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17 Historic Moments From The NBA Playoffs

By Nostalgic America · June 7, 2024

Bird vs. Magic Saved the NBA In The 1980s

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has a rich history filled with unforgettable moments, legendary players, and epic rivalries that have captivated fans for generations. From the fierce battles between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the 1960s to the magic of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson's rivalry in the 1980s, the NBA has consistently produced some of the most thrilling and iconic moments in sports history.

In this article, we take a journey through time to relive the greatest NBA playoffs and finals moments, the players who defined eras, and the teams that left an indelible mark on the game. We'll explore the untold stories behind the most famous rivalries, the underdogs who defied the odds to become champions, and the legends whose legacies continue to inspire new generations of players and fans alike. Join us as we celebrate the NBA's incredible history and the moments that have made it one of the most beloved sports leagues in the world.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Wilt vs Russell – The Greatest Individual Rivalry

Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are two of basketball’s all-time greats who are forever linked together in the annals of the game’s history. They were contemporaries who faced off against each other many times in some of the biggest games ever. But their skill sets differed greatly, so each player is remembered and revered for different reasons.

Wilt Chamberlain was a scoring machine of epic proportions. He averaged 50.4 points per game for an entire season in1961-62, once scoring 100 points in a game. He averaged over 30 points and 22 rebounds per game in each of his first 9 seasons and he is the only player in NBA history to average over 30 points and 20 rebounds during his career. Chamberlin played from 1959 – 1973 for the Philadelphia Warriors, (later the San Francisco Warriors), the 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bill Russell played his entire 13 season NBA career with the Boston Celtics (1956-1969). During that time his rebounding statistics were on par with Chamberlain, but his scoring was significantly less. Russell averaged 15.1 points per game for his career. But Russell is fondly remembered for certain qualities that can’t be measured simply by comparing statistics. Russell was a fierce defender and shot blocker (blocked shots weren’t tracked as an official statistic during his career) who made an immeasurable impact on games for his team. Most importantly, Russell was the cornerstone of a Celtics dynasty. He was arguably the most important piece of the Celtics’ 11 championships in his 13 seasons. Wilt Chamberlain won only two championships in his career.

So, the natural question is, who was better? Or, if you were starting a team today and could have either one in their prime who would you pick? Do you go with the glamour of Wilt Chamberlain, a scoring machine? Or do you go with Bill Russell, the more blue-collar workhorse with all-time great defensive abilities?  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Celtics-76ers Rivalry

One of the greatest rivalries in NBA history is the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers and these two teams could be on another collision course to face off again in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The rivalry dates way back before the most recent years of trash talk and headline match ups. It is built on a competitive history and numerous All-Stars who have battled each other in almost every generation of the NBA.

The first major battle between these two teams was back in the mid to late ‘60s when Bill Russell faced off against Wilt Chamberlain in numerous playoff match ups. It was these two superstars who dominated the Eastern Conference for much of that era.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Walton Leads Portland To The 1977 NBA Title

Bill Walton’s NBA journey was not smooth. He spent the first two years of his career injured, averaging roughly half a season in each. The man who was supposed to transform the Blazers ended up a rumor, a tantalizing and frustrating specter of possibility rather than the triumphant herald of a new era. The idea of the team finally getting good became a mythical concept, like, “When the swallows come back to Capistrano...and start playing the banjo.”

That all changed in 1976. The franchise added veteran coach Jack Ramsay and ABA forward Maurice Lucas. More importantly, Walton was finally (relatively) healthy. Behind their ascendant center, the Trail Blazers earned 49 regular-season victories. In the 1977 NBA Playoffs they would defeat the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, and Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers on their way to an NBA Finals face-off with the Philadelphia 76ers. The matchup was ready-made for television, with Philly’s star-laden roster—led by Julius “Dr. J” Erving—squaring off against the obscure, plucky team from Portland. When the Blazers fell behind 0-2 to start the series, everyone shrugged. When they came back to win 4-2, it started a celebration that would last a lifetime for the Blazers faithful, capturing the attention of the nation for a brief, shining moment.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Celtics Defeat Suns In 3-OT Thriller

On June 4, 1976, in the Boston Garden, the Celtics and Suns played perhaps the greatest and most controversial game in NBA history. It was Game 5 of the 1976 Finals and the series was tied 2-2. Controversy #1 occurred just prior to the end of regulation with the score tied at 95. The Celtics’ Paul Silas attempted to call time out despite the Celtics not having any left, which should have resulted in a technical against Boston. But the time out wasn’t granted, thus no technical was charged and the game went into overtime. But the craziest part of the game was still to come. In the final seconds of the 2nd overtime, Phoenix led 110-109 when John Havlicek hit a shot as the final horn sounded to seemingly give the Celtics a 111-110 win.

Fans poured onto the court and the Celtics jubilantly ran off the court to their locker room. But the officials determined that the ball had gone through the hoop with 1 second left and they put that back on the clock. The Celtics had to come back from their locker room and fans had to be removed from the court. Some fans attacked the referees in protest while others turned over the scorers’ table. When order was restored, the Suns had to inbound the ball from under their own basket down a point with 1 second left. The Suns’ Paul Westphal then signaled for a timeout that they did not have. This time the technical foul was called and Boston’s JoJo White hit the technical free throw to make the score 112-110 Boston. But by rule, after the technical, the Suns could inbound the ball at half court. The inbounds pass went to Garfield Heard who miraculously hit a buzzer-beating turnaround jump shot at the top of the key to tie the game at 112-112 and force this crazy game into a 3rd overtime. The Celtics would eventually win in the 3rd overtime by a final score of 128-126, and Boston went on to beat the Suns in Game 6 to win the 1976 NBA Championship.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

 Wilt Gets His Revenge In 1967

The '67 Sixers were so dominant - they created matchup problems for nearly every team in the league. Meaning no one else had the one-two punch of athleticism and shooting touch as Philly. The pair combined for nearly 20 rips a game for God's sake!

With all this ball control, and Chamberlain rarely sitting out, the Sixers shot 48 percent from the floor and averaged 125 points per contest.

Then, in the playoffs, the real surprises began, as Greer exploded for 28 points per game and they rolled through the Royals, Celtics and Warriors, also known as Robertson, Russell, and Thurmond, in seemingly invincible fashion.

The only knock on this team was that much of the competition it faced had been racked with injuries, and thus lost that certain chemistry which the abnormally healthy 76ers had maintained much of the season.

For Chamberlain and his team, it was the one year when everything clicked, something he would soon experience again.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Willis Reed Limps Out To Game 7 To Lead the Knicks To Victory

On May 4, 1970, in the first quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, New York Knicks’ Star Willis Reed was forced out of the game with an injury. Despite Reed’s absence, the Knicks managed to win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. Reed also missed Game 6, which was won by the Lakers to force a 7th game. With Reed’s status for the deciding game in doubt, Knicks fans will always fondly remember the dramatic moment of seeing Reed come out onto the court for the start of Game 7. That inspirational moment and Walt Frazier’s 36 points in Game 7 led the Knicks to their first ever NBA championship.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Knicks Win First Ever NBA Championship

In 1970, the New York Knicks etched their name in the history books by winning their first-ever NBA championship. Led by the heroic efforts of Willis Reed, who famously limped onto the court despite a severe injury, and the outstanding performance of Walt Frazier, the Knicks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a thrilling Game 7. This victory not only marked a significant milestone for the franchise but also solidified the Knicks' place among the NBA's elite. The 1970 championship team, with its grit, determination, and unwavering spirit, forever remains a beloved and iconic part of New York Knicks lore.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

 LA vs. NY: A Rivalry For The Ages

The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers forged an intense rivalry during the 1960s and 1970s, with the two teams often finding themselves pitted against each other in the NBA Finals. The Lakers, led by the legendary duo of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, consistently dominated the Western Conference, while the Knicks, with stars like Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, emerged as a powerhouse in the East. The rivalry reached its pinnacle in the 1970 NBA Finals, where a hobbled Reed inspired the Knicks to victory in a dramatic Game 7. This era of Knicks-Lakers clashes laid the foundation for one of the most storied rivalries in NBA history.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Rick Barry Leads Underdog Warriors To Series Sweep In 1975

Rick Barry didn’t need the Warriors’ 1975 title to validate his greatness, but his leading of that most unique championship winner does place him in distinguished company. The Golden State Warriors roster from that season was not littered with All-Stars. In fact, they represent something of a cliché more than anything else. Each man knew and understood his role. They beat the Washington Bullets the heavy favorites in four straight games.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Kareem Abdul Jabbar – Always A Champion

During his entire career with the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA championships and six regular season MVP awards (most in NBA history), along with two NBA Finals MVPs. During his 14 years with the Lakers, he led the team in scoring a club-record 11 straight seasons (1975-76 through 1985-86). His No. 33, retired on March 20, 1989, hangs in the rafters of STAPLES Center, one of seven current jerseys retired in franchise history.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

No One Could Beat Russell - “The Champion”

Bill Russell's dominance in the NBA is unparalleled. During his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969, Russell won an astounding 11 NBA championships, cementing his status as one of the greatest players of all time. Known for his incredible defensive prowess, rebounding ability, and leadership skills, Russell revolutionized the game and became the cornerstone of the Celtics' dynasty. His fierce competitiveness and unwavering commitment to winning set a new standard for excellence in the league. While his rival, Wilt Chamberlain, may have posted more impressive individual statistics, Russell's impact on his team's success and his ability to consistently lead the Celtics to championships is a testament to his unmatched greatness.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Magic Leads Lakers – Michael Jordan Prevails

Magic Johnson in his farewell to the NBA Championship Series led his Lakers to the 1991 finals vs. Michael Jordon and the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately for Magic, Michael led the Bulls to a 4-1 series victory.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Jerry West Hits 60’ Shot To Force OT

Jerry West hit a 60 foot shot at the end of regulation for the Lakers in Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals, tying the game and sending it to overtime (though the Knicks would eventually win that game, and the series).  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Celtics Tormented The Lakers In The 1960s

The rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics dates back to the very beginning of the NBA. Six of the Celtics triumphs in the 1950s and 1960s came at the Lakers’ expense. Having moved to California in 1960, the Lakers conquered the Western Conference with the likes of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Chamberlain on the roster, only to have to lose to the Celtics who were led by Bill Russell.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

The 1984 Finals

The clash between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers during that fateful series left an indelible mark on the sport, and it was the Celtics who emerged triumphant, securing their place in basketball lore.

The 1984 NBA Finals unfolded as a highly anticipated showdown between two perennial powerhouses – the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics, led by their iconic trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, were determined to reclaim the championship glory that had eluded them for two years. On the other side, the Lakers, spearheaded by the legendary Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, were equally hungry for success. The series began with a pulsating atmosphere, as both teams traded victories in the first six games, setting the stage for a decisive Game 7. The Celtics and the Lakers had battled fiercely, each claiming victories on both courts. The tension reached its zenith as the series returned to Boston for the ultimate showdown. 

Game 7 took place at the Boston Garden, a hallowed ground for the Celtics faithful. In a contest filled with tension and drama, the Celtics emerged victorious with a hard-fought 111-102 win. Larry Bird once again showcased his brilliance, contributing 20 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists, earning him the Finals MVP honors.  Nostalgic America / Getty Images

Magic Johnson Comes Back And Leads The Lakers

With the help of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers achieved their first NBA Finals victory over the Boston Celtics in nine meetings, 4 - 2 games. The Lakers recovered after losing in a rout in Game 1, dubbed the "Memorial Day Massacre.”  Nostalgic America / Getty Images