The NBA Playoffs are one of the greatest spectacles to watch by basketball fans around the world. Given that the stakes are at their highest in the postseason, there’s no question that the best NBA squads are giving their best to give themselves a shot at winning the coveted NBA title. More often than not, the best teams thrive in the playoffs. However, given that referees are also human, controversial calls occasionally rear their heads in the brightest stage of them all. For this piece, let’s take a look at the 10 most controversial finishes in NBA Playoffs history.
10. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns (Game 4, 2021 NBA Finals)
Although the Bucks came away with the slim 109-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker was at the center of the controversial finish. Despite having five fouls in the game, there were multiple noncalls that would’ve sent the Suns marksman into the showers late in the game, including an obvious defensive foul against Jrue Holiday.
9. Dallas Mavericks vs. Denver Nuggets (Game 3, 2009 Western Conference Finals)
The Mavericks were trying to do everything to stay alive in this NBA Playoffs series. While holding a fragile two-point lead, the Mavs opted to foul Carmelo Anthony in the final seconds. However, the intentional foul wasn’t called, which led to a game-winning three by Melo to extend the Nuggets’ series lead to 3-0.
8. Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets (Game 1, 2019 Western Conference Semifinals)
The Warriors squeaked past the Rockets with a 104-100 victory, thanks to the Splash Brothers. But in contrast to other games, it wasn’t due to their shooting. Instead, it was Thompson and Curry getting away with non-foul calls that led to the Rockets’ crucial turnovers in the final minute. The Warriors would eventually go all the way to their fifth consecutive Finals appearance.
7. Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets (Game Three, 2016 First Round)
Aside from their controversial 2019 matchup, three years prior to that it wasn’t a surprise that these two squads were also in a controversial affair in the 2016 playoffs. After a potential game-winning transition lay-up by the Warriors, Harden made a spin jumper that saw him make a shove, which the refs didn’t call. The shot went in with 2.7 seconds left and the Rockets escaped with a 97-96 win over the 73-9 Warriors to open the series.
6. Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Game Two, 2012 NBA Finals)
After stealing Game 1 from the Big Three of the Miami Heat, the Thunder climbed out of a 17-point deficit to keep the game in striking distance. Fresh off a big three, Durant worked LeBron James in the post only to get locked up without a foul, while taking the potential game-tying bucket. As a result, the Heat took the second game to tie the series, with a 100-96 victory. The Thunder would never win another game in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
5. Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz (Game 6, 1998 NBA Finals)
Game 6 would be remembered as Michael Jordan’s final game in a Bulls uniform that saw him make a game-winner to clinch the second three-peat. However, until this day, people often debate whether or not Jordan possibly committed an offensive foul before rising up to make the game-deciding jumper.
4. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons (Game Six, 1988 NBA Finals)
Phantom fouls can be dreadful or a sigh of relief, depending on the side you are cheering on. Nevertheless, the Lakers managed to stay alive in the series after Bill Laimbeer was controversially called for his sixth foul while guarding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook with 14 seconds left in the game. After surviving Game Six, the Lakers would go on to win the NBA championship.
3. Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks (Game Five, 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Scottie Pippen had big shoes to fill for the Bulls after Jordan announced his first retirement from basketball. But despite the absence of Jordan, Pippen took the Bulls on his shoulders and led them to as deep as the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Unfortunately, a controversial foul on Pippen led to game-winning free throws for the Knicks’ Hue Hollins to ultimately end their playoff campaign.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings (Game Six, 2002 Western Conference Finals)
It seemed like the Sacramento Kings were destined to win the 2002 NBA championship. However, some questionable calls by the referees late in the game ultimately killed the Kings’ morale. In fact, one sequence saw Bibby getting called for a foul after his nose took a hit by Kobe Bryant’s elbow. As a result, this paved the way for the Lakers to complete their version of the three-peat.
1. Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs (Game Six, 2013 NBA Finals)
The Miami Heat would only have one NBA championship if it weren’t for Ray Allen’s heroics in Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals. But while Allen was credited for making the much-needed three to force overtime and a Game Seven, some legends including Rick Barry, would argue that Allen made some extra steps before pulling the trigger.
If that wasn’t controversial enough, the Spurs had final possession to potentially win the game while facing a 101-100 lead. However, as Ginobili drove, it looked like the Spurs guard was fouled but no call was made which led to free throws by Ray Allen to seal the game that led to the Heat’s second straight championship.