There is nothing like NBA playoff basketball. While the most logical of fans would argue that the numerous incredible moments that the playoffs have generated is the simple result of putting the best basketball players in the world against each other in an extended playoff format that puts everything on the line, I’ve always preferred to describe the seemingly impossible amount of unbelievable playoffs fans have been blessed with over the years as the result of pure magic. It might not be a logical argument, but there are times when it’s the only one that could possibly describe what we are seeing.
As I was watching Steph Curry amaze the world yet against via his 17-point overtime performance against the Trail Blazers in the second round, I couldn’t help but think back on the history of incredible NBA playoff games gone by. While the playoffs tend to be remembered in terms of series, or even incredible moments and player performances, it has always been the individual games that have stood out to me the most. The increased stakes that come with the NBA Playoffs lends games an atmosphere of tension that no regular season match-up could hope to achieve.
A good NBA Playoff may contain a dominating performance, impossible moment or single point finish, but the very best NBA Playoff games usually include all of those characteristics and more. They leave you breathless, shaking your head in disbelief at what you just witnessed. The best way to often describe them is as indescribable and they are often defined by a feeling they leave you with that cannot, itself, be defined.
Though there is shockingly no shortage of games over the years that meet these seemingly impossible standards, these are the top 15 most unbelievable NBA Playoff games of them all.
15 15. Game 7 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 2010 NBA Finals
14 14. Game 6 - Philadelphia 76ers vs. Chicago Bulls - 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
13 13. Game 7 - Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks - 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals
12 12. Game 5 - New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers - 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
11 11. Game 6 - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philidelphia 76ers - 1980 NBA Finals
10 10. Game 7 - New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 1970 NBA Finals
9 9. Game 5 - Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz - 1997 NBA Finals
8 8. Game 4 - Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls - 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
7 7. Game 5 - Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons - 2007 Eastern Conference Finals
6 6. Game 2 - Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls - 1986 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Sometimes you must stop and really appreciate just how dominant a player Michael Jordan truly was. If you should ever find yourself in such a moment, there is perhaps no better reminder of that fact than watching this game. Even though Jordan’s Bulls were outmatched by the Celtics in nearly every respect, there was nobody in Boston that night that could stop Jordan.
5 5. Game 7 - Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers - 1965 Eastern Conference Finals
4 4. Game 4 - Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 1987 NBA Finals
3 3. Game 5 - Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons - 1987 Eastern Conference Finals
Before the Celtics could get to that legendary 1987 finals series against the Lakers, they would first need to find a way to get past Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons. Given that Detroit had a knack at this time for giving the Celtics fits, that was going to be easier said than done. Although it feels somehow wrong to suggest that one game somehow trumps them all, Larry Bird was at his absolute best on this night as he hung 36 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists on Detroit.
2 2. Game 5 - Boston Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns - 1976 NBA Finals
1 1. Game 6 - Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz - 1998 NBA Finals
What do you look for in a memorable basketball game? Big names? Big stakes? Incredible performances and climatic moments? Well, this is the game that had all of that and more. Utah was down 3-2 going into this one and came out swinging against a Bulls team that looked outmatched for the first time in a long time. The Bulls just couldn’t keep up with the onslaught that Karl Malone and John Stockton were laying upon them, but did manage to pull within a single point of the Jazz as the game was coming to a close.
It was then that Michael Jordan hit perhaps the most famous shot in the history of basketball and ended his career as a Chicago Bull in the most dramatic way possible.
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