It has been two and a half months since we’ve seen a poster dunk, an ankle-breaking move or a buzzer-beating shot on an NBA court. And, while there is some hope of a potential restart, plenty of hurdles remain in the league’s mission to save the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But that won’t stop us from reliving some of the best plays we’ve already witnessed from the 2019-20 season.
From a powerful slam from the MVP favorite, to a full-court touchdown pass from OKC’s big man, to a free throw magic trick by Sacramento’s clever point guard, our NBA experts are breaking down their favorite plays from the season … so far.
March 1, 2020: Giannis stings the Hornets
Selecting one of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s greatest hits on the hardwood this season is as tough as choosing your favorite Stevie Wonder classic — there were just too many great ones. One that stands out was this thunderous spinning dunk down the lane against the Hornets. The reigning MVP would end with 41 points, 20 rebounds and 6 assists as the Bucks won their sixth straight and 20th in 22 games. That performance and play were representative of their dominant run all season long.
— Eric Woodyard
Los Angeles Lakers
Nov. 1, 2019: Green saves the day
Just five games into the season, the Lakers learned a lot about trust. Trailing the Mavericks by three with 6.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter, LeBron James trusted first-year Lakers head coach Frank Vogel when he diagrammed a sideline out-of-bounds play that called for James to penetrate and kick. James trusted Danny Green to make the shot, and Green trusted Dwight Howard to free him up in the corner with a pick on Seth Curry. And Howard, it turns out, trusted the referees not to be whistle-happy on the game’s biggest possession as he got away with a hold on Curry.
“What was my role in the final play of regulation? I don’t know. I guess … screen,” Howard said at the time, with the league’s Last Two Minute Report later determining he should have been called for an offensive foul.
“Our team came over and said I got away with a little hold. But whatever it takes to win, we got to do.”
— Dave McMenamin
Dec. 22, 2019: Lowry-to-Boucher caps Toronto’s historic comeback
The defending champions have dealt with one obstacle after another this season, and have kept winning anyway. There was no better encapsulation of that than their absurd comeback from being down 30 points in the third quarter to beat the Mavericks at home.
Playing without Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, it was Lowry — he had 32 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in 42 minutes — who led the way for Toronto, including hitting Chris Boucher in the waning seconds to officially put Toronto ahead for good.
Without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors weren’t expected to remain a factor in the East. Through sheer will — and thanks to having plenty of talent — the Raptors have done just that.
— Tim Bontemps
Dec. 25, 2019: PatBev plays Grinch on Christmas Day
In a game dripping with playoff atmosphere, the Clippers led the Lakers 109-106 in the marquee Christmas Day game. With 3.6 seconds left, LeBron James went up for a potential tying 3, but Patrick Beverley swiped the ball and it went off of James and out of bounds, clinching the game on Beverley’s biggest play of the season and what the Clippers have built their championships hopes on: defense and heart.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
Arguably the defining play of last season was Tatum missing a potential tying shot in Orlando — only to have Kyrie Irving blast his teammates and coaches after the game. Tatum’s shot to beat the Knicks in November, however, set the scene for how this season would be different. Tatum’s midseason hot streak helped earn him his first All-Star appearance and put his plateauing play of last season behind him.
The Nuggets are one of those teams with a sneaky amount of excellent choices, namely because Nikola Jokic keeps throwing ridiculous passes (his one-handed touchdown to Gary Harris against the Raptors was art), but Murray’s unofficial poster is too good to deny. It didn’t count on the scoreboard, but it might have counted for a whole lot more.
It has all the pieces of a 10/10 poster — elevation, impact, viciousness. Plus, add in the element of surprise with Murray being an underrated leaper.
— Royce Young
Bogdanovic hit an even more improbable buzzer-beater — from 29 feet and between two defenders — to beat the Rockets in Houston later in the season. But this was really the welcome-to-Utah moment for one of the biggest free-agent acquisitions in franchise history. This shot put the exclamation point on a 33-point performance for Bogdanovic, a marksman who has added a different dimension to the Utah offense.
— Tim MacMahon
Dec. 28, 2019: Butler steals it, Herro drains it
The Heat needed every bounce to go their way to pull this one off.
Instead of fouling right away, the Heat trapped Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler knocked the ball out of the hands of his former teammate. And instead of driving straight to the rim, Miami sharpshooter Tyler Herro pulled the ball out and drained a clutch 3-pointer to give the Heat the lead in a game they would eventually close out in overtime.
— Nick Friedell
Oklahoma City Thunder
Dec. 6, 2019: Adams delivers the touchdown pass
It was an improbable, unconscious series of events that forced overtime between the Thunder and Timberwolves, with the eventual play being Steven Adams‘ pinpoint go-route bomb to Dennis Schroder for a layup at the fourth-quarter buzzer.
But Adams’ Hail Mary, as good as it was, was merely the culmination of an unforgettable sequence. The Wolves led by two with 1.1 seconds left and Karl-Anthony Towns at the line for two free throws. Towns missed the first. Jordan Bell checked into the game, but there was a problem that only Chris Paul noticed: Bell’s jersey wasn’t tucked in.
He let referee Scott Foster know it, and Foster hit the Wolves for a delay of game, their second of the game. Danilo Gallinari made a technical free throw, and after Towns made his second, Adams hit Schroder over the top. OKC ran away with a win in overtime. The NBA had its own “tuck rule” game.
Jan. 31, 2020: Behold, the power of a Westbrook dunk
This dunk is a perfect example of Russell Westbrook being unleashed in the wide-open floor created by the Rockets’ extreme commitment to small ball. This was the day when Houston became the first NBA team in more than five decades to play an entire game without using a player taller than 6-foot-6. The result — a win in which James Harden and Westbrook combined for 67 points — boosted the Rockets’ confidence in going all-in on small ball by trading injured center Clint Capela.
Jan. 29, 2020: Oladipo returns in style
It had been exactly a year since Victor Oladipo suffered a torn quad tendon, altering both last season and this one, when he made his dramatic return against the Bulls. And while Oladipo struggled in that game — finishing 2-for-8 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range — that one 3-pointer that Oladipo made in the final seconds of regulation allowed Indiana to tie the score. The Pacers went on to win in overtime.
Oladipo’s injury has made it difficult over the past two seasons for Indiana to know exactly what it is capable of with its current roster. But his return, and that made 3, gave the Pacers a shot in the arm and a brief glimpse into the potential the future holds when he can get back to full strength.
Dec. 25, 2019: A Philly special on Christmas
One night, the 76ers will look unstoppable. The next, they’ll look as if they can’t stop anyone. Their Christmas Day evisceration of the league-leading Bucks, however, was proof of just how good this team is truly capable of being. Philadelphia is at its best when Joel Embiid is engaged and its defense is swarming. And on this play — when Giannis Antetokounmpo drove to the rim and Embiid yanked the ball away from him — both of those things were true. Who knows if Philadelphia will be able to replicate that form if the season resumes? But on Christmas, Embiid and the Sixers showed what they’re capable of.
Dec. 12, 2019: Luka-to-Kristaps is in full effect
This dish and dunk provided a glimpse of the sort of synergy forming between the Dallas’ two young potential superstars that is a must for the Mavs to contend for titles. Luka Doncic had been performing like a legitimate MVP candidate, but it took some time for Kristaps Porzingis to find his rhythm and get comfortable as the co-star. This alley-oop, the duo’s second that night in Mexico City, was proof of the pair’s spectacular potential when they’re on the same page.
Dec. 11, 2019: Morant rises over the Suns
This play epitomizes so much of what makes the surefire Rookie of the Year special — savvy, a desire and knack for delivering in the clutch, fearlessness and, of course, astounding athleticism. Ja Morant jumping over Kevin Love might have generated a little more buzz, but why pick a missed dunk when the options include such a spectacular slam in a meaningful moment?
Feb. 10, 2020: Dinwiddie steps back and seals a win
In the absence of Kyrie Irving — who was out for the most of the season because of a shoulder injury — Spencer Dinwiddie played a vital role in keeping the Nets’ playoff hopes afloat this season.
The Nets trailed the Pacers by one with 9.9 seconds left. Caris LeVert inbounded the ball to Dinwiddie, who took a fadeaway jumper over Malcolm Brogdon with 4.9 seconds to go. He made it, sealing a 106-105 victory and capping a team-high 21 point performance.
— Malika Andrews
Jan. 15, 2020: Fultz puts Lakers on skates
Markelle Fultz offered long-suffering Magic fans a dose of hope for the future by racking up 21 points,11 rebounds and 10 assists to give the organization its most impactful regular-season win in years. Fultz showed the promise that made him a No. 1 overall pick and carried the Magic down the stretch.
Portland Trail Blazers
Jan. 31, 2020: Lillard rises over two Lakers
The Lakers’ first game after Kobe Bryant’s tragic death was emotional, but Damian Lillard stole the show during the midst of his two-week stretch as the league’s best scorer. Lillard’s dunk over both JaVale McGee and Danny Green was symbolic as the Blazers pulled the upset behind his 48 points.
— Kevin Pelton
New Orleans Pelicans
Jan. 16, 2020: Ingram’s ‘game winner’
This should’ve been a game winner on Brandon Ingram‘s 44th point of the night — a pull-up jumper over Utah’s Royce O’Neale with 0.2 remaining to put New Orleans up 122-121. Ingram seemingly had the final blow in a spectacular dual with Donovan Mitchell, but a blown call on the ensuing inbounds play sent the game into overtime. Ingram finished with a career-high 49 points as the Pels won 138-132.
— Andrew Lopez
Jan. 27, 2020: Clever like a Fox
Fox calmly spun the ball, took one dribble and then missed at the front of the rim, but grabbed the quick rebound and dropped it back in to even things. The league later admitted that the play shouldn’t have counted because Fox came into the lane before the ball hit the rim — but it counted that night and that’s all that matters for the Kings.
San Antonio Spurs
Jan. 12, 2020: DeRozan’s dunk of the year candidate
DeMar DeRozan went behind his back at the top of the key and saw a lane to the goal. As the former Raptor gathered himself, Toronto’s Chris Boucher came into frame to try to block the shot. Key word: try.
DeRozan uncorked a slam on Boucher and the two tumbled to the floor as a buzz hit the Toronto crowd. To add injury to insult, the Spurs were down 17 at the time, then went on to win the game 105-104.
Jan. 1, 2020: Happy New Year, Kelly Oubre!
Put simply: It’s just a nasty dunk. Kelly Oubre Jr. compiled quite a list of dunks this season, but his detonation over JaVale McGee was especially good. After dunking over the 7-foot shot-blocker, Oubre delivered an exquisite flex, which was valid, because he basically force-fed the ball in over McGee.
Oubre had a breakout season for the Suns, playing consistently well alongside All-Star Devin Booker, bringing a needed toughness and competitive spirit to Phoenix.
Feb. 7, 2020: Beal wins it at the buzzer
With 1.8 seconds left, the Wizards needed the perfect play to overcome a one-point deficit. They got it.
Scott Brooks drew it up in the huddle, with star Bradley Beal getting a screen at midcourt and flashing open for long enough to finish before two Dallas defenders converged on him.
Nov. 16, 2019: Graham’s Garden moment
Devonte’ Graham burst onto the scene in a big way this season, and the second-year guard made his entrance into the national consciousness with a winning 3-pointer against the Knicks. There’s a long way for the Hornets to go before they are going to be relevant in the Eastern Conference, but Graham’s emergence was the first step toward that, and this shot at MSG was his breakout moment.
Nov. 23, 2019: LaVine’s lucky 13th
Just one game after being temporarily benched by Bulls head coach Jim Boylen, Zach LaVine responded with a career-best 49-point performance — including the winning 3-pointer with 0.8 ticks remaining — to lead the Bulls past the Hornets on the road 116-115.
His 13 3-pointers that night tied Warriors guard Stephen Curry for second-most in NBA history. Chicago struggled all season, but LaVine put up All-Star type performances on a nightly basis. That play was an example.
New York Knicks
Nov. 14, 2019: Knicks fans get revenge
A turbulent season in Manhattan was still peppered with exciting plays. When those plays come against former Knick Kristaps Porzingis, it’s extra sweet for Knicks fans. During Porzingis’ first trip back to the Garden since joining the Mavericks, Marcus Morris Sr. hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.2 seconds left, lifting the Knicks to a 106-103 victory.
Dec. 9, 2019: Vintage D-Rose
With 0.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose flashed his vintage form. The Pistons guard nailed a spinning, winning jumper in the lane over Jrue Holiday to lift his squad past the Pelicans on the road. Rose went off for a team-high 21 points, with 17 in the fourth. The Pistons struggled with injuries all season, but Rose has been a joy to watch.
Nov. 5, 2019: Young breaks every part of Aldridge’s ankles
The spice levels of Trae Young shredding LaMarcus Aldridge then serving up a delicious no-look pass to a cutting teammate are off the Scoville scale. Young even admitted later: The extra couple of crosses were thrown in because he knew he had Aldridge skating and wanted to have a little fun with it.
The Hawks didn’t have a lot of wins, but they piled up the highlights thanks to Young. He was a walking top-10 play, and his series of ankle-breakers on Aldridge was the best of all.
Feb. 16, 2020: Butler denied at the rim
The rebuilt Timberwolves’ lineup provided reason for optimism after the trade deadline, including this win in Miami keyed by two point guards. G League product Jordan McLaughlin scored to give Minnesota a one-point lead, and seconds later D’Angelo Russell made fans stand up by denying former Timberwolf Jimmy Butler at the rim.
Oct. 30, 2019: Sexton rises over Carter
Highlights have been sparse for the Cavaliers during a 19-46 season, but Collin Sexton provided an exclamation point atop an early win over the Bulls by cutting backdoor past Zach LaVine and dunking off a Kevin Love feed with his off hand — over Wendell Carter Jr., the center taken one pick before Sexton in the 2018 draft.
Golden State Warriors
Dec. 25, 2019: Draymond and the Warriors’ Christmas miracle
Let’s face it: There weren’t many plays worth featuring for the Warriors this season. But the Christmas Day win over the Rockets provided a sign that Draymond Green and the rest of the Warriors weren’t going to roll over on national television despite playing without injured stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Green’s 3 over Russell Westbrook provided the single loudest moment in Chase Center’s brief history.