Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Plays of the NBA Playoffs, Vol. 2 (Nos. 10-1)

• Also see: Plays of the NBA Playoffs, Vol. 1 (Plays 25-11)

After a crazy stretch of a seven-game Finals running immediately into the Draft running immediately into the most fevered period of NBA free agency ever seen, things have finally seemed to calm down a bit, so we thought it was a good time to rewind back to the Plays of the Playoffs, 2010 edition. We're running this in two volumes: Vol. 1 (Plays 25-11) and Vol. 2 (Plays 10-1).

It was a bit of a strange playoff season in general, and the Plays of the Playoffs reflect that. The 2010 NBA Playoffs featured a lot of great individual performances more so than classic great plays. There wasn't the sheer volume of spectacular plays that we saw in 2009, but still, there was plenty to like. As always, these rankings are highly subjective - here are our Top 10:

10. Cavs v. Celtics, Game 1: Mo Williams With The... Dunk?!
Context matters when we pick our Plays of the Playoffs. Did Mo Williams' throw down a better dunk than what we saw from the likes of Dwyane Wade or Antawn Jamison in yesterday's edition? Probably not.

It was just so shocking to see Mo throw one down - his first dunk as a Cavalier - over Paul Pierce at the critical juncture of Game 1. That off-the-charts shock value made this play one of the postseason's most exciting to us. If you don't believe us, you can watch Mike Brown's priceless postgame reaction at the end of the clip.

9. Celtics v. Cavs, Game 4: Rondo Behind-The-Back Assist
Again with the context. Rondo's Dream Shake at no. 11 was probably a prettier pure basketball play, but this one was easily a better moment to us. Cleveland had climbed back from an 11-point deficit to tie Game 4 at 70 late in the third quarter, and seemed poised to take a 3-1 series lead.

Rajon Rondo got out on the fast break, but there was LeBron James looming behind like a shark, seeking his inevitable chasedown. At the perfect moment, Rondo used one of his trademark ball fakes to get LeBron flying, and then dropped the gorgeous behind-the-back pass to Tony Allen for the dunk and the "Garden" exploded. It sparked a huge Celtics run which tied the series. Rondo ended with a remarkable 29-18-13 triple-double and Boston never looked back - it was the pivotal moment of both teams' postseason.

8. Celtics v. Cavs, Game 6: Tony Allen Cocks It Back
What makes Tony Allen's dunk rate higher than guys like Farmar, D-Wade, Delfino & Jamison dunking on people's heads? It's all in the moment so beautifully freeze-framed in the clip below, when TA cocks the ball all the way back for some extra oomph before he drops it on Antawn.

7. Thunder v. Lakers, Game 3: Westbrook Dunks On All The Kardashians
If you wanted to argue that Russell Westbrook is the most explosive player in pro basketball today, I don't think we'd object. And I don't think Lamar Odom, Khloe, Kourtney, Kim or Bruce Jenner could, either, after this Westbrook rocket-ship crossover-and-dunk move which blew the roof off the Ford Center.

6. Magic v. Hawks, Game 1: Orlando End-To-End
It's hard to find two highlight-reel-quality plays in a span of five seconds, but here you go, as Dwight Howard swallows the Josh Smith shot with one hand, starting a very fast break which ends quickly with a half-court alley-oop from Jason Williams to Mickael Pietrus.

5. Celtics v. Lakers, Game 5: The Rajon Rondo Show
Reviewing and compiling all these clips was a reminder that the most fascinating player of the 2010 NBA Playoffs had to be Rajon Rondo. It wasn't just what he did - putting his stamp on multiple series as a nightly triple-double threat - it was also how he did it. He has multiple plays on this countdown, but they're never plays of the standard dunk/block/buzzer-beater variety. With some combination of his freakish athleticism and oddly-proportioned frame, coupled with his uncanny instincts for employing fakes and finding unorthodox angles for passing and shooting lanes, Rondo just seems to make plays that you haven't really seen before.

Game 5 of the NBA Finals was probably Rondo's crowning moment in this regard. He made three stunning plays in the midst of helping Boston take a 3-2 series lead. We'd say the best one was this wild, game-sealing play in which the Celtics were harrowingly close to a disastrous turnover before Rondo reached back for a tough catch and somehow also converted the finish, all on a full sprint.

Not too long before that, Rondo made the type of play that 6-1 players just aren't supposed to make, sneaking in and jumping over Odom and Bryant to tip in an offensive rebound in traffic.

Also, don't sleep on the crazy-angle reverse layup he converted in the halfcourt offense in the first half. How does he even see these angles?

4. Lakers v. Celtics, Game 6: Shannon Brown To The Sky
The dude is 6-4, and his head is at the rim to complete an alley-oop in the Finals. Do you really need anything else?

Also, we'd like to tip our cap to the play which some said was possibly the best missed dunk of all-time, when Brown nearly jumped over Jason Richardson in Game 1 of Western Conference Finals.

3. Cavs v. Bulls, Game 2: LeBron Welcomes James Johnson To The Playoffs
You may not like anything that LeBron James has done since May 11, and we can understand where you're coming from, but that doesn't change our opinion that this ferocious slam was the best dunk of the playoffs. Welcome to the postseason, rook.

2. Celtics v. Magic, Game 3: Rondo Does The Hustle
We debated putting this play at no. 1 for quite a while, as it really defined Boston's improbable run to the brink of a championship: the Celtics consistently played with more heart and craftiness than their opponents, certainly in the Eastern Conference portion of the proceeding.

On this iconic play, Rajon Rondo outhustles Jason Williams for the ball, converts a crossover-and-bank-shot, and the "Garden" goes crazy. Celtics playoffs in a nutshell.

A more artistic view of play no. 2, if you prefer:

1. Lakers v. Suns, Game 5: Ron-Ron Saves The Day
Our choice for the no. 1 play of the 2010 NBA Playoffs is Ron Artest's game-winning putback in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. It was one of the best and most dramatic games of these playoffs, as the Lakers were in danger of facing an elimination game on the road with the score tied 101.

In our preseason predictions last year, we picked the Lakers to lose in the Finals mainly because we doubted Ron Artest's mental toughness, and indeed, with an ill-advised shot early in the shot clock with about a minute left in Game 5, he seemed to be putting L.A. in jeopardy.

Artest atoned for any errors, though, with his tough, smart, game-winning play. Reading Kobe's airball, Artest bulled his way past Jason Richardson for the offensive rebound, then knocked in the putback with a soft touch from a tough angle to beat the buzzer and send Staples Center into a frenzy.

To give credit where it's due, let's also recognize Jason Richardson's game-tying three off the backboard directly before Artest's heroics (sorry for the weird aspect ratio on the clip - it's the best I could find):

And, of course, we can't reference Artest's game-winning shot without noting that it sparked one of the most memorable postgame quotes of the playoffs, as well:

Finally, we also can't pass up the opportunity to run Ron-Ron's postgame interview after Game 7 of the Finals, in which he made a key three-pointer to put the Lakers up 6 with a minute left, and then thanked Dr. Santhi, among others:

There's no possible way to top thanking Dr. Santhi, so it's time to close the Plays of the Playoffs for 2010. Thanks for reading and watching.

• Also see: Plays of the NBA Playoffs, Vol. 1 (Plays 25-11)


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