With the 2021 NBA Playoffs kicking off this week, it’s only right that we take a look at the Top 5 memorable NBA playoff moments since 2000. And before anyone says something: this list does NOT include any moments from the NBA Finals. That list will come out closer to the NBA Finals. So with that out of the way, let’s get into it.
Top 5 Memorable NBA Playoff Moments Since 2000
Honorable Mention: Jayson Tatum’s Dunk on LeBron James (2018 Eastern Conference Finals)
This dunk was absolutely absurd. Honestly, I made an honorable mention just for this dunk. Yes, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had the last laugh as they won the series and returned to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
But the highlight of the game was this Jayson Tatum dunk. As a kid, Tatum idolized LeBron. The confidence of the rookie Tatum to go up and try to posterize his hero (and best player in the league) in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals is remarkable. This set the tone for how well Tatum has progressed in his career so far.
5. Los Angeles Lakers’ comeback win over Portland Trail Blazers (2000 Western Conference Finals, Game 7)
Down 13 heading into the 4th quarter, it looked bleak for the Lakers. Both teams were looking to make their first NBA Finals appearance since the early 90s in this Game 7. The Lakers were on the verge of losing three straight games for the first time all year.
So, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal did what Kobe and Shaq do - they took over. The duo combined for 18 of the team’s 31 points in the final quarter while holding the Trail Blazers to 13 points. This comeback is most memorable for Kobe’s alley-oop to Shaq to seal the victory.
Without this comeback, the Lakers don’t three-peat. Who knows if the Lakers would even become the dynasty they turned into in the 2000s.
4. Damian Lillard’s Game-Winner Over Paul George (2019 Western Conference Round 1, Game 5)
I’m truly convinced Damian Lillard is the sole reason for Russell Westbrook and Paul George being traded away in the offseason. The shot AND the moments after were all too cold.
With the game tied at 115 and the ball with time winding down, Lillard was built for this moment. He did something similar to James Harden and the Houston Rockets back in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Lillard waved his whole team off, calling for an iso situation on George. Then, from 37 feet out, Lillard put up the long three over George for the win. After the shot, he waved the Thunder goodbye and had one of the coldest stares of all time.
After the game, George said, “I don’t care what anybody says; that’s a bad shot." Lillard finished the game with 50 points and was 10-of-18 from deep, including the game-winner. I think anyone would’ve given Lillard the green light in that moment.
3. Derek Fisher’s Game-Winner vs San Antonio Spurs (2004 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5)
So many things make this shot so legendary. Derek Fisher shouldn’t have had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. This team featured Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. Fisher getting the ball is just a happy accident. He also got this shot off in 0.4 seconds. Fisher had no time to get in his full shooting moment. This was a catch-and-shoot moment to a tee. I don’t think he even had time to look at the basket.
So why were the Los Angeles Lakers inbounding the ball with such little time? Well, that’s because just seconds before, Tim Duncan hit a fadeaway circus jumper over Shaq, who was tightly defending him. Fisher’s game-winner gave the Lakers a 3-2 series lead heading home for Game 6, changing the moment of the entire series.
2. LeBron James Takes Over vs Boston Celtics (2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 6)
The Miami Heat were in a must-win situation after falling short to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. The Celtics won Games 3 and 4 and stole Game 5 in Miami to take a crucial 3-2 series lead over the Heat’s Big 3.
With his back up against the wall, LeBron had one of the greatest playoff performances of all time, putting up 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 73.1% from the field. The Heat won that game 98-79, forcing a Game 7 back in Miami, in which they won to take the series.
This game became another notch to LeBron’s legacy as one of the best to ever step on the court. In the series, LeBron averaged 33.6 points per game and 11 rebounds per game.
1. Kawhi Leonard’s Series-Winner vs Philadelphia 76ers (2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7)
This is the greatest shot in NBA Playoffs history (excluding NBA Finals). Not here to argue about it. In Game 7, with it tied up 90-90, Toronto had a chance to win the game. Kawhi Leonard received the inbound with 4.2 seconds on the clock. Being defended by Ben Simmons, Leonard moved to the corner, where Joel Embiid picked him up defensively. Over Embiid, Leonard put up the game-winner to send the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals as time expired.
It felt like a lifetime from the moment Leonard let go of the ball to when it actually went in. This also led to one of the coldest photos in playoff history. To make it feel more incredible: this was the first game-winning field goal at the buzzer in a Game 7 in NBA Playoffs history. Leonard would eventually lead the Raptors to their first ever NBA Championship.
Thanks for reading The Game Day’s Top 5 Memorable NBA Playoff Moments Since 2000. Be sure to check out our 2021 NBA Championship Winner Odds & Bet Picks and 2021 NBA Finals MVP Picks: Odds, Predictions & Best Bets.