some compelling games. In Game 1, Paul Pierce emerged from injury to lead Boston to a tone-setting win. In Game 4, the C's came back from a 24-point deficit at Staples to take a 3-1 lead. And even though Games 2 and 6 were blowouts, they were fun for Celtics/neutral fans because of the spirited throwback atmosphere at the "New Garden".
8. Pistons 4, Heat 3 (2005 East Finals)
A competitive back-and-forth series between two top teams, with an exciting Game 7. Unfortunately for Miami, Dwyane Wade was not at full strength for Game 7, which may have cost the Heat a chance to go back-to-back.
9. Sixers 4, Raptors 3 (2001 East Semis)
There were seven 50-point playoff games in the 2000s, and three of them were posted in this series, two by Allen Iverson, and one by Vince Carter. Philly won Game 7 88-87 after a last-second miss by Vince, who had spent the morning in Chapel Hill picking up his college degree before flying to Philly.
10. Suns 4, Mavericks 2 (2005 West Semis)
After Dallas essentially allowed Steve Nash to sign with Phoenix the previous summer, Nash and the Suns knocked off the Mavs in a six-game series which showcased two of the best offensive teams in the league, highlighted by a 130-126 OT shootout in Game 6.
11. Mavericks 3, Jazz 2 (2001 West First Round)
Classic matchup of the new kids on the block (Nash, Nowitzki, Finley) overcoming the old veteran legends (Stockton, Malone) trying to keep it going one more time.
12. Suns 4, Lakers 3 (2006 West First Round)
Very exciting series in which the favored Suns rallied from a 3-1 deficit, included an OT Game 4 (featuring Kobe's heroics mentioned above) and an OT Game 6 (in which Tim Thomas saved the day for Phoenix). Would rank higher if not for Kobe's disappearing act which completely took the air out of Game 7.
13. Suns 4, Clippers 3 (2006 West Semis)
Another entertaining series featuring the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns against a fun Clips team with Sam-I-Am Cassell and Elton Brand. The Clippers had a chance to take control of the series, but lost Game 5 on the road in double OT. Part of an amazing playoff stretch which also included seven-game series between the Mavs-Spurs and Cavs-Pistons running concurrently - two weeks of nightly compelling drama.
14. Sixers 4, Bucks 3 (2001 East Finals)
No team this decade played harder than the 2001 Sixers, and the Cassell-Allen-Big Dog Bucks were an entertaining unit in their own right. A definitive performance for Iverson with a 44-6-7 in Game 7, after scoring 46 points in leading a frantic rally that came up just short in Game 6.
15. T-wolves 4, Kings 3 (2004 West Semis)
Narrowly beats out Mavs-Kings 2003 (always a great matchup in the early part of the decade) only because C-Webb went down with a knee injury in that one. T-wolves-Kings 2004 featured a top-notch KG v C-Webb matchup, which was highlighted by KG's tour-de-force Game 7.
20 MEMORABLE PLAYOFF PERFORMANCES
1. Shaq's Dominance (2000-02 NBA Finals)
In all of the NBA decade retrospectives, we feel like one thing may be getting lost a little bit: there was no one, at any time this decade, who was as dominant a player as Shaq was during the 2000-02 NBA Finals. Duncan is the clear choice for player of the decade, but no one was close to Shaq at his peak. Here are his numbers from those Finals, in which he repeatedly made top defenders look like little kids:
- 2000: 38.0 pts, 16.7 reb, 2.3 ast, 2.67 blk, .611 FG%
- 2001: 33.0 pts, 15.8 reb, 4.8 ast, 3.40 blk, .573 FG%
- 2002: 36.3 pts, 12.3 reb, 3.8 ast, 2.75 blk, .595 FG%
2. LeBron’s 25 Straight (2007 East Finals, Game 5)
We did a whole post on this one at the time. LeBron James announced his playoff presence with authority when he scored Cleveland's last 25 points, leading to a 109-107 road win in 2OT which propelled the Cavs to an upset series win. Here are LBJ's numbers overall for Game 5:
- 48 pts, 9 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl, 18-33 FG
3. Duncan's Near Quadruple Double (2003 NBA Finals, Game 6)
How does one end a championship run in style? How about with a 21-20-10-8 block performance, as Tim Duncan did in Game 6 in 2003 to help send David Robinson into retirement with a ring as he won a second Finals MVP for himself. The Twin Towers went on to deservedly share Sports Illustrated's Sportsmen of the Year honors.
4. D-Wade Goes Off (2006 NBA Finals)
Dwyane Wade averaged a 35-8-4, plus 3 stl, in leading Miami to a championship-winning comeback from a 2-0 series deficit. His 33.8 PER for the series is the best number for the Finals since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
5. Iverson's Signature Game (2001 NBA Finals, Game 1)
The high-water mark of Allen Iverson's MVP dream season was Game 1 of the 2001 Finals, when he posted a 48-5-6-5 steal line as Philly shocked the Lakers in L.A. in OT.
6. Pierce v LeBron (2008 East Semis, Game 7)
It was a junior, junior Bird vs. Dominique for the 2000s, Paul Pierce scored 41 points on 13-23 FG as he outdueled LeBron James, who scored 45 on 14-29 FG as the 45-win Cavs took the 66-win Celtics to the brink in Boston. The C's held on for a 97-92 win in the closest call of their championship run.
7. The Answer v Vince (2001 East Semis)
As we mentioned above, the Sixers-Raptors 2001 series featured three of the seven 50-point playoff games of the 2000s, including 54 for AI in Game 2, 50 for Vince in Game 3 and 52 for the Answer in Game 5. In Game 7, Iverson dished out 16 assists to go with 21 points in the series-winner for Philly.
The series stat lines:
Iverson: 33.7 pts, 4.4 reb, 6.9 ast, 3.1 stl
Carter: 30.4 pts, 6.0 reb, 5.6 ast, 2.0 blk
8. Dirk's 50 (2006 West Finals, Game 5)
Dirk Nowitzki made his mark as probably the most efficient player of the decade, and he was never more so than in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals vs. Phoenix, which gave Dallas a 3-2 series lead on its way to its only Finals appearance. Dirk scored 50 points, as part of a stat line that looked like this:
- 50 pts, 12 reb, 3 ast, 14-26 FG, 17-18 FT, 5-6 3PT, 1 TO
9. Boston's Big Comeback, Vol. I (2002 East Finals, Game 3)
With Boston down 74-53 to the Nets after three quarters, Antoine Walker gave his teammates a tongue-lashing in the huddle. The Celtics responded with a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback, outscoring New Jersey 41-16 en route to a 94-90 win, with Paul Pierce scoring 19 of his 28 in the fourth.
10. KG's Game 7 Masterpiece (2004 West Semis, Game 7)
In his MVP year of 2004, Kevin Garnett lifted Minnesota to its first conference finals with his all-around brilliance in Game 7 of the Conference Semis vs. Sacramento:
- 32 pts, 21 reb, 2 ast, 5 blk, 4 stl
11. Kobe Emerges on The Big Stage (2000 NBA Finals, Game 4)
Kobe Bryant made his first mark on the Finals in Game 4 in 2000. He had missed Game 3 and most of Game 2 with a sprained ankle, but essentially won Game 4 for L.A. with 8 points in OT after Shaq had fouled out, a crucial road win which gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead.
12. LeBron Off The Charts (2009 NBA Playoffs)
The Cavaliers came up short in the 2009 NBA Playoffs, but it wasn't because of LeBron James, who was off-the-charts good with a mind-boggling 37.4 PER for the entirety of Cleveland's playoff run. Here were his overall playoff numbers:
- 35.3 pts, 9.1 reb, 7.3 ast, 1.6 stl, 0.9 blk, .510 FG%, .333 3PT, .749 FT%
13. Kobe Takes Over: 2001 (2001 NBA Playoffs)
Not to be outdone by the 2001 Iverson-Vince duel noted above, Kobe Bryant had huge back-to-back performances during L.A.'s 2001 blitz through the playoffs. In Game 4 of the Conference Semis vs. SAC, Bryant had 48 pts, 16 reb, 3 ast on 15-29 FG as L.A. swept the Kings out of the playoffs. Then, in Game 1 of a highly anticipated Conference Finals vs. the Spurs, Kobe posted a 45-10-3 line on 19-35 FG as the Lakers won by 14 in San Antonio, setting the tone for another crushing sweep.
14. The Baron Davis Explosion (2007 NBA Playoffs)
This was the headline story in our recent post on the biggest underachievers of the decade. As we wrote there: "You saw it, I saw it, the world saw it: the 2007 Playoffs, a glorious 11-game run in which Baron Davis was completely, utterly unstoppable on both ends of the court. He averaged 25.3 pts, 4.5 reb, 6.5 ast and 2.91 stl on .513 FG% in that postseason. It was really one of the more dominant displays of point-guard play that I've seen, with a box-score production level of 26.8 PER in a career which never topped 21.0 in a single season (and is 18.1 for his career) or 21.4 in another postseason." Unfortunately, it was an aberration rather than the norm, but it was a hell of a fun ride while it lasted, highlighted by the Warriors' big upset over Dallas.
15. Nashy's Revenge (2005 West Semis)
Nash was massive in the 2005 Conference Semifinal grudge match vs. Dallas - the team which had let him go the previous summer - in which he put up a 39-9-12 on 14-24 FG/5-8 3PT in the clinching Game 6, and this stat line for the series overall:
- 30.3 pts, 6.5 reb, 12 ast, .550 FG%, .419 3PT%, .962 FT%
16. Boston's Big Comeback, Vol. II (2008 NBA Finals, Game 4)
In the pivotal Game 4 against the Lakers in L.A., the Celtics trailed by 24 at one point in the first half, and by 20 midway through the third quarter, before Boston's Big 3 of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett spearheaded a big comeback with inspired play on both ends. Boston ended up with a demoralizing 97-91 win at Staples which gave them a 3-1 series lead.
17. Steve Kerr Unthawed (2003 West Finals, Game 6)
At the end of his career, Steve Kerr was a little-used player in 2002-03 - he played just 46 minutes during the Spurs' playoff run that year. But he delivered when Gregg Popovich called his number in Game 6 of the 2003 West Finals vs. Dallas. Kerr knocked down four out of four second-half threes to help key a Spurs rally from 13 points down. Kerr later said to call him Ted Williams because they had to unfreeze him to get him into the game, because he had played so little.
18. The Truth Lives (2008 NBA Finals, Game 1)
After suffering a knee injury and heading back to the dressing room, Paul Pierce made a dramatic return to the court in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals. The Truth knocked down back-to-back threes at the end of the third quarter which gave Boston a lead it never relinquished as the C's got a leg up in the race to their 17th banner.
19. J-Kidd Leads Jersey to the Finals (2002 East Finals)
The Nets had experienced little success in their NBA years before Jason Kidd led them to the Finals in 2002, averaging a triple-double line of 17.5 pts, 11.2 reb, 10.2 ast in the Eastern Conference Finals series vs. Boston in the process, including a 15-13-13 in the clinching Game 6.
20. Kobe Takes Over: 2009 (2009 NBA Playoffs)
As we wrote in June, Kobe Bryant's 2009 playoffs were possibly his most impressive postseason statistically. More important, Bryant always seemed to step up when the Lakers needed him most.
Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for reading. Let's get the 2010s going.