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NBA

'What if…?' Analyzing some of the biggest missed shots in NBA Finals history

Shots that decide championships are forever remembered as some of the greatest moments in NBA history. They are singular, defining for everyone involved; but in each of those events, those successes hinged on opponents missing shots that would have changed history as we know it.

MORE: What did fans vote as the greatest postseason shot ever?

This is a focus on those moments. The shots that were inches away from being as famous as those that have overshadowed them. These are the biggest missed shots in NBA history.

John Stockton - Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals

The 1998 Finals will always be remembered for Michael Jordan's Last Shot as the culmination of the Bulls Dynasty, but it was Stockton's chance right after which could have altered that legacy.

After dropping only one game in their previous two series, the Jazz entered the '98 Finals more experienced and rested than the team that fell to the Bulls the year before. On the other side, Chicago was at the end of the ride. Having outlasted Indiana in a brutal seven-game East Finals, Utah was all that stood between Chicago and a second three-peat.

The rested Jazz took Game 1 on the back of Karl Malone's 20-point double-double before losing three straight in which they were held to just 74.6 points per game. Utah managed to steal Game 5 in Chicago before returning home to try to extend the series.

Game 6 seemed destined to be the final piece of Jordan's legacy. He poured in a dominant 45 points, with his Last Shot to take the lead with 5.2 seconds left acting as the mic drop. Utah had that handful of seconds and looked to Stockton to answer Jordan's game-winner.

Had the shot fallen, Utah would have had all the momentum for Game 7. Instead, the miss ended Utah's best shot at a title. Stockton and Malone never got out of the second round again with that miss cementing their legacies of two of the league's best to never win a title.

The game-winner became the storybook ending to Jordan's career in Chicago. He left on top, with one of his greatest performances solidifying a perfect 6-0 Finals record.

Stephen Curry - Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals

The 2016 Cavaliers had a good, though mostly unremarkable, regular season before turning it on and stampeding through the Eastern Conference playoffs on the way to the Finals. The Warriors were the inverse.

The Warriors started 24-0, then finished with the best record of all-time with Curry becoming the first unanimous MVP in league history. After he suffered an MCL sprain in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors limped through the West before fighting back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Thunder in a legendary Conference Finals.

The Cavs entered the Finals healthier and more rested, but the Warriors used their WCF momentum to jump out to a now-infamous 3-1 lead before Cleveland bounced back to win two straight and force a Game 7 in Oakland.

Despite the legendary highlights, the game was a defensive slugfest, epitomized by Draymond Green's 32-point triple-double leading both teams in scoring. After LeBron James' block set up Kyrie Irving's three with 53 seconds remaining, Curry had a chance to hit his 483rd three of the season to tie the game back up.

Instead, Curry couldn't separate from Kevin Love, the shot rimmed out and the Warriors never scored again. LeBron split free throws on the other end and Cleveland had its long-awaited title.

The ripple effects of Curry's miss are endless. If it falls, the game is tied and the Warriors likely get the final shot of the game. If Golden State pulls out the win, Cleveland falls heartbreakingly short of yet another title, Golden State completes its dream season and another variable is added to Kevin Durant's impending free agency decision.

Tim Duncan - Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals

The 2012-13 Heat were at the absolute peak of their powers. They were the best team in basketball and, led by a nearly-unanimous MVP season from LeBron, they ran through the East with a 66-16 record that featured a 27-game win streak.

The pure athletic brutality of Miami was perfectly countered by the beautiful game in San Antonio. The Spurs beautifully weaved their aging core with their new burgeoning superstar in Kawhi Leonard and it resulted in their first Finals appearance in six years.

Ray Allen's shot in Game 6 is a defining moment in NBA history. It's one of the greatest shots ever and over time has overshadowed the game that followed. Even so, Game 7 was an incredible back-and-forth battle that included a 37-point double-double from LeBron and the biggest shooting night of Shane Battier's life and yet, with just under a minute remaining, Duncan had the ball with a chance to once again even-up the series.

That miss didn't end the game, but Duncan's floor slap became the emotion counter to the jubilation that followed Allen's shot a couple of nights earlier. After LeBron hits a jumper to go up by four just moments later, Miami capped its second title for a team that promised: "not six, not seven".

San Antonio got their rematch a year later, besting the Heat to win their fifth title but that team has long credited the pain of 2013 as the catalyst to their redemption. If Duncan's shot falls, it's possible they don't push as hard in 2014 and the Thunder - who lost a 2-0 series lead to the Spurs in the 2014 WCF - change their fortunes forever and win a title.

Stephen Curry - Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals

For a player as historically great as Curry, he has remarkably found his way onto this list multiple times.

Golden State entered the 2019 Finals at the end of a half-decade of dominance, becoming the first team in 52 years to reach the Finals five-straight times. Toronto was in their first, propelled by arguably the greatest shot in NBA history to win one series and complete a 2-0 comeback to win the next.

Toronto played incredible basketball early in the series against Golden State and jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. Durant's Game 5 return provided a momentary reminder of the superweapon Golden State had been for the past three years before his Achilles tear created one of the more devastating moments in Finals history.

Game 6 was an incredible battle. Propelled by 20+ points from Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Leonard, the Raptors had a complete team performance and yet, the Warriors led deep in the third quarter before Klay Thompson's ACL tear and free throw re-entrance created yet another indelible Finals memory.

Toronto regained the lead and was up by three points with 28 seconds remaining. Two Curry free throws cut the lead to one before an uncharacteristic Danny Green turnover gave Golden State one last breath with zero doubt who would take the final shot.

It was a difficult look, but one we've seen Curry hit many times over. Had it fallen, Toronto would have hosted a Game 7 against an injured and beleaguered Warriors squad but it's impossible to envision Curry, Green and Andre Iguodala making it an easy fight.

Instead, the shot drew iron and only a few semantic free throws stood between the Raptors and the Larry O'Brien trophy as they completed one of the best runs in playoff history.

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