Best Fan Moments of the 2019 Playoffs
With the NBA postseason now behind us it seems like the right time to reflect on the spectacle of the 2018-19 playoffs, before the memories of the earlier rounds and the greatness of the Finals fade away into free agency and the start of next season.
The Toronto Raptors are the champions of the world. The Golden State Warriors quest to win four out of five was ended by a strong Toronto team, a myriad of injuries, and inconsistencies on the defensive end.
At the end of the day it will be hard for anyone in the NBA world to lay claim to correctly predicting the way the playoffs unfolded. The Warriors making the Finals might have been the only element that was downright predictable, but the fashion in which they were able to do so — without reigning MVP Kevin Durant, with multiple players suffering from injuries — it was almost impossible to predict what was going to happen with the defending champions on a day-to-day basis.
On the other side of the league the Milwaukee Bucks were the clear-cut favorites to win the East. Especially, after the Giannis led squad went up 2-0 on the Raptors, as the series was declared over on all fronts. The Raptors winning four straight games in that context might just be the most surprising thing to happen in the entirety of the playoffs.
Moving away from the two respective conference winners. How many people predicted the Portland Trailblazers to make it to the Western Conference Finals, or the amount of success Nikola Jokic would have in playoff basketball, or that a Houston Rockets squad wouldn’t be able to beat the Warriors in two tries without Kevin Durant? You could say the East was slightly more predictable, but after the Boston Celtics won the first game against Milwaukee how many people jumped on that Boston bandwagon only to see them lose four games in a row? Who saw Jimmy Butler stepping up as the most consistent playoff performer for a confusing Philadelphia 76ers team?
A variety of top ten lists will come out to honor the culmination of the NBA postseason. The players who deserve credit will get credit, and the truly fantastic moments will be lauded. However, none of these collections of playoff moments will honor all the elements that make the NBA playoffs the most exciting time in sports.
Here’s the Top 15 Moments of the NBA Playoffs from a fan's perspective.
15. D.J Augustine With The Icy Shot Against Toronto
The Toronto Raptors might have ended as the last team standing in the NBA playoffs, but they actually lost the first game of their postseason run. It will be a moment by that all accounts will most likely be forgotten in the annals of NBA history, but the Orlando Magic went into Toronto in Game 1 of the first round series and won in dramatic fashion with a D.J Augustin three pointer in the closing seconds.
The combination of the massive upset with the likability of Augustin as a long time player in the league, made the shot a great moment. It also signified the start of all the drama that would unfold in the coming weeks.
14. Jared Dudley vs. Ben Simmons
Ali vs. Frazier, Federer vs. Nadal, Durant vs. Twitter Accounts — a few of the truly great matchups we’ve seen in sports. However, two new names were added to the pantheon of rivalry matchups this past postseason — none other than Jared Dudley vs. Ben Simmons. It’s not the matchup you would expect. With Dudley as a 13 year NBA veteran journeyman and Simmons as a young and up coming star, but that didn’t stop the two players from going at it for almost the entirety of the series.
Things reached a tipping point in Game 4.
Ben Simmons undoubtedly seems to have a special ability to irk people, but in all honesty Jared Dudley was acting a little bit like a crazy person this whole sequence. Embiid’s foul on Jarrett Allen wasn’t nearly hard or dirty enough to justify a running push from Dudley, and things unsurprisingly popped off.
13. Utah’s Defense Against James Harden
Maybe nothing made me laugh more this postseason than the defense the Utah Jazz and Coach Quinn Snyder decided to deploy against Houston Rocket’s superstar James Harden. The scheme can only be described as bizarre. As the Jazz would put the primary defender of Harden on the back left side of the former MVP, in theory taking away his ability to go into his patented step back jump shot and instead make him venture into the paint using his right hand and pass out to the corners — making it so someone else had to beat them.
In a shocking turn of events, allowing a player to walk into the paint as a defensive strategy didn’t work super well for the Jazz. Harden put up big numbers all series long, and the Rockets won what should have been a much closer series with ease.
Also, if Ricky Rubio has a therapist, they must talk about guarding Harden at least once a session.
12. Jaylen Brown Dunk Montage on Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Milwaukke Bucks wiped the floor with the Boston Celtics. Giannis was the best player on the court at almost all times, outside a poor Game 1, and the series defeat will most likely completely change the Celtics roster as it currently stands. However, within that 4-1 Eastern Semi-Finals defeat, something else took place.
Jaylen Brown absolutely put it on Antetokounmpo’s head not once, but twice.
The first dunk in the clip is from the regular season, but I just love the idea that for whatever reason one of the best players in the league, and for sure one of the most physically imposing, keeps getting dunked on by the bungies of Jaylen Brown.
11. Clippers 31-Point Comeback Against Golden State
The LA Clippers are ahead of schedule. Making the playoffs in the 2018-19 season for the Doc Rivers led squad is an impressive feat for a team without a true superstar, and the young core that surrounds the likes of Danilo Galinari and Lou Williams is one of the best in the league. The Clips got paired with the defending champions Golden State Warriors in the first round, and put up much more of a fight than most people expected.
Taking the series six games while facing the full force of a healthy Dubs team. The most impressive moment in the series for the Clippers, and one of the best moments in the entire postseason was the 31 point comeback the Los Angeles team was able to pull off in the second game of the series in the Oracle.
10. Mark Gasol Consoling Joel Embiid after the Kawhi Shot
For whatever reason this moment touched the hearts of many people watching the fantastic Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. Kawhi’s shot will be talked about later, but in the moments after the ball sunk through the net, and in the midst of the craze that enveloped the stadium — the camera centered in on Joel Embiid walking into the chest of Marc Gasol.
The 76er’s superstar was clearly crying, head down, he didn’t seem to have any intention in talking to anyone. However, Gasol quickly steps over to him and puts a hand behind his head. Embiid makes one half-hearted effort to walk away from the Spaniard before completely sinking his face into the chest of Gasol.
Maybe it’s because they’re both so big, or the fact that it was just an emotional moment, or just the still surprising image in our culture of a man crying, but the touching moment between the two great players was truly what the NBA is all about.
9. Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trailblazers 4OT Game
The fantastic seven game series played between the Nuggets and Trailblazers will most likely fade into the darkness almost completely by the start of the 2019-20 season. It might not have been the most watched game of the playoffs, but Game 3 of the matchup should go down as one of the best playoff games ever.
Portland ended up prevailing in the game with a 140-137 win, and ended up taking the series. The game was the first quadruple overtime playoff game in the shot-clock era and the second time its ever happened.
Rodney Hood ended up making the plays that mattered most down the stretch.
8. Kevin Durant drops 38, 33, 45 and then 50 is successive games against the Clippers
Kevin Durant is a walking bucket. He’s a bucket getter. He’s a go to scorer. He’s the best scorer of his generation. He’s the best scorer ever? Use whatever phrase you want for the man, but Durant was at the peak of his scoring prowess in a four game stretch against a resilient Los Angeles Clippers team.
The pinnacle might have been the 50-point performance to eliminate the Clippers, but it would be a shame if the three games before were forgotten.
Kevin Durant averaged 41.5 points over four games in the playoffs of the NBA. I’m not sure anyone else in the league could do that.
7. Kyle Lowry Press Conferences
I’m not sure why people like talking about Kyle Lowry so much. It’s a shame that most of that talk is generally in the hating form, even if the memes that went out after his missed jump shot at the end of Game 5 were hilarious. Lowry is the longest tenured Raptor, and the man played an absolutely huge part in securing the Toronto Raptors a championship.
However, interspersed among Lowry’s impressive on the court actions, was a chain of press conferences where the point guard out of Villanova was able to articulate on subjects that transcend all elements of basketball.
The highlight of which when was asked about the definition of “pressure.”
6. Paul Pierce: I Think It’s Over
Paul Piece has able to fit himself into one the best niches in television — He’s so bad at his job, he’s good. It’s a strange sentiment, but one that makes some undoubted sense. The man is must watch television when he gets talking with Michelle Beadles, Chauncey Billups and Jaylen Rose about all subject basketball.
His undoubted best moment though was he declared the series between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks to be “over” after Boston was able to win Game 1 in Milwaukee.
Shortly after this statement by the legendary Celtic the Bucks rattled off four games in a row to win the series with ease. Not the best analyst prediction ever made, but maybe the most entertaining?
5. Drake Talks Trash To Draymond Green
Drake stepped up big time as the super fan of the NBA playoffs. The Canadian born rapper was a constant presence during the 2018-19 playoffs, and ended up getting talked about almost as much as the players. I was here for every second of it and the best moment of the lot was when he and Draymond Green went face to face at the end of Game 1 in the Finals.
There is no sport that intersects with popular culture like basketball does, and Drake’s involvement throughout the whole playoffs was just another testament to the greatness of the NBA. Even if he maybe shouldn’t be giving Nick Nurse mid game shoulder rubs.
4. Klay Thompson’s Return In Game 5
There’s a special place in myth and folklore in which an injured player can form a narrative that stands the testament of time in the NBA. It’s Willis Reed playing on one leg in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1970, it’s Isaiah Thomas scoring 25 points in the 1988 NBA Finals with a busted ankle, it’s Kobe Shooting free throws after rupturing his ACL and whatever happened with Paul Pierce and that wheelchair.
Thompson entered into that realm after tearing his Achilles on a bang bang play with Danny Green near the end of the third quarter in Game 6 of the Finals. The only problem was, he didn’t actually no he tore his Achilles. After lying on the floor for a few minutes in clearly agonizing and panicked pain, he was helped into the tunnel, only to come back a few minutes later to shoot his two free throws. Making it so he would be able to get subbed back into the game later.
There’s a special feeling that happens for the viewer watching a player thought to be previously injured and out for the game return jogging back through that tunnel. Thompson reportedly told Kerr he’d only need a “few minutes” and he’d be good to go It’s what we call the heart of a champion.
3. KD’s Return in Game 5 of the Finals and the Raptors Players Telling Their Fans to Stop Cheering
Kevin Durant went down with a calf injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Houston Rockets. He went on to miss the next nine games and speculation over the severity of his injury circulated throughout the NBA community. Once his indestructible Golden State team went down 3-1 in the Finals that speculation turned into questions over whether or not Durant needed to step up and play through whatever injury he was suffering from.
So Durant came back in Game 5. And my God did he look magnificent in his 12 minutes of play. He scored 11 points collected two boards and shot 60% from the field and 100% from the three point line. The Warriors looked undisputedly like a better team with Durant on the floor and they got out to an early lead.
Than the injury happened. Durant went for a pretty basic hesitation move against Serge Ibaka outside the three-point line and crumbled to the floor. In videos after the fact you can see the tendons and muscles in his leg more or less explode in slow motion. As Durant went crashing to the floor the Toronto Raptors fans began to cheer. The image of one specific fan in the background of the shot waving goodbye to Durant and smiling as he did it became sheered into the minds of many. To be fair the cheers were also in part to the fact that the Raptors immediately got out on a fast break after Durant turned the ball over, but there was no doubt in the fact that the Raptor fans cheered in good part for the sight of the injured Durant. It was the worst moment of the NBA Playoffs this year.
However, something sort of beautiful happened in the moments after. The Toronto players adamantly motioned for their own fans to stop cheering at the injured Durant, and instead consoled and helped the reigning MVP get up.
Durant was hurt before the start of Game 5. He played even so, and he ended up paying the consequences, but in that choice to play he gained an undoubted level of respect and love for his effort. The Raptors-Warriors Finals was one of clear mutual respect between the two teams and no moment showcased it more.
2. Damian Lillard Sends The Oklahoma City Thunder Home
Damian Lillard is a cold-blooded assassin. His game elevates in the moments that matter most and the shot he hit from far behind the three-point line to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of their playoff series was simply one of the best shots in playoff history.
“That’s a bad shot, I don’t care what anybody says. That’s a bad shot,” Paul George said in his press conference after the game.
In many ways it objectively was. A 37-foot step-back with a defender in your vicinity just isn’t a shot you see all that often in the NBA. Even with the ever-developing love for long range shooting.
The expression Lillard makes in the moments after making the buzzer beating basket when might be as good as the shot itself. It’s Lillard’s second playoff series deciding game winner, and a testament to how much a star the point guard from Oakland was this postseason.
He might have slowed down against the mighty Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but he was undoubtedly playing with an injury, and had already led a somewhat surprising Warriors team to the Western Conference Finals.
1. Kawhi Leonard’s Game Winner Against Philadelphia
Leonard’s game winning fade away in the right corner against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals was one of the greatest basketball viewing experiences I’ve ever witnessed. It’s only the second time ever that someone has made a game winning shot at the buzzer in a winner takes all game in playoff history — with the other one being Michael Jordan vs. a certain Craig Ehlo.
Everything from the level of difficulty, to the way the ball bounced around the rim, to the different emotional reactions of the players in the area of the shot — it all made for a moment of pure perfection on a basketball court.
This year’s postseason will be remembered as the year of Kawhi, and this was his best moment.