Witness – Five of the Best Playoff Performances in NBA History

With Chris Bosh, LeBron and DWade combining for one of those, “greatest ever performances” last night it got me thinking about other incredible NBA feats I have seen and remember.  In my life there have been some pretty incredible athletic feats – many of which were detailed in a previous post entitled: The Greatest Performances I Have Ever Seen (in which I welcomed Denard Robinson to a very, very select club).  This is slightly different because it is, well, basketball oriented.  Only the Playoffs will count and only my recollections can be used to fill in the gaps – so please do not kill me for the lack of exact stats.


Stone Face LeBron makes his first appearance – The stakes could not have been higher: a legacy was on the line, a team was on the line and never before has one player faced the scrutiny that LBJ was under when he faced down with Boston in Game Six in 2012.  For him, in the wake of two playoff collapses everything was on the line (silly when you remember the fact that he dragged objectively the worst team to make the NBA Finals there when his Cavs made it to the big show).  The pressure was intense and the media was going out of their mind…and then he showed up.  Stone Face LeBron.  On the bench before the game was a guy we had never seen before; a guy who was not interacting with his teammates but was rather so in the zone it was absolutely ridiculous.  He stood apart – a man absolutely possessed by what he had to accomplish.  Then, with more weight on his shoulders than he had any right to carry, the best player in the world delivered a stunning performance that left no doubt he firmly belongs in the Pantheon of Greatest Players Ever.  As Bill Simmons wrote, he essentially assassinated the Boston Celtics Big Three that night.  Absolutely killed them – and everyone else in the arena.  The numbers are mind blowing: 45 points, 11 boards on nearly 75% shooting.  Every time he shot it went in.  He could not miss.  His face never changed the whole game.  He played angry, focused and with an intensity rarely seen since Jordan.  He single-handedly won the series and slaughtered the Celtics.  Instantly his doubters were done and he had cemented himself as an all-time great.  In that moment the title was essentially won – when he wanted to, no one could stop LeBron.  In the playoffs we have seen further appearences by Stone Face LeBron (usually in a must win situation) and when he shows up the Heat win, period.   

MJ closes out the Jazz – His final game was not his best, but for me it is one of the most memorable performances he ever had.  The title had to be won that night, and MJ used guile, guts and experience to do so.  His Bulls were absolutely running on fumes and yet, to me, there was never a doubt that they would win the title.  They had to – they had MJ and he never lost.  In this one the shots were certainly not falling – and yet he still finished with more than 40 points in a close out game of his second threepeat.  How?  By getting to the line an insane amount of times.  Jordan knew he had to attack the basket and he did so with an absolute vengeance.  The final moments are indelibly inked in my mind: layup, steal, push and then jumper to seal it.  Was missing that shot ever any option?  No way.  Not for Michael Jordan.  Never.

Robert Horry…every freaking time – For a while during the 2010-2012 seasons I feared Derek Fisher would suddenly turn into the new Robert Horry: a man who lived to take the biggest of shots.  No player has ever scared me more than Robert Horry.  Every time he ever lined up a shot in a big moment it went in.  Every freaking time.  The man could not miss when it mattered (occasionally he could rarely make shots when it didn’t) and I will never forget the fear I felt when he got open.  The man worked off screens like a maniac and when he got the ball, and always seemed to be open, I always remember screaming “Nooooooo!” because, inevitably the ball was going in.  Horry simply did not miss; not as a Spur, a Rocket or a Laker.  Horry may not have ever been a superstar, but he left me shaking my head in disbelief and anguish more than anyone else ever has, and likely ever will.

Kobe goes 6 for 24 and still….nope, just kidding.

Grandma’s 4 Point Miracle – Larry Johnson is a guy who injures robbed of true greatness, but he will live forever in my mind due to his ridiculous 4 point play to beat Indiana.  The Knicks were down three, had to get some sort of miracle shot to tie and ended up winning the game.  Period.  The best part: LJ’s reaction to being fouled and watching his chucked three go in.  He runs all the way to the free throw line on the other side of the court before suddenly realizing that he still has to hit a free throw.  The play is even more remarkable than I remember, because with 11 seconds left, Johnson had to fight off two defenders, get loose and then threw up a shot with his legs splaying in two totally different directions.  And it went in.  It went in.  There have been miracle, chucked up shots before but this one is different, mostly because I have never seen anything like it since.  No one else has won a game with an insane four point play.  Simply, absolutely, totally incredible.  Sure they got smoked by the Spurs but it is all good.  Larry Johnson and his three point play live on four-ever.

DWade does it all – When Shaq left LA in a huff to team with young, emerging Wade in Miami it seemed like a match made in heaven: especially when Wade carried the Heat to their first title with one of the most incredible performances in Finals history.  Sure it is slightly tainted by the huge amount of free throws the Heat shot, but you cannot diminish the fact that Wade scored nearly 36 points per game and carried the Heat to the title.  He was unstoppable going to the basket, and his finish around the rim was breathtaking.  Shaq had some incredible performances during the Lakers three year run, but none were anywhere near as memorable as that of Wade.  Tainted or not, his series against Dallas remains a testament to his abilities and understanding of what it takes to win basketball’s ultimate prize.

Who did I miss?  The Twin Towers almost made this list but what Kobe performance or Paul Pierce gem should be here?


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