Memorable Finals moments don’t always end happily — as Isiah Thomas could attest. Playing on a badly injured ankle, Thomas scored 43 points in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals, including an incredible 25-point third quarter, a Finals record that still stands. Unfortunately for Zeke, Thomas’ Pistons lost the game, and would eventually lose Game 7. Thomas would later redeem himself, however, averaging 21 points and seven assists per game in a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the 1989 Finals.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
LeBron's quest for NBA's holy grail
It’s been a long and strange odyssey for LeBron James, who was swept in the 2007 Finals while with Cleveland and then shriveled in the 2011 Finals as his Miami Heat failed to capture a title in Year 1 of the "Big 3" era. Fortunately for the Chosen One, he redeemed himself in 2012, finally earning himself that elusive first championship. Cramps kept LeBron on the sidelines for the end of the Heat’s Game 4 win, but in Game 5 (pictured), King James returned to the floor and posted a 26-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist triple double as Miami finally earned itself another championship parade.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
The logo makes magic
Willis Reed wasn’t the only player to make a lasting impression during those 1970 Finals. In Game 3, Jerry West — you know, the guy on the NBA logo — hit a 60-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately for West’s Lakers, the Knicks won in the extra period. The three-point line hadn’t yet been implemented, so West’s shot counted only for two points. Had it been a 3, Reed’s Game 7 feat of strength may not have been necessary at all.
NBAE/Getty ImagesRon Koch
Dr. J changes flight in mid-air
Like the 1970 Finals, this 1980 series churned out two of the most memorable moments in NBA history. This one came courtesy of Julius Erving, whose sailing, fourth-quarter, reverse-scoop layup past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still considered to be one of the most iconic shots in the history of the game. Philadelphia would win Game 4 behind 23 points from Dr. J and 26 from Darryl Dawkins, but would lose the series in six games.
NBAE/Getty ImagesJim Cummins
Celtics and Suns play till sunrise
In Game 5 of the 1976 series, the Boston Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 128-126 in triple overtime — a contest many still call the greatest NBA game ever played. The thriller included, among other things, Boston Garden fans rushing the court before the game was over, two controversies over coaches calling timeouts they didn’t have and an unheralded reserve, Glenn McDonald, coming up huge in the final OT, after most of the stars had already fouled out.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
Now this is showing up for Game 7
Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships, so you could probably come up with a list of 10 iconic Russell moments alone. But perhaps none was as memorable or noteworthy as his performance in Game 7 of the 1962 Finals against the Lakers, when he scored 30 points and grabbed 40 rebounds in a 110-107 overtime win for Boston. The championship was the fourth of eight consecutive for the Celtics during the Russell Era.
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The 'Flu' game
Next time you want to call in sick to work, remember what Michael Jordan did in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against Utah. Battling an awful flu that would have kept a lesser player off the court — if not out of the arena — Jordan scored 38 points as the Bulls stole a game on the road, 90-88, and sent the series back to Chicago, where they closed it out in Game 6 (behind another huge performance from Jordan, of course).
AFP/Getty ImagesJEFF HAYNES
The arrival of Showtime
Magic Johnson has always been considered one of the most versatile players ever to touch a basketball, something he proved undoubtedly in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals against Philadelphia. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined by an ankle injury, Magic initially suited up at center and took the jump ball, and played all five positions during the game — scoring 42 points to go with 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers clinched the first of Johnson’s five NBA titles.
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Willis Reed inspires Knicks
Willis Reed defined 'playing hurt' in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Lakers. After tearing a thigh muscle in Game 5, Reed sat out during the Knicks’ Game 6 loss. But he returned to the floor for Game 7, still ailing. And though he scored only four points on 2-of-5 shooting, Reed held Wilt Chamberlain to 2-of-9 shooting and, more importantly, was an inspiration to his teammates. The Knicks won the game 113-99, earning New York its first ever NBA title.