Basketball High Five: Memorable Decade's Highlights


Bench Warmer
A new decade begins Friday in the NBA with three games on the schedule, four of this season's presumed title contenders bunched up but generally living up to billing and one last look back at the decade we just departed.

To cap a series of retrospectives that began with a 10-question SportsNation quiz, followed by submissions from John Hollinger and Chad Ford that covered many of the decade's bests and worsts on the floor and on draft day, here are the hoops memories -- good and bad -- from Jan. 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2009, that stand out most for your humble Weekend Dime correspondent.

Five good memories, for starters, followed by five not-so-pleasant episodes in Box 6 … after which we resolve to refocus fully on the Cavaliers-Celtics-Lakers-Magic jumble at the top of the league and a busy 2010 calendar (when you look ahead to free agency and labor negotiations in the summer) that could tell us a lot about the next 10 years.

You had a record-tying 18 games decided by two points or fewer.

You had 10 games that went to overtime to set a record.

You had four Game 7s to fall one short of the record.

You had Phoenix coming back from a 3-1 deficit to stun Kobe Bryant's Lakers.

You had LeBron James in the playoffs for the first time to torture the Wizards by leading Cleveland to three one-point games in a six-game series.

You had San Antonio losing a Game 7 on its home floor when the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks went up by 20, squandered all of that lead (having already blown a 3-1 series lead) and eventually pulled away in overtime after Nowitzki's 3-point play, with a big assist from Manu Ginobili's unconscionable foul on a driving Dirk at the end of regulation.

You had Miami climbing out of a 2-0 hole in the NBA Finals to beat Dallas in six games in the greatest Finals comeback of all time, with the Mavs seemingly on the verge of a sweep thanks to a 13-point lead with less than seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and then unraveling.

Add it all up, and what did you have?

The greatest postseason of my adult life … especially considering what was to come in 2007 with the Phoenix suspensions against San Antonio, followed by the Spurs' sweep of Cleveland in the lowest-rated NBA Finals in history, followed by the Tim Donaghy revelations in July.


Ask yourself this question: What's the most memorable single play from the 2000s?

My instinctive answer: Chances are Robert Horry was on the floor for it.

This YouTube compilation of Horry's greatest playoff hits includes multiple game winners and game clinchers that should stir your memory. Eighty percent of the footage is from the decade we just concluded, cementing Horry's place on this scorecard as the greatest role player of all time.

A deep and thoughtful rewind of the past 10 years will turn up plenty of alternatives to consider in the most memorable play of the decade derby. Here are five other plays that, at least to me, were as unforgettable as Allen Iverson's infamous rant about prac-tisss in 2002:

• Derek Fisher's .4-second turnaround jumper that floored the Spurs in 2004.

• Tayshaun Prince sprinting all the way back to the other end to swat away Reggie Miller's fast-break layup in '04.

• Kobe Bryant's overtime buzzer-beater from the elbow out of a midcourt jump ball to put the Suns in that 3-1 hole in 2006.

• Dirk Nowitzki's drive and free throw to force overtime in that Game 7 in San Antonio in '06.

• Tim Duncan's 3-pointer from the right wing that forced a second overtime against Phoenix in 2008 … and triggered the breakup of the Suns as we knew them for much of the decade.

However …

Horry was so consistently clutch that he sank two shots that could legitimately trump all of the above, since both saved teams that went on to win the championship. There was Horry's 3-pointer in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals in Detroit that nudged San Antonio into a decisive 3-2 series lead. And there was Horry's triple at the buzzer from the top of the arc in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, which still ranks as the clutchest shot I've seen in person.

Big Shot Rob's biggest dagger capped a comeback from 24 points down in a series matching the two best teams in the league. If Horry had missed it, remember, Sacramento would have taken a 3-1 series lead back home for Game 5 and almost certainly would have prevented the Lakers from three-peating.


I've heard every case made to try to downplay this achievement.

It was just a game in January with nothing at stake.

It was only the Raptors.

It was Kobe at his ball-hogging worst.

Nearly four years later, I don't know who would buy any of that.

Back before he switched to No. 24 and about a year before the Memphis Grizzlies gift wrapped Pau Gasol for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant uncorked 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Eighty-one points in 42 minutes! Which has to rank as the greatest individual performance we've seen.

It has to be the greatest because (A) there is no footage of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962 for us to present as a counter and (B) even Chamberlain himself is quoted on the Basketball Hall of Fame's Web site describing the fourth quarter of that game as "a farce" because of the Philadelphia Warriors' incessant fouling to keep getting the ball back.

The Lakers trailed the Raps by 18 points in the second half before Bryant, with 51 of his 81 points coming after the Raps had moved out to a 71-53 lead, single-handedly resurrected them. Take a long look at the box-score numbers. I think even Cavs fans -- even LeBron James -- eventually will back the recent Weekend Dime declaration that not even James' 25 consecutive points against Detroit on a far more meaningful stage (Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals) can match the degree of difficulty.


Shaquille O'Neal has been traded three times since July 2004, starting with his original move from Lakerland to Miami after the '04 Finals in the biggest trade involving a big man since the early 1980s deals that landed Robert Parish and Moses Malone with Boston and Philadelphia, respectively … or maybe even going back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's move from Milwaukee to L.A. in 1975.

Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson were traded twice during the past decade.

Rasheed Wallace (2004) and Kevin Garnett (2007) headlined trades that led to the next available championship, although KG's arrival in Boston was part of a two-step Celtics overhaul that began with the acquisition of Ray Allen.

Shaq, Jason Kidd and Pau Gasol, meanwhile, all were traded within a dizzying 20-day span in 2008 that eventually led to a championship on the second attempt for Gasol's new team in L.A.

All of those blockbusters contributed to the growth of a huge sport-within-the-sport in the new millennium. Many modern fans, as noted here previously, care as much (or more) about the NBA transaction game as the actual games on the floor.

Count us on that list, too.

It's an irresistible habit, fueled by the rise of available-to-the-public tools that didn't exist before:'s NBA Trade Machine,'s daily Rumors page and Larry Coon's invaluable NBA Salary Cap FAQ. And I have no plans to apologize.

These are happy days if you, like me, love trades, and all the speculation and anticipation that go with them.

5. THE 2003 DRAFT

You probably know by now that I like to leave the draft evaluations to the true draftniks like our man Chad Ford.

The Class of 2003, though, was the sort of landscape changer that will be talked about well into the next decade, starting with the long-anticipated summer of 2010 free-agent bonanza.

The top five picks in the '03 draft delivered four franchise players -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- when we really were expecting only two: LeBron and Melo.

It also is the draft that delivered the biggest bust of the decade -- No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic, whom I frankly liked as much as Ford and the Pistons at the time -- and three more All-Stars from outside the lottery: No. 18 David West, No. 29 Josh Howard and No. 47 Mo Williams.

Yet it's the timing of when this group arrived, more than anything, that makes it so historic.

You'll recall that the final few months of the 2002-03 season were Michael Jordan's last as an NBA player. The final magical act of MJ's career -- his fadeaway baseline jumper in overtime that didn't quite win the '03 All-Star Game in Atlanta but nonetheless demands inclusion on his all-time highlight reel -- soon was followed by his swift and icy ouster by late Wizards owner Abe Pollin. Assuming he would be allowed to return to Washington's front office after a two-season comeback that didn't get the Wiz into the playoffs but sure didn't hurt Pollin's bottom line, Jordan was stunned to learn in early May 2003 that he was being dumped for the first time in his adult life.

But draft day, some six weeks later, pumped the whole league with lots of fascinating new blood, which would prove invaluable as the NBA -- for the second time -- had to face the unwelcome challenge of trying to move out from under MJ's considerable postretirement shadow.

The consensus expectation now is that the upper crust of '03 draftees will be casting their own shadows when we look back 10 or so years from now. It's already happening in Detroit, where the Pistons have been forced to wonder how much different their long-term outlook would be -- even after winning a championship in 2004 thanks to the flurry of slick Joe Dumars moves detailed here by Professor Hollinger -- had they drafted Melo or Bosh instead of Milicic.

By Marc Stein