Nothing encourages NBA passion as much as a powerful display of team work. Of course our usual supernatural basketball stars are used to owning the sport news headlines, but problem is, its nearly impossible to play all the season games and injuries are common even for the greatest of athletes. Sometimes a team can rise up to the occasion and still win without them and even rarely, they can find the way to play even better as a whole.
Inspired by Lakers’ impressive hard-fought win against Miami last night, we decided to prepare a special report on the best NBA memories from teams that when given the chance, they can grow even stronger without their superstars. These are the 10 most spectacular cases we remember:
1. ‘Have no fear, Magic Johnson is here’
It was 1980 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated the NBA. This Los Angeles Lakers team was up to prove they were building their own dynasty in professional basketball as they confronted the Philadelphia 76ers to the title. By then, 7-foot-2-inch Kareem had guided the Californian team to lead 3-2 in the series, but on game 6 he was reported injured and it was up to 6-foot-9-inch Magic Johnson to fill his shoes against the great Julius Erving from Philly. That special night, Johnson truly became Magic, as he scored 42 points, 15 rebounds and assisted seven times to give the Lakers their much deserved crown.
Working his magic
— Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (@winningtimehbo) June 1, 2022
2. Knicks’ famous 1999 title race
It’s still a wonder how the New York Knicks haven’t won an NBA trophy in over 50 years. Many say it didn’t matter how good their team was in the 90s, they simply couldn’t compete against Jordan and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference. So then, when the Chicago dynasty came to an end, the Knicks finally would have their chance. It was 1999 and Patrick Ewing was having a spectacular run and played as a true contender for that year’s MVP. At the beginning and throughout the playoffs, Ewing suffered many injuries. So, of course, New York feared the worst. Exceding all expectations, fresh blood fueled the Knicks all the way to the final without a constant presence of their injured star, Patrick Ewing. It seemed they had everything under control in the last stage against the San Antonio Spurs, who had never won a Championship before, but Tim Duncan’s side proved to be strongest and Ewing’s team was beaten 4-1 in the series.
3. Not Jordan nor Pippen
Yep, you read well… neither Jordan nor Pippen, just Steve Kerr! It was 1997 and of course we all know the Bulls were the biggest team in the world and Michael Jordan was regarded as anything close to a god walking on Earth. On this particular evening in March, the Bulls were losing by a 7 point margin to Dallas late in the fourth quarter and Chicago shared no hope to win since coach Phil Jackson had to send both Jordan and Pippen to the bench until the end of the game . That night, Steve Kerr impressed all as he delivered consecutive three pointers and set up teammates for easy shots all the way to inspire a comeback win at the last seconds of the game. The memory of Kerr’s show went to prove that mythical Chicago Bulls team was much more than just their famous superstar, as they eventually headed to earn their fifth NBA title in seven years.
4. 2002 Raptors were better off without Carter
As explosive as Vince Carter was on the court, Toronto’s first NBA star was also injury prone. His rise and fall of him with the Raptors is a book with many chapters, but for now we’ll settle for the story behind the 2001-22 season. That year, the Raptors were the true sensations of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but 14 games before the end of the regular season they weren’t in the top 8 to qualify for the playoffs. Bad comes to worst, they loose their star player to injury for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, Toronto begins to play their best basketball of the tournament and show off an incredible 12 game win out of 14 to qualify to the final stages. Before, the team’s strategy was to play for Carter, but afterwards the whole squad grew in confidence and played for each other. Unfortunately for them, Carter would never qualify again with Toronto for playoffs and his demise with the Raptors would then slowly begin to unravel.
5. First game without Larry Bird
The 3 time MVP Legend Larry Bird will live on forever as one of greatest ‘what ifs’, ever since he injured his back in 1985, a famous story he would always recall as he helped his mother clear the driveway during the winter and his back become sore over a sudden movement. This would forever condemn his career, as it would progressively affect his performances in the following years. The mighty Celtics would still dominate as one of the best teams in the NBA, but never the same. Finally in 1992 he decided to retire from professional basketball, as he was only able to play half (45 in total) of the 1991-92 season games. For the beginning of the next season, Celtics honored retired Bird with a season opener victory over Minnesota Timberwolves 113 to 92.
6. Lakers sharing the ball
Back when it felt impossible to imagine a succesful Lakers team without Kobe Bryant, a torn achilles ankle had to send the superstar to the sidelines during 19 straight games of the 2013/14 season. But the tragedy didn’t end there, since Steve Nash also missed great part of the season due to a back injury. By then, the press was very dramatic and anticipated a catastrophic end to their spell. At some point, the press had turned the whole City of Angels into a pessimistic frenzy, until not even Lakers fans would show up to support their home games. It was up to Paul Gasol to lead his teammates Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Robert Sacre to avoid a disaster. Coach D’Antoni opted for a possession driven strategy and was able to hold it together as a team to win 11 out of 19 games, a much higher stats than they had before Kobe’s injury. Player Meeks said: ”We don’t have any superstars. Our superstar is coming back Sunday, but 19 games we didn’t, so we had to share the ball.”
7. When Ginobili was out for the rest of the 2009 season
Boy, do we sure miss having Manu Ginobili around! What a player! Back in 2009, Spurs was heavily dependent on the Argentinian magician’s talent and they were one of the favorites to lift the title. Headed towards the end of the regular season, on April 2009, Spurs medical team ruled out Ginobili for the rest of the tournament after his ankle stiffened during a match in Cleveland. With only a few games before the playoffs and surrounded by lots of speculation doubting if Tim Duncan and the rest of the team could maintain their winning ways without the Argentinian, the Spurs impressed and won five out of those last six games. Their first win without Ginobili was a convincing 10 point advantage over the Grizzlies. With these stats, it seemed they were playing even better than with Ginobili on court. Unfortunately their pace didn’t last as long as they wished, as they were soon beaten by Dallas in the first leg of the playoffs to eliminate them from the championship race.
8. Is Jokić replaceable?
Almost two hours before the game would begin, Nikola Jokić was added to the Denver injury report back in 2022. Logically panic ensued for the Nuggets fans as he was replaced by newly signed center DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup. Cousins’ first shot of the game was a three-pointer and after that, he gradually grew confident that this was his match to shine. He finished with 31 points in under 23 minutes, leading Denver to a 116-101 win over Houston, who were past season’s least regular team. The Rockets simply had no answer for Cousins’s gutsy display. Not many can argue against Jokić being the best NBA player of recent years, but given the right conditions, even he can be replaceable.
9. First 76ers win without Harden & Embiid
Not too long ago, the 76ers had to endure a game without their two main men in regular season back in March 2022. We are talking about James Harden and Joel Embiid, two heavyweight stars who are stellar in their pursuit of the championship title. And not to say the least, they were up against a great Miami Heat and beat them 113-106. This victory represented Philly’s only win of the season without these two players on court. Curious enough, Philadelphia found themselves playing Miami again in the Conference’s playoff semifinals and lost the series 4-2 even though they did have Harden and Embiid in their starting lineups. Just more proof that shows playing your best players doesn’t always mean you will be playing your best basketball.
10. Warrior’s Poole over Curry
I guess we don’t always have to go back in time to find a great example of team work. These past weeks just goes to show that the Warriors won’t be doomed once Stephen Curry is out of the picture. Since Christmas Day, Golden State started an inspiring 5 consecutive win to their tally, only to loose last night against the Pistons. Either way, it’s been great to see Jordan Poole stepping up for his team with 40-point performances. The 34 year old Curry has been resting his shoulder ever since he got injured all the way back to mid-December and isn’t scheduled to return until January 13th against the San Antonio Spurs. “He’s gonna get evaluated this weekend, and he’s working out on the court. The two-week mark to evaluate him would be this weekend, but there’s been no setbacks or anything like that”, Bob Myers said yesterday, the team’s General Manager.
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) December 31, 2022