The NBA regular season has been in question of late, branded nearly irrelevant by the sheer (and sure) dominance of the Golden State Warriors. Fans wonder what’s the point of watching? What’s the point of any of it when we all know how it’s going to end? And while it is true that every great playoff moment is inherently more significant than every great regular season moment, the NBA regular season is almost never regular and is almost always a wild and crazy 6 months.
From Shaq tearing down the entire basket to Iverson crossing up Jordan to Vince Carter climbing Mt. Mutombo, the regular season has always been a source of lasting NBA images. With that I give you my own personal Top 10 NBA regular season moments:
10. MILT PALACIO’S GAME WINNING HEAVE IN NEW JERSEY (12/28/00)
An unforgettable play for Nets fans and Celtics fans (I grew up as the latter) and probably nobody else. My friend Michael James, who at the time covered the New Jersey Nets for the Daily News, recounted to me via text how Milt Palacio, an otherwise anonymous backup Celtics PG during the abyss between Larry Bird and the Big 3, enacted apocalypse on the press table at Continental Airlines Arena after hitting a stunning GW shot:
“So, we’re all ready for what appears to be a 111-109 Nets win, all the writers have their phones connected with the lead—just waiting for the final buzzer and Milt Palacio throws in a fucking half-court shot with just over a second left on the clock—BOOM—and fucked us all. Suddenly, that ‘The Nets barely outlasted the Boston Celtics last night at the Meadowlands with a XXX-XXX victory…’ becomes a scramble to come up with ‘The Nets thought they had it. The writers thought they had it. Hell, most of the Boston Celtics thought they had it—but backup Celts guard Milt Palacio didn’t. Palacio’s half-court heave with just over a second left swished through the basket as time expired to give Boston a 112-111 victory over New Jersey last night in the Meadowlands…’ Fucked it up for everybody.”
It was Palacio’s only shot attempt of the game and came while he was falling to the ground. The sequence, which began with the Nets inbounding the ball, was so improbable it could only be reality. And it could only happen in a regular season game between the 12-17 Boston Celtics and the 9-20 New Jersey Nets.
9. KOBE’S LAST GAME (04/13/16)
After a final season that was nothing if not ceremonious, on April 13, 2016 Bryant took the floor at Staples Center for the last time and went out in style, scoring 60 points in front of the home crowd against the Utah Jazz. It took Kobe an NBA-record and yet still Kobe-esque 50 FGA to get there, but also in true Mamba fashion he scored 23 in the 4th, including 17 straight at one point, and by his own hand led the 16-65 Lakers in a late comeback win over the 40-41 Jazz.
If there’s one indelible image of Kobe Bryant’s career, it’s that of 8 and 24 hitting shots late in close games. His last game was a spectacular encapsulation of a spectacular career, and thanks to the Lakers winning just 17 games behind Bryant’s $25 mil legacy contract, it happened in the regular season.
And if you think that now I’m going to say “Mamba out,” then you’re wrong.
8. TRACY MCGRADY’S 13 PTS IN 35 SECONDS (12/09/04)
The regular-season version of what Reggie Miller did to the Knicks in the ‘95 playoffs. Late in an early December game in Houston in 2004, the Spurs led the Rockets by 10 with 49 seconds to play, only to watch Rockets F Tracy McGrady score 13 pts in the final 35 seconds, including a GW 3 in transition as time expired.
Even with T-Mac hitting 4 3’s in the final half-minute, one of them while being fouled, San Antonio only lost thanks to a turnover on their final possession. The person I really want to hear from is the reporter who got to ask Gregg Popovich the first question post-game.
7. KLAY’S 37 PT. 3RD (01/23/15)
In the third quarter of a 2015 game against the Sacramento Kings, Warriors G Klay Thompson went 13-13 from the floor, including 9-9 3 pt. FG, en route to 37 points. Thompson himself outscored the Kings 37-22 in the quarter.
This was one of those feats where you read it on the bottom line and assume at first that you’d seen wrong or else that it was a typo. Even today, knowing it happened, I think of how many points 37 is for one quarter, I mean how for an NBA team 37 points is a huge quarter, and I try to play out in my mind how one guy could cram 37 points into 12 minutes, and it’s still hard to imagine.
6. DENNIS RODMANS KICKS CAMERAMAN (01/15/97)
Dennis Rodman may have been an NBA diva, but he was never one for model behavior. He entered the league by joining the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, making a name for himself as the NBA’s premier rebounder, defender, and agitator. His subsequent stint in San Antonio is best remembered for his hair, and though his time with the Bulls just after that is best known for NBA Championships, it will also forever conjure memories of Rodman’s lashing out and kicking a courtside cameraman in the groin after falling out of bounds during a game in Minneapolis.
Rodman said he’d meant to kick the camera, and after the game the Bulls PF accused cameraman Eugene Amos of embellishing his injury. He was handed an 11-game suspension by Commissioner David Stern and ultimately was ordered to pay Amos $200,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
5. STEPH CURRY GAMEWINNER FROM HALF-COURT IN OKC (02/27/16)
The single greatest regular season shot I can think of. A game for the ages and a game completely representative of an NBA era. The Thunder, behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, held an 11-point fourth quarter lead, but when Golden State— behind Steph Curry’s 46 points—would not be denied, forcing OT when Andre Iguodala deftly drew a foul and hit two free throws with no time remaining. Curry won the game on a pull-up jump shot in transition from 37 feet away, his 12th 3 pt. FG of the game and a shot that looked good the whole way.
This game and this shot, in retrospect, is where Steph raised the bar. Only three years later, we are comfortable watching players shoot from everywhere, and it is easy to forget how harshly some shots would have been judged even 5 years ago. In his prime, Steph Curry has forever expanded the NBA shooting range, and the difference between he and everyone before him is that when I watched this game a) I knew he was going to pull up and shoot just before he did it and b) when he let it go, I knew it was in.
4. KOBE’S 81 (01/22/06)
Bryant: 81 pts (28-46 FG, 7-13 3 pt FG, 18-20 FT) is an eyepopping stat line that only basketball can provide. It was like something from Live or 2K, with Bryant taking 46 shots, scoring 28 in the third and 27 in the fourth, triumphantly leading the 21-19 Lakers to a 122-104 victory over the 14-26 Toronto Raptors.
The truth is that Kobe’s 81—probably much like Wilt’s 100—is a photogenic feat, impressive by sheer dominance but sort of anticlimactic and forced. If I had to guess I’d bet that Wilt’s 100, while almost 20% more legendary than Kobe’s 81, was also almost 20% more boring to watch, maybe even that times 3 given that Kobe made 7 3s and Wilt made 36 layups and 28 free throws.
3. JEREMY LIN GW ON ASIAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE NIGHT (02/14/12)
The 2012 sensation that was Linsanity was one of the most captivating windows in NBA history. Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American guard from Harvard found himself in the NY Knicks lineup following an injury to Carmelo Anthony, and for one month set the NBA on fire and led the Knicks to 10 wins in 13 games. Long-time Knicks fans all acknowledge that the energy in Madison Square Garden has experienced two peaks: in the early 70s when the Knicks won two titles, and Linsanity.
At the pinnacle of Lin’s run was when he and the Knicks arrived in Toronto to play the Raptors on February 14, 2012. Valentine’s Day, yes, but as well as this it was also Asian-American Heritage Night at the Air Canada Center. In the game’s final moments, Lin calmly walked the ball toward the top of the key, dribbled once through his legs and stuck a GW 3 pt. FG with 0.3 on the clock. The crowd in Toronto lost their mind and celebrated more than a home crowd has ever celebrated after watching their team lose.
2. JORDAN’S DOUBLE-NICKEL (03/28/95)
On March 28, 1995, Five games after MJ announced “I’m back,” still wearing #45, the Bulls met the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, where Jordan then announced that it would soon be as though he had never left. Jordan, having struggled somewhat to begin his return but who had scored 32 and beat the Hawks at the buzzer two nights before in Atlanta, went off for 55 in his return to the Garden.
The performance was immediately dubbed the “Double-Nickel” by Spike Lee and stands as among the most memorable games in MSG history. And it came with Jordan dunking only once in the process and after all the scoring with MJ hitting C Bill Wennington for the winning score.
1. MALICE AT THE PALACE (11/19/04)
In perhaps the most surreal moment I’ve ever experienced watching sports on TV, in the fourth quarter of a November 2004 game between the Pacers and Pistons in Detroit, Pacers F Ron Artest, after being struck in the head with a beer lobbed at him from the stands during a dead ball situation, stormed aggressively through the imaginary wall that was assumed to exist between players and fans and ran into the seats in the general direction of where the beer had come from and initiated what quickly escalated into a long, violent exchange between Pistons fans and several Pacers players, including Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal.
Artest breaking down the invisible barrier between the court and the stands was surreal in that it felt just short of him actually coming out of the TV and attacking me.
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