To date, the dunk of this years playoffs was Taj Gibson’s two handed, fast break slam over Dwayne Wade. Some have said this is one of the best playoff dunks of all time. Although impressive, Gibson’s dunk doesn’t crack the top 5 for playoff dunks in the 21st century, so to label it as a best ever is unjustified. Three key components when considering the best of the playoff dunks are:
1) The importance of the dunk.
2) Who (if anybody) is on the wrong end of the poster
3) Difficulty/wow factor of the dunk.
Based on these guidelines, there are at least 5 that top Gibson’s dunk. Here the 5 best in order.
#5 – Kobe Bryant’s alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neil: (2000 Western Conference Finals Game 7)
None are more important then this one, as the win and dunk put the Lakers in the Finals. The alley oop has become an almost routine play for some, but there is nothing easy about it. This particular play starts with Kobe using a crossover to get into the lane drawing the Portland defenders. It ends with a perfectly placed pass just outside the reach of Rasheed Wallace and within the grasp of Shaq. For most players on the receiving end, this pass would have been too high, as Shaq grabs it around the top of the box on the backboard. This play shows how athletic Shaq was and how unstoppable he and Kobe were as a tandem.
#4 – Tony Allen vs. Antawn Jamison: (2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6)
This dunk is ranked solely on the wow factor. Tony Allen dunks with authority and changes his arm angle to get the dunk over the 6 foot 9 Jamison. He is set up by a baseline drive from Ray Allen to open the lane for Allen’s dunk. As he starts to elevate it appears as though Antawn Jamison has all angles covered and will come away with a block or at least a foul and send Allen to the line to earn it. Instead Allen does the seemingly impossible almost contorting his arm to go around the lengthily Jamison. This play also stands out as Allen, like Gibson is not someone you expect to steal the top play of the night.
#3 – Tracy McGrady vs. Shawn Bradley: (2005 First Round Game 2)
There was a time when Tracy McGrady appeared destined to be a career long highlight reel. Injuries and a rumored lack of motivation have derailed his rise, but he still provided several jaw dropping drunks, none better then his drunk over one of the tallest players in NBA history. The fact that the 7 foot 6 Bradley is unable to even muster a defensive act makes this dunk that much more impressive. Shawn Bradley was never considered a feared shot blocker, despite his height, but it should be impossible for this to happen and especially in the manner that it did. Adding to the already impressive wow factor is how McGrady somehow manages to end up on the back of Bradley and the intensity shown from the usually calm T Mac.
#2 – Lebron vs. Kevin Garnett: (2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4)
This dunk captures it all. It comes in a huge game and at a time when the Cavs needed a basket to seal the win. The fact that it comes at the expense of the emotional leader of Boston and known shot blocker Kevin Garnett adds to this dunk. It also shows the freakish athleticism of King James who pretty much takes on 3 Celtics on his way to this dunk. Also consider the fact that the Celtics are a very good defensive team and would have had all eyes on Lebron at this juncture in the game with the intent to make someone else bear them, and could still not prevent the poster.
#1 – Baron Davis vs. Andrei Kirilenko: (2007 Western Conference Semifinals Game 3)
This dunk is the best for the simple fact that it captures a magical moment in the NBA. The Warriors have arguably the best fan base in the league and it all came together on this play. In good times and bad Oracle is a loud, involved, enthusiastic arena. With the Warriors in the middle of their Cinderella season and wrapping up a convincing win over the Jazz, the home crowd was in a frenzy, when Baron Davis went baseline. With his back to the basket to shield the shot blocker, he absorbed the contact and finished with an emphatic dunk. With separates this dunk from all the others is the reaction of everyone. The players and fans all have a look of amazement on their face. You can spend as much time appreciating the reaction of the fans, bench and players as you can on the dunk itself. Baron Davis, a point guard dunked over Kirilenko who at the time was a premier shot blocker. The reaction from Davis, pulling out his jersey and the stare down is classic as it’s what the fans want from their star. He was called for a technical but it exhibits the attitude and swagger of both the team and fan base. Simply put this is the best moment, to date involving a dunk in the NBA during the 21st century.
Dunks continue to be one of the most exciting plays in a NBA game. Add to this the intensity of the playoffs and the result is magic. With so many great athletes in the NBA even the likes of Tony Allen and Taj Gibson can join this type of list. Inevitably though it will be the headliners who shine when the lights are the brightest and when the stakes are the highest and will reward those watching with a dunk you will never forget. With more basketball left this year it’s even possible to have a new addition to this list before the end of the 2011 season.