The 2010-11 NBA season is officially in the books — a season so crazy it’s easy to forget many of the wonderful things that made it so special. Luckily for you, TBJ is not in the forgetting-shit business, so I’ve come up with the list of the 100 greatest moments of the NBA year that was. Check out the entire list and let me know what I missed as I’m sure the list of exclusions are many. It was that kind of season.
10. Kevin Love’s 30-30 against the Knicks
Kevin Negandhi said it best: “It’s always a good night when you can talk about Moses Malone to start off SportsCenter.” Kevin Love’s magical ’10-’11 season would end up invoking many callbacks to Big Mo before all was said and done, but first and foremost, there was his 30-30 game against the Knicks, a performance that brought the Timberwolves’ young big man to national prominence and had NBA fans who couldn’t have given less of a shit about the Wolves jumping out of their seats to cheer for his near-meaningless three with 70 seconds to go that put his statline over the hump. By the end of the year, even Snoop Dogg was reppin’ for the Love Machine, and that probably never happens without the 30-30.
9. Slam. Dunk. Contest.
As good a reminder as you’ll ever need that any year where people declare the Slam Dunk Contest as “dead,” it’ll be immediately followed by one that makes them declare it as “back.” Serge Ibaka dunked from the foul line and grabbed a toy off the rim with his mouth — and he was the worst of the four participants. Debate among dunkheads will forever rage over whether top honors should have gone to JaVale McGee, who had the most impressive dunks but needed the most tries to pull them off, DeMar DeRozan, who had the simplest dunks but delivered them with the most old-school skill, or Blake Griffin, whose dunks were perhaps the easiest but the most theatrical. Of course, the true winner of the evening was obvious: Kia, who got ridiculous product placement and even a fucking commercial out of it.
8. Brandon Roy’s Game 4 resurrection against the Mavericks
Up until Game 4 of the Blazers’ first-round series against the Mavericks, Brandon Roy was probably the feel-bad story of the NBA season. A former franchise player and top-ten talent who, after countless surgeries and a total loss of cartilage, found himself as a bench player whose entire future was being questioned at the ripe old age of 26. Every NBA fan’s heart bled a little this year for Roy, the Blazers and what could have been. Then came Game Four, where Roy exploded for 18 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Blazers back from 23 down to a stunning home defeat of the Mavs, including a four-point play with a minute to go that became one of the iconic moments of a post-season for the ages. It wasn’t a storybook ending — the Mavs would take the next two games, sending Portland to their third-straight first-round exit — but Roy’s clear-as-day “fuck you, I’m not dead yet” message to the world had to bring a smile to the face of anyone watching.
7. Wade’s unthinkable full-court alley-oop to LeBron
We didn’t know what to expect from this Miami Heat team going into this year. Would they blend? Would they turn on their coach? Would they be able to overcome their lack of depth? Would they suffer from the dreaded “Alpha Dog issues”? Would they put it all together and win a championship? But the one thing that we did know was this: They were going to show us basketball that we had never seen before. The combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two of the best, smartest, most athletic players of the NBA’s 21st century, was going to result in games, runs, plays, the likes of which were absolutely unprecedented in NBA history. Case in point: Dwyane Wade’s court-length alley-oop hook-up with LeBron James, a 92-foot connection most conspicuous for the fact that despite how impressive, how stunning and how historically noteworthy it was, it really wasn’t all that surprising. Meanwhile, Chris Bosh offered valuable emotional support from the other end of the court.
6. The regular-season rebirth of the possibly-made-up Celtics-Knicks rivalry at MSG
Did the Celtics and Knicks really have a rivalry before their regular-season matchup on December 15th, 2010. The answer is probably no, but they should have. Never good enough at the same time to engender true inter-team animosity, the history of New York-Boston sports hate (as well as the looming presence of both teams throughout the history of the East) meant that all Knicks-Celtics would ever need to truly ignite was one single spark. Dec. 15th was that spark and then some, as the big dog Celtics and suddenly resurgent Knicks played a high-scoring, down-to-the-wire affair that first ended with Paul Pierce’s trademark go-ahead elbow jumper (and Nate Robinson’s unforgettably hilarious fail of a celebration) and then with Amare’s catch-and-shoot three at the other end, which would have been one of the five greatest shots in Knicks history, had it not occurred milliseconds after the buzzer and thus been disallowed. A four game sweep from Boston in the first round of the playoffs this year ensures that when the two teams meet up next year — or whenever it is that we’re next playing professional basketball — the rivalry storylines aren’t going to have to be forced by anyone.
5. Paul Millsap: 28 seconds, 11 points
Does anybody remember that this game happened the same night as the Pacers’ 54-point quarter? Of course not, because all anyone wanted to talk about the next morning was Paul Millsap. 11 points in 28 seconds, pivoting around three three-pointers by a guy who hadn’t made three three-pointers in his career to that point, to launch a last-minute offensive against the most hated team in the NBA in the season’s most shocking come-from-behind victory? Yeah, that might grab some headlines. The game ended up being one of the only truly positive memories from a season that saw the Jazz lose its head coach, its best player and its four-year playoffs streak, but damned if it wasn’t one that could be shown on ESPN Classic weekly. And as for the Heat—you can take them to task for every other one of their late-game meltdowns this season, but they were fighting a force greater than the Utah Jazz on that night.
4. Blake Griffin dunks all over the New York Knicks
Oh, the poor New York Knicks. Though it was mostly a good season for the ‘Bockers, one which saw them acquire two franchise-cornerstone guys and make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, they make my top ten three times, and all for games in which they got punked. At least technically speaking, they did beat the Clippers in that game on November 21st, but all anyone is ever going to remember from that night is Blake Griffin dunking in the faces — usually with his crotch — of Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov. We knew from the pre-season that Blake was going to be a monster, but the three dunks in that Knick game — especially that unconscionable throwdown on Mozgov, which basically ended up killing Timmy’s season for the next two months—made him an instant NBA phenomenon. He also had 44 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in that game, which is good.
3. Thunder-Grizzlies, Game 4
This post-season was all about the Game 4s — pivotal, epic contests which either ended up swinging the playoff series or allowing the eventual loser to at least get out with some crazy memories. There are six Game 4s mentioned in this list, and the best of them was easily Thunder-Grizzlies. It was the best game from the post-season’s best series, a triple-overtime bloodbath that saw foul-outs, missed free-throws, key blocks, key steals, heads-up plays to save loose balls, missed chippies, three-point plays and two of the most insane last-minute game-tying threes in recent playoff history — all just a couple games after a double-digit comeback win in OT for the Grizzlies in game three. The Grizzlies were the best part of the post-season’s first two rounds, and though it seemed they were probably not going to make it to a third round after coming up one miracle short in Game 4, they had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. “The NBA at its best,” Mike Breen concluded of Grizz-Thunder after OKC had officially secured game seven. I wanted to cry because it was so true.
2. Ray Allen breaks the NBA’s all-time record for three-pointers
Anytime you can see a guy break the all-time record for something in professional sports, it’s a pretty big deal. When the guy is someone as universally respected and revered as Ray Allen, you really feel lucky to be able to witness the moment. Few things set NBA writers’ hearts a-flutter like the sight of Ray-Ray squaring up for a three-pointer, and it just seemed right that this was going to be the guy to take the record, and probably hold it for the foreseeable future. It was such a lovey-dovey moment for the league in the days leading up to the broken record that we even tolerated Reggie Miller’s endless moaning about how the great three-point shooter was a dying breed, since at least he seemed to realize there was no shame in losing his record to Allen. And when Jesus Shuttlesworth did finally hit that record-breaking three against the Lakers, the most memorable part was Mama Allen coming over to the TNT booth to give Reggie a big ol’ hug. How many other times in sports history has the game action paused so that one of the players’ moms and a TV announcer could embrace?
1. The first-ever NBA Championship rings for Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki
The Mavericks’ merry gang of No-Ring All-Stars seemed to be an afterthought as the curtain went down on the regular season, with most predicting them to bow out to the Blazers in the first round. But in this least-predictable of playoffs, the Mavericks somehow ended up the last team standing, triumphing over the vaunted Miami Heat in six games to take home the first Larry O’Brien trophy in franchise history. The fact that the Heat lost was great, but the fact that the Mavs won was even better, vindicating (or at the very least, re-defining) the careers of some of the most likable and compelling players of the last decade, and proving that in a league normally as favorite-heavy as the NBA, occasionally a good team can just start playing really well together and ride that all the way to a championship. But best of all was how the series elevated Dirk Nowitzki — a singular player and singular presence in league history — from NBA cult hero to NBA all-time legend, ensuring that his greatness will have to be shoved down future generations of NBA fans’ throats for decades to come. We will take that with us, indeed.