NBA Playoff Memories: A Look Back at our Favorite Moments

The NBA playoffs are cranking into high gear. After a tepid start to the first round, most of the match-ups quickly gained steam. Two first round series went the full 7 games (Toronto/Indiana & Miami/Charlotte) while two other series went 6 games (Atlanta/Boston & Los Angeles/Portland). First round teams that lost, combined to win 12 games this season, versus a combined 9 games last year. While the first round series were generally competitive (outside of Spurs/Grizzlies, Thunders/Mavs & Warriors/Rockets), the second round has been even more compelling.

While we continue to dive deeper into the cauldron of the 2016 NBA playoffs, the Back of the Jersey crew wanted to examine several questions from the last 15+ years’ worth of playoffs. What’s our favorite memory of the quickly dwindling active players from the 90’s? Who’s our favorite NBA champion since 2000? Who’s the best player since 2000 to never win an NBA title? We address these questions and more in our latest NBA post.

What’s your lasting memory of one of the players still playing (as of 2016) who was drafted in the 1990’s?

The candidates: Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Andre Miller, Jason Terry & Kobe Bryant.

Jim: The guy who stands out on this list is Andre Miller. The other 7 guys drafted in the 90’s are surefire Hall of Famers (outside of Jason Terry). When we compiled this short list of guys who are still playing (as of 2015-2016), Miller stood out as the anomaly on the list. ‘The Professor’ has put together an extremely respectable career, posting career averages of 12.5 PPG, 6.5 APG & 3.7 RPG. He’s done this while playing for 9 teams spanning 17 seasons and posted his best years with the Denver Nuggets (1st stint from ’03’-’04 to ’06-’07) and with the Philadelphia 76ers (’06-’07 to ’08-’09). He’s never been a flashy player, has never been mistaken for a great shooter and isn’t particularly quick. Despite these shortcomings, Andre Miller is an incredible passer, sees the floor exceptionally well and is a consummate teammate and professional.

He’s also laid the foundation of professionalism and success across several franchises. He teamed up with a 20-year old Carmelo Anthony in 2003 and shepherded that team into the playoffs several times, before the Nuggets brought Chauncey Billups into Denver in 2009. He then showed Portland’s young kids the ropes (Wes Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge & Brandon Roy) from the 2010-12 seasons before coming back to the Nuggets. His final chapter the last couple of seasons has been spent in Washington DC tutoring John Wall and Bradley Beal, and in Minnesota with their bevy of young 20 somethings. My lasting memory of Andre Miller is his consummate professionalism, his durability (played 80+ games in 13 of his first 14 seasons) and his love of teaching younger players his craft. Hence the nickname “The Professor.”

Tyler: Paul Pierce. He simply destroyed the Knicks so many times. I can vividly remember his turnaround, fadeaways from just inside the arc at the top of the key. So clutch.

The thing about Pierce is his game changed very little (and that’s in a good way) over the years. I feel as though he was always a very heads up, savvy player who knew how to use his strengths (quite literally) to his advantage.
It’s kind of sad to see him go out with the Clippers in DNP fashion, but you just have to remember his years as a Celtic. As a Boston-hater, they were truly special.

Rory: Disclaimer: I haven’t written anything in about 6 months, and I’m still crying myself to sleep envisioning an NBA without Kobe Bryant, so there’s a good chance this won’t be good at all my best stuff, or perhaps even coherent. However, we’ll leave my literary orgasm over the life and times of Kobe for another day. By doing this, I’m saving you somewhere in the range of 3,000-15,000 words of text. So there’s that.

On the heels of his latest comments shooting down the idea of him retiring anytime soon, lets talk Vince Carter. Of all the players on this list, save Andre Miller, he’s the only one without a seminal playoff moment in his career. When we look back at Vince, what will be remembered most is a combination of his dunking prowess, resuscitating the NBA Dunk Contest, his litany of detractors claiming he was soft, forcing himself out of Toronto, and ending the career of French center (and Knicks 1999 first-round draft pick) Frederic Weis.

He’s also the guy who was always a year too late. Take a look at this career timeline:

2004-05 – traded to the Nets midseason a year after their second NBA Finals appearance. They would never return

2009-10 – traded to the Orlando Magic a year after they lost to the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals

2011-12 – signed with the Mavericks the year after their Finals victory over the Miami Heat

Sidenote: Vince Carter was only on the Toronto Raptors for one season before they strayed from, in my opinion, one of the top 5 NBA uniforms of all time.1

You can’t really blame VC for the change, but seeing that it fits the narrative I’ve already established above, well, suck it, Vince.

In addition, he also played 51 games for the Phoenix Suns during the 2010-11 season (a season AFTER their Conference Finals trip, go figure) following his trade from the Magic. I don’t remember that at all, and I bet you didn’t either, so enjoy that bit of trivia you can use on your next date.2 Because if there’s one thing that girls totally like, its obscure NBA trivia.

You’re welcome.

Photo courtesy of NBC Sports.

Photo courtesy of NBC Sports.

 

Who is your favorite NBA Champion since 2000?

Jim: This one’s easy: the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. 7 of that team’s top 10 guys were 30 years or older. The Heat had just formed their ‘Big 3’ the summer before and everyone outside of south Florida wanted to see the veteran Mavs beat the young and haughty Heat. They laid a beat down on the then 26-year old LeBron James and threw a combination of 32-year old Shawn Marion, 29 year old DeShawn Stevenson and 30-year old Caron Butler to slow down the best player in the game. Carlisle vaulted into the annual list of the 3 or 4 best coaches, while Dirk cemented his status as a top 25 player of all time (and rising with each ridiculous year he logs in his late 30’s).

More impressive to me was how these older players, who had been centerpieces on strong teams earlier in their careers, sacrificed for the greater good of the team later in their careers. This all wouldn’t have been possible without the guiding hand of Carlisle and the selfless nature of Dirk (who has taken hometown discounts in order for Mark Cuban to go after high priced free agents). 5 years later Dirk is still the centerpiece of a feisty Dallas team, while 6 of those Mavericks players have since retired (Jason Kidd, Brian Cardinal, Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood & Peja Stojakovic).

Anyone who loves basketball, enjoyed the 2011 Mavs and their convincing Finals win over the Heat.

Tyler: Agree with Jim here. I would say the 2011 Dallas Mavs as well. At that point, everyone believed the Miami Heat trio of Wade, Bosh, and LeBron were going to coast to a title. Well, not so fast…

Dallas did a great job building that team with smart veterans and players who fit certain roles that complimented Dirk Nowitzki perfectly. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea in the backcourt. Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson on the wings, and Tyson Chandler up front. It was a well-thought out team, in my opinion, and Rick Carlisle’s superb coaching put them over the top.

I thought it was an example where better coaching and better roster building simply won them the championship. It’s not ALWAYS just about about talent. Management and coaching matters, and that’s what the Mavs demonstrated in 2011. It was pretty neat to see it play out on the world stage.

Rory: 2010 Lakers – tough to pick a favorite of mine between the five Laker championship teams of the 2000s, but thanks to Ron Artest/Metta World Peace/Panda Friend this team has a special place in my heart, in that Ron Ron most likely gave me my first heart attack when he took (and then thankfully made) this 3 to basically win Game 7 that year:

 

Why was it extra special? Because one season before joining the Lakers in ’09-‘10, I feared that Ron Artest was about to go nuclear on the L.A. during round one of the Western Conference playoffs, and in doing so end Kobe’s life quest for a championship without Shaquille O’Neal. Here’s a breakdown of the the insanity of ONE GAME during this series:

 

Artest also gave us this moment during these very same playoffs, which is almost as iconic as his three:

 

Which team is the unluckiest of NBA champions of the last 15 years?

Jim: I know you think I’m crazy but I have to say the San Antonio Spurs. They have won 5 titles since 1999 and have been by many measures the most successful sports franchise of the last 15 years. Still…they easily, easily could have added another 1-2 rings to that total. Let me take you through the list of near-misses:

  • 2004 – Tim Duncan hit an impossible 20-foot fallaway at the top of the key over the outstretched arms of Shaq. Watching in my basement, I thought the game was over with only 0.4 seconds remaining. What followed was one of the greatest buzzer beaters of the last 15 years: Derek Fisher’s elbow extended jumper as time-expired…nothing but net. And of course Al Michaels called this game, since he’s called every important professional sporting moment since 1975. The Lakers went up 3 games to 2 with this win and would go on to close out the Spurs in Game 6.
  • 2006 – Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals and San Antonio has a 3-point edge over Dallas. Dirk has the ball on the elbow-extended with 30 seconds to play. He posts up Bruce Bowen, spins off his right shoulder towards the basket and Manu Ginobili comes to help off the weak side, only to foul Dirk, who converts the 3-point play. Dirk would go on to make the free throw. The Mavs outlasted the Spurs in overtime. What’s lost in translation 10 years later is that Ginobili hit a huge jumper on the previous possession and the Mavs held a 3-1 series lead before losing consecutive games. The Mavs also held a 20-point 2nd quarter lead in Game 7.
  • 2013 – How can we forget Ray Allen’s 3-point dagger from the right corner with 5.2 seconds remaining to tie the game. The Spurs had been up 5 points and the staff had already prepared the trophy presentation for San Antonio. In a weird way though, if the Spurs had not lost in 2013, I don’t think they win the following year in 2014.

The video below does a great job of outlining all three of these missed opportunities in less than 60 seconds.

Tyler: How about the Celtics?

I think they were good enough in that window of KG, Pierce, Allen, and Rondo to win more than one. It just never happened.

The 2010 finals really proved how great Kobe and Pau Gasol were as a tandem, and the Celtics with a bit more luck and a few more shots falling may have been able to eek out another title with the KG, Pierce, Allen and Rondo combination. It never happened. I’d say they were a bit unlucky in that regard.

Rory: 2008 Celtics.

Totally echoing what Tyler said, I’ve got to give this one to the 2008 Celtics. Boston’s Big 3 were assembled knowing their window to win titles was small, but they could’ve easily been a three-peat champion had the cards fell a little differently. A KG injury during the 2009 season (while Celts were setting the league on fire starting the season 27-2 with 19-straight wins) derailed their back-to-back title chances, and a Kendrick Perkins injury in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals affected what could’ve been a 2010 championship as well. Then again, the Lakers could’ve won 3 titles in a row from ’08-‘10 too had they not melted during Game 4 and/or had a healthy Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza during the 2008 Finals. But I’m not a homer or anything.

That sentence was brought to you by my personal mantra stating, “never say anything nice about the Celtics unless you can also bring up how the Lakers were better”. Say Queensbridge.

 

Who’s the best player to never win a title of the post 2000 era?

Jim: I know Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony all are title-less. You could also make the case that John Stockton and Karl Malone are post 2000 players as well (although their primes occurred in the 1990’s). Even with these eight guys in the mix, I’m going to throw out another less heralded player who has churned out one of the most impressive 15-year runs we have ever seen…Zach Randolph.

Randolph has averaged 15+ points in 13 of the last 14 seasons (in ’11-’12 he only suited up for 28 games), while averaging no less than 7.8 rebounds per game in this 14-year span. He was an enigmatic star early in his career, playing on the early 2000’s ‘Jail Blazers’ with Damon Stoudamire, Ruben Patterson and Rasheed Wallace. He bounced around with the Knicks and Clippers for a couple of years, before landing in Memphis before the ’09-’10 season at the age of 28. Now 34 (going on 35 in July), Randolph has shown little slippage while being one of the most consistent low post threats in the league. He has the ability to step out and hit the 17-foot jump shot, pass out of the high post and is a pest on the board with his penchant for tapping balls around the basket (similar to how the undersized Dennis Rodman used to tap balls back to himself or teammates). Randolph’s Grizzlies made it to the 2013 Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by the Spurs. They played the Warriors tough last postseason, but eventually bowed out in 6 games in the Western Semis, after taking an early 2 games to 1 lead.

Randolph carried the broken down Grizzlies this season (Memphis was 2nd in the league in games missed due to injury & played a league record 28 guys this year), who were without franchise cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol for the last several months. I’ll remember Randolph as one of the most consistent low post threats (and throw backs) that we have seen of this generation of players.

Tyler: There are so many great players who haven’t won a title, but in this era I’m going with CP3. Carmelo Anthony is a close second, but Chris Paul has been the best at his position (or at least one of the very best) year after year since 2003. He hasn’t even sniffed an NBA Championship.

Some will use that as evidence to claim he’s overrated, or just not dominant enough to take over games in the playoffs. Some of that may actually be a fair claim. But, he’s still an incredible talent who hasn’t played with great players. He’s turned around the L.A. Clippers franchise – one of the league’s laughing stock teams for decades. I’d say if there is one player in this era who needs a ring to vindicate his illustrious career, it’s CP3.

Rory: Steve Nash.

Hopefully Steph Curry’s run this season will inspire some new, younger fans to do a Steve Nash YouTube deep dive. Nash and Mike D’Antoni’s 7-seconds-or-less offense literally paved the way for Steph Curry and the Warriors, incorporating speed, transition 3s, and starting the pace-and-space movement. Here’s a small taste for anyone interested:

 

More specifically on Nash: in his first four seasons with the Phoenix Suns3 & D’Antoni, Steve Nash averaged at least 15ppg & 10.5 apg on almost 50-90-40 shooting percentages (FT-FG-3pt FG). Here’s a breakdown of those first four seasons:

2004 – 05 – 15.5, 11.5, 88% FT – 50% FG – 43% 3pt

2005 – 06 – 18.8, 10.5, 92% FT – 51% FG – 43% 3pt

2006 – 07 – 18.6, 11.6, 90% FT – 53% FG – 46% 3pt

2007 – 08 – 16.9, 11.1, 91% FT – 50% FG – 47% 3pt

By the way, Steve Nash did all of this AFTER turning 30 years old.

What hurts Nash’s is legacy as an all-time NBA star, other than him being Canadian-born, is the bad luck his teams had in the playoffs. In 2005, then-rookie guard Joe Johnson broke his eye socket4 during game 5 of the 2005 Western Conference Semifinals. Unluckiness would strike again two seasons later when, after a Robert Horry hipcheck on Steve Nash, then-Suns Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire were suspended a game each for leaving the bench to come to Nash’s aide. And for some reason, the NBA has done almost everything to scrap every remaining video of it from the internet. Seriously, this is the best video throughout the entire interwebs that I could find:

 

For me, Nash will always be a signal of the changing of the times – a time when pace of play sped up, offense ruled the NBA, and a two-time MVP had the same haircut as 80% of the girls in my 6th grade class:

Photo courtesy of thescore.com

Photo courtesy of thescore.com

Sorry, Steve.

 

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

Speak Your Mind

*