SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest question of the day. Today, we examine …
What's your favorite moment of the 2014 NBA playoffs?
Lee Jenkins: Damian Lillard's series-winning three. The way Damian Lillard lazily strolled along the right wing, rocking Chandler Parsons to sleep...the way he sprinted to the top of the key, clapping his hands furiously to alert Nic Batum...the way he caught Batum's in-bounds pass with .9 seconds left, let fly over Parsons' outstretched left-hand, and sank the buzzer-beating game-winning series-ending three-pointer. The shot detonated the Portland crowd, delivered the Blazers to the second round for the first time in 14 years, and underlined Lillard as one of basketball's premier last-gasp killers. You see buzzer-beaters in the playoffs and occasionally even buzzer-beating threes. But to pop one that clinches a series, with less than a second left, for a franchise deprived post-season success, defines clutch.
Phil Taylor: Lillard's three. It won not just the game, but the first-round series for the Blazers in a sequence so dramatic it could have fit neatly into the One Shining Moment montage from March Madness. Portland was down by two with .9 seconds left when Nicolas Batum inbounded to Lillard coming off a screen, and he caught and released all in one motion from beyond the arc. The Blazer fans in the Moda Center were so silent that you could hear the flick of the net as the shot went in, and then in an instant there was bedlam. The series, which appeared to be headed back to Houston for a Game 7, was abruptly over. The moment had everything -- a perfectly executed play, a crushing defensive lapse, a young star making his bones in the playoffs, a team's season ending with devastating suddenness -- and there couldn't have been a better place for it to happen than Portland, an NBA-crazy town whose fans hadn't seen their team with a playoff series in 14 years. NHL fans rave about their sudden-death playoff overtimes, as they should, but basketball's answer is the game-winner as time expires. That death is just as sudden, and so is the joy.
Ben Golliver: Tim Duncan's overtime stretch in Game 6 against Thunder. This was pure old school. Tony Parker out injured, the Spurs hoping to close the door, the Thunder fighting desperately to keep their season alive. Where does Gregg Popovich go? To Tim Duncan, of course, who delivered time after time, scoring seven straight points in overtime against Serge Ibaka, arguably the league's best defensive player and one of the major figures in this series. Duncan broke out the slow-down post moves, got to the free throw line and hit an around-and-in turnaround jumper over a player 14 years his junior. This was one of the league's all-time greats, putting his franchise on his back and carrying them to a Finals rematch with the Heat that they had been eyeing for 12 months. If San Antonio can find a way to prevail over Miami in the Finals, we'll look back at Duncan's will in the Western Conference finals as one of the major, and most satisfying, landmarks on their road to victory.
Rob Mahoney: LeBron James' and-one reverse against the Pacers. While I was tempted by the dramatic flair of Lillard's game-winning (and Rocket-ending) three, James' finish over and around four Indiana defenders jumped out as a favorite. No other moment earned the same kind of play on my DVR; I looped back, taking in all of ESPN's multiple camera angles, baffled at how a top-of-the-key iso against an opponent loaded in the paint resulted in such an awesome finish. I think what's most striking is how deftly James maneuvers past multiple defenders. George Hill is not an easy guard to blow by, David West is generally a bit more punctual and Ian Mahinmi is a perfectly decent rim protector in rotation. James dropped them all with apparent ease: Hill with a quick burst, West with pure speed and Mahinmi with a change in direction. What a sequence. And, if this play weren't magnetic enough in a vacuum, it carries added heft in that it ultimately helped spell the end of the Pacers. The Heat held a 2-1 series advantage at that point thanks to a pair of hard-fought wins, with Game 4 looking to be another close call. James' finish, though, helped repel a Pacer run and stabilize the Heat heading into halftime. Miami went the rest of the way without trailing, wound up leading by 23 points and buried Indiana in a fatal 3-1 hole.
Matt Dollinger: Lance Stephenson blowing in LeBron's ear. Bill Simmons coined the phrase "Tyson Zone" in reference to when a celebrity's behavior becomes so crazy that you would believe any story you read about him. If Lance Stephenson didn't already have one foot in that mythical zone, he did a cannon-ball into it when he blowed in LeBron James' ear during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Stephenson has evolved into one of the better shooting guards in the league, but even dating back to his days as a benchwarmer he's been trying his hardest to psych out the Heat. If there's a dirty little trick, Stephenson has tried it against the Heat. But when ESPN's cameras caught Stephenson trying to be stealth and mess with LeBron by blowing in his ear, Stephenson's reputation reached new heights (or lows). The NBA had officially been transformed into the theater of the absurd. With a gentle blow, Stephenson showed he was genuinely willing to do anything to give his team an edge.The Pacers shooting guard's ridiculousness wasn't enough to derail the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, but it brought a nice moment of comic relief to all parties -- even LeBron.
Chris Johnson: Ray Allen's throwback jam. Just when you thought Ray Allen had been reduced to a situational three-point shooting specialist, he conjures up a high-flying dunk in a tight Finals game. Allen’s jam over Spurs guard Danny Green – which came after Allen shrugged off Marco Belinelli on the way to the rim – came late in the third quarter of a game the Heat would eventually lose. Still, however lacking in broader significance, Allen’s throw down provided a reminder of the athletic feats he was once capable of and hinted that, if need be, Allen can still climb the ladder. Plus, given Allen’s advanced age, that may be one of the last times he’s seen soaring above the rim for an emphatic finish.
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