Top Five Most Controversial Moments In NBA Play-Off History

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We take a look at some of the most controversial moments in NBA playoff history, with the 2022 Finals on the horizon

Dallas Mavericks

With the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors ready to get underway on Thursday evening, we take a look back at some of the most jaw-dropping moments in the history of the playoffs.

5. 1998 Final – Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz

A moment that has already been encapsulated in the Netflix documentary series The Last Dance is Michael Jordan’s match and title-winning shot for the Chicago Bulls to win their sixth NBA title in eight years.

It was a magnificent piece of play from the legendary number 23, but the initial build-up was laced with controversy.

Bryon Russell, who was assigned to guard Jordan, claimed he was pushed off illegally – a claim that Jordan has since refuted.

Replays showed there was some contact between the two players but the officials in charge did not spot it, and the rest is history.

4. 2016 Final – Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors

This isn’t controversial per se, but it is perhaps the most astonishing comeback ever seen in the history of the NBA Finals.

It was 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the former were expected to complete the job with minimal fuss.

They had won 73 games in the regular season, had the MVP in Stephen Curry, and only lost twice at home, with the Cavs needing to win two on the road as well as their last remaining home game.

However, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving’s heroics, in particular, saw them pull off one of the most spectacular comebacks of all.

They scored 41 points apiece in match five to make it 3-2 before a 93-89 win stole the show in the final contest.

3. 2002 Western Conference Finals – Los Angeles Lakers vs Sacramento Kings

Entering game six, the Kings were 3-2 up and on the brink of reaching their first Final since 1951.

Cue controversy and conspiracy theories – a series of strange calls from disgraced referee Tim Donaghy overshadowed the series.

Kobe Bryant’s elbow square in Mike Bibby’s face was not called, and that plus numerous other calls saw the Kings denied as the Lakers won 4-3.

The TV ratings for the series were so good that some thought the contest was rigged to guarantee a seventh game.

2. 2000 Western Conference Finals – Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers

Another one for the conspiracy theorists – this tie was poised at 3-3 heading into the winner-takes-all clash.

What was notable was the disparity in free throws – the Lakers had 37 compared to the Trail Blazers’ 16.

Trail Blazers duo Arvydas Sabonis and Scottie Pippen were tasked with guarding Lakers stars Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. Both ended up being fouled out, culminating in the Trail Blazers losing a 15-point lead in the fourth and final quarter.

Some feel the Lakers were given more than a helping hand by the officials.

1. 2006 NBA Finals – Dallas Mavericks vs Miami Heat

One of the most contentious refereeing decisions in the history of the sport occurred here, and it allowed Miami Heat to go on and clinch their first-ever NBA title.

In game six, a blocking foul called on German Dirk Nowitzki handed two free throws to Dwyane Wade, which were duly converted with only 26 seconds of the fourth quarter remaining.

It was a soft decision and one which the Mavericks were left to rue.

A sports journalist for over 15 years, Aidan has been part of written and audio coverage on a wide-ranging number of events. Having played and coached at amateur level, he offers in-depth insight and opinion into the world of football in particular.
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