The 4 Shots That Changed The NBA Conference Finals


Heading into weekend, it looked as though the top seeds left in each conference were on a collision course to face each other in the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs had just demoralized the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first two games, extending their winning streak to an absurd 20 games, while the Miami Heat took care of the Boston Celtics behind some truly emphatic performances by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

But there’s a saying that a series doesn’t really start until somebody loses at home. And the underdogs were not about to cede on their home floors in Games Three and Four. Everything actually held to form, with both Boston and Oklahoma City tying things up to make it a best-of-three fight to the death.

Well, the past two nights, the NBA Conference Finals officially got underway. Somehow, some way the Thunder and the Celtics, two teams who were left for dead, each won their third straight contests, both breaking through on the road. How? Basically, it all boiled down to four humongous shots.

Monday night, the Thunder showed they weren’t afraid of the Alamo. Following a slow start, OKC took command of the game behind some excellent play by its two leaders, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Before you knew it, the Thunder had a double-digit lead and looked to be snatching the ceremonial torch from the accomplished Spurs.

But San Antonio, being the champion, veteran team it is, came storming back to cut OKC’s lead to two with less than two minutes to play on the back of Manu Ginobili. That’s when Russell Westbrook made the first of the four shots that changed the course of the NBA Conference Finals.

Following a pair of freebies by Manu to make it a 101-99 game, Westbrook, who despite a very good game was still being chastised by Steve Kerr for “overdribbling” too much, rose up and nailed a clutch jumper, 103-99, OKC. It was a bucket the Thunder desperately needed to keep the tide at bay. San Antonio was coming and the crowd was ready to explode. Westbrook’s jumper helped calm the storm.

Still, the Spurs wouldn’t go quietly.

Tim Duncan followed with a patented turnaround bank shot, 103-101. That’s when James Harden hit one of the most difficult – and clutch – shots the Western Conference Finals have ever seen.

With Kawhi Leonard draped all over him, Harden stepped back beyond the three-point line and drilled a dagger with a degree of difficulty off the charts. Game. Set. Match. Series officially altered.


It was the type of shot that never escapes your memory, the type of play that will be remembered forever as having a lasting impact. You know those moments when you see them. Monday night, we saw two of them, one from Westbrook and the biggest from Harden. Fear the beard indeed.

Last night, it was an unexpected source and a familiar face helping change the course of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Following a questionable technical foul call on Mario Chalmers that had given Boston a two-point lead, Chalmers came right back and nailed a clutch three reminiscent of his Kansas days to give Miami a one-point lead. As big as that shot was, it wasn’t the Conference Finals-altering shot it could have been.

That’s because on the very next possession, after a near steal by Miami, Rajon Rondo managed to instead prevent the turnover and tap the ball to a wide-open Mickael Pietrus. Pietrus had all damn day to shoot the uncontested three, and he subsequently nailed it. It was the pivotal moment of the game. Miami had just taken a one-point lead with less than three to play and came this close to forcing a turnover with the chance to go up even more.

Instead, Rondo made a great play, and Pietrus made a huge bucket, giving the Celtics a two-point lead.

Moments later, with Boston still holding on by one, old reliable Paul Pierce hit a shot eerily similar to that of Harden’s on Monday night. With the shot clock winding down, LeBron James was draped all over the Truth. No matter. Paul just calmly rose and fired a three, drilling it right in the King’s face, 90-86 Boston, game essentially over.

It’s amazing how many times you can watch a close, intense game and see it come down to just a few key plays. The past two nights, four shots changed the course of the NBA Conference Finals. A clutch jumper by Westbrook and absurd dagger of a three by Harden gave Oklahoma City its third straight win and a 3-2 series lead. A broken-play three by Pietrus and big balls bulls-eye trey by Paul Pierce showed the old legs of Boston still have some life left, cementing Boston’s third straight victory for a 3-2 series lead of its own.

Four shots over the course of two nights, and suddenly, the NBA Conference Finals have been turned on their head.

7 Replies to “The 4 Shots That Changed The NBA Conference Finals”

    1. I’ve never seen two series get the scripts flipped so quickly. Craziness. And people who didn’t watch & only saw the Harden/Pierce highlight-reel shots need to realize just how vital those buckets by Westbrook & Pietrus were. Games could have swung the other way if those two don’t hit those shots at those exact moments. Awesome series so far.

      Can’t wait to see what else is in store.

  1. Great analysis. Amazing that after 44 minutes of ball, teams that go this far in the playoffs are often within spitting distance of each other. So it always comes down to who has the biggest stones. It’s why teams with MJ, Bird and Magic won all the time. Those dudes had ice in their veins.

    So when Westbrook’s shot went down, I said, “huge shot.” He misses it and SA potentially wins game and potentially series, while OKC has another off-season filled with “Westbrook” can’t stand being #2 behind Durant nonsense. Meanwhile, Harden is establishing that these are the Big 3 that other NBA teams will have to worry about for the next decade. No way OKC will let him go.

    The Truth and Pietrus? Truth has those stones, and Pietrus turns out to be the bench player who’s coming up biggest in the East the last couple of games. His D on Wade and James has been just as key as his 3s.

    1. It certainly would be nice for Westbrook to break through and finally get the credit he deserves, and it’s always a pleasure to watch a guy unafraid of the moment come through. As much as Pierce has been a thorn in my side as a Sixers fan, man, there is no denying his penchant for rising to the occasion.

  2. You speak the truth Rev.. Cold blooded but true.
    If any of those buckets are changed momentum has swung and everyone is talking about how great the other team is. It’s exciting to watch and since I don’t have a horse in this race, it’s compelling. I still want all games to go to 7. I enjoy having basketball on every night at 8:30.
    Good post.

    1. I’m with you. No real horse in either race here as well. I’m just enjoying the compelling basketball that’s going on. Great for the NBA. And hey, maybe the Kings can pull off the sweep tonight so I can turn my full attention to these contests, instead of juggling the two TVs in my living room.

  3. Truth you speak.. these shot changed the games and the series.. with my Lakers out I just want both series to go 7.. harden and pierce’s shots will be talked about forever ..

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