It’s a thing of beauty to watch the best basketball players in the world elevate their games when the stakes are the highest. Indeed, when the best teams bring their best defense and great players find ways to not only counter them, but do it in a creative and yet aesthetically pleasing way; it tends to drive fans crazy.
Whether we care to admit it or not, it’s one of the biggest reasons that Kobe Bryant will always be remembered; he has a career full of great plays to highlight great playoff performances. Anyone remember that game winning jumper against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 in the first round of the 2006 playoffs?
The best and worst thing about a great postseason play is that it tends to live on seemingly forever. For instance, Ray Allen posterized Tracy McGrady on a terrific baseline dunk in the 2001 playoff first round. One would venture to think that Allen probably loves to remind some of his younger Celtic teammates of this moment every now and then.
Playoff moments like Starks’ dunk over Horace Grant and Michael Jordan as well as MJ’s double-team beating baseline dunk over Patrick Ewing will never be forgotten (one of my all-time favorites). The degree of difficulty as well as the level of competition often makes plays like these instant Youtube classics.
Back in 2007, the Golden State Warriors decided to join in on the fun. After eliminating the top seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of playoffs, the Dubs drew the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Several fans felt that the contrast in styles between the teams would make for a riveting match up, and it did not disappoint. The Warriors often played like a team that got paid for the amount of shots they put up per game.
Golden State favored a fast pace and did not really look to execute much in the half court, preferring instead to take the first available shot or simply playing a Rucker style of basketball where everyone just isolated their defender.
The Jazz on the other hand were one of the most disciplined teams in the league. They rarely if ever got out of their continuity. They favored doing things the same way each and every time, and left little room to improvisation. Their biggest advantage over the Dubs was clearly their interior game because they had a starting frontline that featured Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.
Given the fact that the Warriors were a smaller team, any signature moment would probably have to happen at the rim with one of Utah’s big people challenging the attempt.
The candidates for a signature moment in this series had to be Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes.
And yet, on this night the game truly belongs to one player.
With about 2:59 left in a 119-99 rout, Baron Davis dribbles at the top of the key, probing to find a driving lane and then pulls back to midcourt. The fans are already happy and cheering a little because the Dubs performance on this night has given them reason to be ecstatic.
As Davis is dribbling close to center court, he sees Andris Biedrins at the left elbow and thus passes him the ball. He drifts back towards his center to get the ball and Deron Williams who is defending Baron gets somewhat screened by Biedrins during the pass and goes behind the big man and emerges right in front on Baron when he catches the ball.
The former UCLA star takes the pass, head fakes and takes three dribbles to his left and elevates off of two feet going in for the dunk with his right hand and his body twisted sideways in the air.
The 6’11” Andrei Kirilenko is right there at the rim and jumps to counter the dunk attempt. He is in relatively good position to get the block or possibly commit a hard foul to prevent the basket.
As Baron Davis goes up, it’s almost as if he gives Kirilenko a quick warning about what’s about to go down as his left arm hits the Russian forward in the chest as if to say “you probably shouldn’t have tried to block this one”.
BOOM! The NBA will now start printing posters and making desktop and screensaver images to capture the moment. Davis dunked the ball over the top of the Jazz small forward and also drew the foul. And one.
And seemingly impressed with himself, Davis who landed and drifted back behind the basket support, lifts his jersey up. The reaction makes little sense, but really what else could he do? After a play like that, there really isn’t a playbook on how one should celebrate such as an amazing feat. The reaction earns him a technical foul.
And just like that, Baron Davis gained the closest thing to basketball immortality that does not involve winning a championship or making the Hall of Fame.
One this night, and this alone, Baron Davis can be mentioned in the same playoff sentence as Michael Jordan, and we will all remember when he did it.