In recent times, August and September have been the quietest months on the NBA calendar. However, that wasn't the case in the COVID-19-impacted 2019-20 season.
The tragic year will forever be remembered for a lot of horrid reasons, but specifically on the NBA calendar, it was one of the rare years that the league's news cycle was most active in the summer between August and mid-October.
Months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2019-20 NBA season to go into a hiatus in March, a season restart was planned within a "bubble" at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida that would tip-off in late July and be completed in early October.
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That hiatus had a domino effect, with the 2020 NBA Draft going virtual in November and the new season starting in December, creating just a 72-day offseason, the shortest in North American professional sports history.
The curtailed 72-game 2020-21 season has allowed the NBA to return to normalcy, making the mid-August and mid-September period, to be precise, one of the most silent periods on the NBA calendar once again.
That said, this is a perfect time to revisit the most memorable moments from the exciting and thrilling season restart in the bubble. In no particular order, you can find those moments below.
Butler outduels James in Game 5 of Finals
One could argue that the 2020 NBA Finals were done when the Miami Heat's key players suffered serious injuries in Game 1. Goran Dragic, who was diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, missed the next four games while Bam Adebayo, who suffered a shoulder injury, missed the next two games.
However, Jimmy Butler had other ideas. He single-handedly led the Heat to two victories in Games 3 and 5, recording a triple-double in each to extend the series to six games. In Game 3, a relatively easier win for the Heat, Butler finished with 40 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Having said that, in Game 5, he outdueled LeBron James' incredible game of 40 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, helping the Heat stave off elimination with a performance for the history books with 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals.
And arguably the most memorable moment of that series is the image of Butler catching his breath on the advertising boards along the baseline after a clutch bucket late in Game 5.
The epic Murray-Mitchell duel
Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray put on a show in the first-round matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz. It's arguably one of the greatest one-on-one playoff duels in NBA history.
The duo became the only pair of opponents to score 50 points in the same game when they did it in Game 4. With both individuals scoring 50-plus twice, it's the first playoff series ever where two opponents have scored at least 50 points multiple times. Their combined points tally of 475 for the series is the most by opposing players.
They also both averaged upwards of 31 points on spectacular shooting splits of at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Luka Doncic's historic game-winner vs. Clippers
The Dallas Mavericks were shorthanded without Kristaps Porzingis, and the LA Clippers were expected to take care of business and clinch Game 4 with ease to strengthen their hold on the first-round series.
Nevertheless, a 21-year-old Luka Doncic played a game for the ages. His performance, on a bad left ankle that he sprained only a couple of days earlier, led the franchise to their largest comeback victory in playoff history (21 points).
Take a look at the elite company he joined with the records he broke and set:
» 3rd player ever with 40-15-10 in the playoffs (Oscar, Barkley)- Mavs PR (@MavsPR) August 24, 2020
» joined LeBron as only 21yo's to record a 30pt triple-double in playoffs
» only player with more than 1 triple-double in playoffs this year
» 2nd-longest postseason GW buzzer-beater (28ft), only behind Dame (37ft) pic.twitter.com/NVXQC8hOMk
That said, anytime you make Hall of Fame commentator Mike Breen go 'BANG!' not once, but twice... it's going to be legendary.
Milwaukee Bucks lead boycott of playoff games
The NBA, as a family, came into a bubble determined to use their spotlight to continue the fight against racial and social injustices, a nationwide movement sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
From special messages on their jerseys, to kneeling with locked arms during national anthems, to having "Black Lives Matter" on the court, the league and its players were making a statement.
However, a month in, as the league and players continued attempting to make their voices heard, there was the shooting of Jacob Blake - a Black man who was shot seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The location of this shooting by the police was just 40 miles south of Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks. In reaction to the horrifying event, the Bucks refused to come on to the court before Game 5 of their first-round matchup with the Orlando Magic.
Their boycott led to the postponement of the other two games on that day and subsequently postponed games for a few days. Their protests, supported by the rest of the players, was a moment of reflection. It led to the formation of Social Justice Coalition, which would include players, coaches and governors, among others.
For more on the most impactful moments from the Bubble, read here.
The new rules set for the Play-In Game made it a heated race in the West. There were six teams vying for two spots - the eighth and ninth seeds - with the higher-seeded team only needing to beat the lower-seeded team once to make the playoffs, while the lower-seeded had to win two games against the higher-seeded team.
Damian Lillard, with the Portland Trail Blazers ninth in the standings prior to the bubble and 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies, entered the bubble like a man on a mission. He averaged 37.6 points and 9.6 assists on shooting splits of 49.7 percent from the field, 43.6 percent from 3-point land and 88.8 percent from the free-throw line. He scored 40 or more points four times, including his career-high-tying output of 61 points.
His performances won him the recognition of Seeding Games MVP, but also carried over to Game 1 of the playoffs in the first-round series against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, where he dropped 34 in the Game 1 win.
Nuggets make NBA history with mulitple 3-1 comebacks
The Denver Nuggets made NBA Playoffs history in the bubble. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit in two consecutive playoff matchups, first against the Utah Jazz in the first round and then against the LA Clippers in the Conference Semifinals.
Their Game 7 victory over the LA Clippers helped them become one of three franchises (joining Boston and Houston) to record multiple 3-1 series comebacks. However, the Nuggets set themselves apart by doing so in the same postseason in 2020.
Their heroics, which sent them to their fourth-ever Conference Finals and first since 2009, made them the 12th team and 10th different franchise in NBA Playoffs history to rebound from a 3-1 series deficit.
Suns' surprising unbeaten 8-0 run
Coming into the bubble, the Phoenix Suns were the last of the six Western Conference teams battling for the two Play-In spots. With their deficit to the teams above and their schedule, which included games against teams like the Heat, Clippers and 76ers, nobody expected them to be a legitimate threat.
That said, the Suns stunned everybody with their play. In what was a lightbulb moment that was a sign of things turning around with the franchise, the team went undefeated in the bubble and won all of their eight seeding games.
At the end of the 2019-20 seeding games, they climbed from 13th-place all the way to a two-way tie for ninth, but lost out on a Play-In spot because they lost their season series with the Memphis Grizzlies 3-1.
Entertaining Play-In Game sets precedent
At the end of the eight seeding games, there was no Play-In game necessary in the East. In the West, however, the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and ninth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies were suiting up for the league's first-ever Play-In game.
With nine ties and six lead changes, the tight game, which saw the Trail Blazers victorious 126-122 with Damian Lillard going for 31 points and 10 assists, was a huge success. The game, which averaged 1.9 million viewers with a high of 2.6 million, combined with the exciting and engaging races for the Play-In spots made bringing back the Play-In tournament a no-brainer.
The following 2020-21 season, the NBA continued with the Play-In format which gave fans the exhilarating Warriors-Lakers game. It's safe to say the Play-In Tournament is here to stay.
Anthony Davis yells "KOBE" after sinking game-winner vs. Nuggets
In the bubble, it was never safe to count out the Nuggets. So, after they lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals comprehensively, 126-114, and were down by 16 in Game 2, it was not surprising what they did next. COMEBACK!
They battled back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to lead by one with only 2.1 seconds remaining. Alas, Anthony Davis had the final say as he nailed the game-winning 3 but what he said after he turned around from the shot was caught by the eyes of every camera in the building. "KOBE," he screamed.
Anthony Davis said he yelled "KOBE" after hitting the game-winner tonight 🙏 pic.twitter.com/VZ7z7bQQsD- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 21, 2020
Paying tribute to the Laker legend Kobe Bryant, who passed away earlier that year in January, Davis later confirmed that he said "KOBE." With the shot, AD put his name alongside Bryant and five other Lakers legends to have knocked down a game-winning buzzer-beater in the postseason.
OG Anunoby's game-winner eventually forces seven-game series
Even after Kawhi Leonard moved on to the Clippers, the Raptors played above expectations throughout all of the 2019-20 season, including the playoffs. After they swept past the Nets in the first round, they lost Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics, 112-94, which gave the sense that this was it.
However, Toronto battled and made Game 2 a much tighter contest, but still, they lost 102-99. Down 2-0, the cards were stacked against them and to make matters worse, after a grueling Game 3, they were down two with only 0.5 seconds left, courtesy of a spectacular play by Kemba Walker.
Facing a 3-0 deficit, OG Anunoby knocked down a clutch game-winning 3 on a crosscourt inbounds pass from Kyle Lowry. That shot gave the Raptors new life.
Although, they went on to lose the series, they took the favoured Celtics to the final seconds of Game 7 by convincingly winning Game 4 and clinching Game 6 in double overtime.
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