The 2011 NBA Playoffs have been an orchard of Holy S#!t Moments, from the beginning to now, three games into the NBA Finals. Down every single row, there's some incredible comeback and life-affirming shot. Just when things have truly gone bananas, a talking grapefruit turns your attention to the next expletive-drawing heartstopper of a play.
Stars have given us all of their best, with Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul providing a number of outstanding, memorable efforts. The roleplayers, too, have gotten in the mix, with Gary Neal and Taj Gibson wearing out highlight reels. In the middle of it all are the roller coaster cases of Zach Randolph and Brandon Roy (never forget). It remains to be seen whether the season will be remembered for a better-than-fiction Finals and what narrative will override all in the history books. But it's safe to say that no matter what happens in the final few games, this postseason has been breathtaking beyond compare.
Does that seem overstated? Then feast your eyes on the Seven Circles of Holy S#!t in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Our map of Holy S#!t is organized, like Dante's Hell, into circles, seven in our case. Two factors make a moment a Holy S#!t moment: high stakes, and mesmerizing spectacle. The recipe is different for each moment; that's part of what makes them so special. Dirk's stunning run to finish Game 5 against the Thunder, for instance, didn't have suffocating stakes; had Dallas lost, they had two more chances to finish off OKC. But the spectacle was marvelous. The opposite can be said of Chris Bosh' game-winner on Sunday: it didn't leave you gasping for air, but it won a crucial Finals game. Tremendous stakes, not a whole of sparkle ... still made you say "Holy S#!t."
Let's dig into the Circles of Holy S#!t, from the outer edge in.
Seventh Circle of Holy S#!t: Oh Snap
- Rose's mystical clutch abilities took on mythical import in the first round as he crushed Indiana's spirit in three straight games.
- The Sixers staved off elimination in Game 4 and managed to spark a whole new round of "Is Miami choking on garlic bread right now?" questions.
- Chris Paul destroyed the Lakers on a Sunday afternoon.
- Durant and Russell Westbrook scored about 110 percent of the Thunder's points in the team's first game of the postseason.
- No one will soon forget the time Taj Gibson banged on Dwyane Wade.
- And though Andrew Bynum's hit on J.J. Barea actually meant nothing in terms of postseason impact, it was all anyone talked about for a minute. Well worth a "Oh snap!"
Sixth Circle of Holy S#!t: OMG
- Z-Bo's run over the last five minutes of Memphis' clinching Game 6 win over the Spurs would land in the Fifth Circle if we all weren't already blinded by the Grizzlies' phenomenal swag. You can't state at the sun for too long, you know?
- LeBron almost single-handedly killed the Bulls in Game 2 of the East finals as Miami held Chicago to 10 fourth quarter points.
- One more time: CP3, not content to peel one game off of the champs, got stitches over his eye that had the effect of making him look like a Cure fan, and sunk L.A. with a nearly perfect game. I also consider this game an unspoken bat signal to Dallas: "Y'all can beat them."
- Don't forget that the Knicks almost knocked off the Celtics in Game 1 of their series. Ray Allen saved the day with an extraordinary three-pointer.
- There's nothing quite like watching the Grizzlies outclutch the San An-freaking-tonio Spurs on a Sunday morning. Shane Battier's three capped off a wonderful performance.
- Lost in the Nuggets-Thunder series: J.R. Smith almost brought Denver back from down 10 in the final minute.
- And finally, the opposite nearly happened in Game 4, with Westbrook missing a huge shot at the buzzer. Never have so many 4-1 series been so entertaining.
Fifth Circle of Holy S#!t: Did You See That?!
- Nothing about the Hawks elicits cheek-clapping gasps, but the fact that they dominated the Magic -- who outscored them by 100 points over four games in the 2010 playoffs -- is worth a few Holy S#!ts.
- Gary Neal sent Game 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies to overtime with an unbelievable shot typically reserved for the Kobes of the league.
- In the next game, Zach Randolph responded with a game-winning three-pointer. That actually happened.
- With Lakers trailing in Game 5 and tied 2-2 against the Hornets, Kobe reminded everyone that his legs still do work.
- The stakes were low with the series won, but let's not forget that Jason Terry dropped nine three-pointers on the Lakers in Game 4. The stirring rainshower was like a blast of cold WTF.
- Fourth Circle of Holy S#!t: Whaaaaaat!
- The Thunder had Game 3 against the Grizzlies won. Or so they thought.
- Dirk's 48 on 15 shots had all of Twitter bowing in respect.
- Boston had a chance to take their series against Miami back home for a Game 6, until LeBron happened.
- Carmelo Anthony had a Game 2 for the ages, maybe one of the most noble performances in a losing effort we'll see in a long time.
Third Circle of Holy S#!t: I Don't Believe It
- It wasn't full of shiny highlights (excepting the frosting alley-oop), as it was predicated on tough defense. But watching the reviled Heat run away from the Mavericks in Game 1 of the Finals changed a whole lot of worldviews.
- Game 4 of Bulls-Heat was the single best game of the East bracket, featuring a crazy Miami comeback, finished with a Wade flourish in overtime. In the five stages of grief, this game is also known as "acceptance."
- Miami's overtime win in Game 4 against the Celtics can also be known as the "Chris Bosh Game." Boston's still recovering from overtime in this one.
- Two words say it all about Game 4 of Thunder-Grizzlies: Triple. Overtime. (Seriously, this game itself could populate a whole new Circles of Holy S#!t map.)
Second Circle of Holy S#!t: [Expletives]
- Bosh's Game 3 winner wouldn't make anyone's highlight reel if not for the extraordinary stakes. That's why it was so exclamatory: the list of players who can claim a Finals game-winner is extraordinarily short.
- Because of the Mavericks' Game 4 comeback win, led by an otherworldly Dirk, Russell Westbrook may never love again.
- The sacrilegious headlines wrote themselves: Brandon Roy rose from the basketball grave on Easter weekend to deliver a comeback for the ages.
- Miami's clinching win over the Bulls was disbelief in liquid form. An 18-3 run to win a conference finals series. Un-[expletive]-believable.
- To perfect set up the Finals, Nowitzki also finished the Thunder in tremendous style: leading a comeback that he himself iced with a frozen dagger.
Inner Circle of Holy S#!t: There Are No Words
We have between two and four games left. What more magic do we deserve?
(Did I miss a moment? Drop a comment.)