The NBA playoffs are where heroes become legends, and through their play, legends become basketball gods. The NBA playoffs are filled with so many great moments people still talk about today. Just think about Reggie Miller breaking the heart of New York City in the ’90s or the constant excellence that are the San Antonio Spurs. For me, my favorite playoff moment happened in 2007 when LeBron James scored 29 of the Cavilers last 30 points against the Pistons.
We decided to ask the following players about their favorite playoff moments, and what the playoff means to some young players across the league, the ghost of playoff past, and what it’s like for a team to fight day-in and day-out for the final playoff spot in their respective conferences.
What are some of your favorite NBA playoff moments?
Tyler Zeller: I really enjoyed watching the Spurs play over the years in the Finals. I really enjoyed the Finals because it always featured high level basketball and the competition aspect of high level basketball is what drew me into the game.
Elfrid Payton: Allen Iverson in 2001, when he helped the Sixers steal game 1 against the Lakers during the 2001 Finals, his performance was one of the best that I’ve ever seen. You can’t talk playoff without Paul Pierce, he came back from injury in the wheelchair during the 2008 Finals. This one happened a long time ago, Magic Johnson leading the Lakers to the championship as a rookie.
Tyler Ulis: My favorite playoff moment, probably would’ve been when Iverson was playing during the 2001 [Finals] against the Lakers, and the famous sequence of him crossing over, and stepping over Tryonn Lue. When I think of crunch time I think of Reggie Miller killing the Knicks in the ’90s or Ray Allen’s heroics in Game 6 of the 2014 Finals.
Tobias Harris: Growing up I watched the Lakers with Kobe and Shaq, the Pistons with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace. They were big coming up when I really started to get into the game.
Tyson Chandler: Growing up I loved KJ [Kevin Johnson] dunking on Hakeem Olajuwon, Barkley hitting that three-pointer against the Bulls at the top of the key, Jordan’s last shot in Utah, Reggie Miller when he hit those three-pointers against the Knicks. MJ had an impact on everybody just wanting to be great. He had a famous quote where he talked about how many game winners he hit and missed, but that just gives everyone the motivation to be able to take those shots.
Who are some players that you think are hard to guard during crunch time?
Zeller: I really don’t have any favorite guys in crunch time so to speak, but obviously it’s always incredible seeing those guys over the years make clutch shot after clutch shot.
Payton: I wasn’t a big fan of Kobe, but I had a lot of respect for him for what he did in crunch time, it was almost like the more pressure he had the better he performed. Iverson, and Jordan are also up there because of their “never say die” attitude.
Harris: Jordan is obviously the standard barrier, he’s a guy that got it done in fourth quarters on both sides of the ball, so yeah he’ll be my No. 1 guy in crunch time.
Chandler: That’s a tough one, Jordan, of course, and Kobe.
Ulis: I have to go with Iverson. He was unstoppable with the ball in his hands, Kobe Bryant as well. They were guys who always took shots at the end, had confidence in making the shots, and they put their teams on their backs.
This June marks the 20-year anniversary of the 1997 Finals where the Bulls played against the Utah Jazz. The Bulls won the title that season, which turned out to be their fifth in seven years and they ultimately won six in eight years. Did you remember much of that team?
Zeller: I don’t remember much, I was only 6 or 7 at the time, but looking back it was a fun game, and the heart Michael Jordan showed was unreal.
Payton: Jordan along with his teammates gave it their all on the floor despite the circumstances. Jordan eventually came through for his team when they needed him the most.
Harris: I remember clutch shot after clutch shot, and Jordan battling through the entire game.
Chandler: I remember hearing the stories about his will not to lose, I don’t think that there’s been a better competitive basketball player in the world since him. Kobe is a close second, but there was nobody like Jordan.
Ulis: I really didn’t see Jordan play much in his prime, I haven’t seen the “Flu Game.” I always miss it when it comes on NBA TV.
In Game 5, Michael Jordan played through the game under duress because he was sick and still finished with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. The Air Jordan 12s he wore in that game are now dubbed the “Flu Game” 12s. Are you a fan of that particular Jordan?
Payton: I don’t! I need a pair though.
Harris: Yea, of course I have them, growing up those were a must-have sneaker. I have a few pairs of those.
Chandler: [laughing] No, I don’t buy sneakers like that anymore.
Ulis: Oh, definitely Jordan has had a major impact on the game, he’s the best to ever do it. He has an impact on everybody just wanting to be great. He had a famous quote where he talked about how many game winners he hit and missed, but that just gives everyone the motivation to be able to take those shots.
What would it mean for a young team like this one to make the playoffs next season?
Payton: It’ll be huge for us to get there, and get that experience, and hopefully make a run. We have a lot of talent we just have to get that taste.
Harris: It would be great, we got there last year. We just have to work hard as a team, and once we get into the playoffs anything is possible.
Chandler: It’ll mean a lot, I think that’s the next step for the Suns. This year all the young guys are getting opportunities to play a lot of minutes, and next year we should be able to take it to the next level.
Ulis: It would be great for us, we’re trying to build, we have a lot of young players who are new to this, and a lot of rookies who are trying to get a feel for the game. When we do make the playoffs, we will look back on this struggle as a learning opportunity, and a step in the process.