Look to the legends for inspiration

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The 2006 NBA Finals are underway, and despite Dallas leading the series 2-1, I have a feeling that we may still have a contest on our hands. But for the Heat to get back into this series, they’re going to need a few epic performances from their two premier players.

What kind of performances, you ask? Well, if Dwyane Wade’s Game-3 effort Tuesday wasn’t enough, it just so happens that I have compiled a list of examples.

I call it the 10 Most Gutsy Performances in the History of the NBA Finals That I Can Think of-or, more simply, the TMGPHNBAFTCTO. And it goes a little something like this:

10. (Tie) Karl Malone (1997 vs. Chicago)-Heading to Chicago to play Michael Jordan and Co. can be intimidating enough, but then add to it the fact that the Bulls are up 3-1 over the Jazz in the series. Need some inspiration? How about the Bulls planning a hometown parade for the next day? Malone turned in a gutsy, mama’s-home-biscuit-worthy 37-point outing to force a Game 6 back in Utah. I have chosen to omit the outcome of the series for personal reasons.

10. (Tie) Tim Duncan (2003 vs. New Jersey)-In a series-clinching Game 6, Duncan put together one of the best all-around stat-lines in the history of basketball: 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, eight blocks. Simply stunning.

9. George Mikan (1949 vs. Washington)-That’s right, old school. His meager performance of 42 points in Game 1 of the ’49 Finals did not make my top 10. However, his Game 5, 22-point performance on a broken right wrist has to score a plethora of style points on anyone’s list.

8. Jerry West (1969 vs. Boston)-Despite his team going on to lose the game and the series, West’s 42-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist effort went a long way toward landing him the Finals MVP. He was the only player to ever win the award despite his team losing the series.

7. Bill Walton (1977 vs. Philadelphia)-As much as I dislike Walton for his broadcasting prowess, I can’t help but give him credit for his 20-point, 23-rebound, seven-assist, eight-block performance in the series-clinching Game 6 of the ’77 Finals. Even more impressive is the fact that Walton led the Blazers back from a 2-0 deficit to win the title. You listening, Shaq?

6. Larry Bird (1986 vs. Houston)-Bird recorded an impressive triple-double in Game 6 of the ’86 Finals to clinch the Celts their 16th NBA title.

5. Isiah Thomas (1988 vs. Los Angeles)-Although the Pistons would eventually go on to lose the championship, don’t forget Isiah’s courageous Game 6 performance on a severely sprained ankle. Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter alone to set a single quarter NBA Finals record.

4. Bill Russell (1962 vs. Los Angeles)-After Elgin Baylor threw down one of the best games in NBA history in Game 5 of the series, Russell responded with a 30-point, 40-rebound performance to lead the Celts to their fourth of eight consecutive titles. Yeah, you heard me: 40 rebounds.

3. Elgin Baylor (1962 vs. Boston)-61 points, 22 boards. Sweet mother of all that is holy. Enough said.

2. Magic Johnson (1980 vs. Philadelphia)-The Magic Man had to fill in at center for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this series-clinching Game 6. Oh yeah, and he was only a rookie at the time. Johnson turned in a 42-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist game to lead the Lakers to victory.

1. Michael Jordan (1997 vs. Utah)-What kind of a basketball countdown would be complete without including the best player of all-time? Despite going into Game 6 here in Salt Lake City with a nasty stomach flu, Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a legendary victory with 38 points, seven rebounds and five assists, including the classic push-off shot on Bryon Russell. I don’t need to mention that he did so at the Delta Center, do I? It was the perfect way to end a career (those Wizards years didn’t really happen, right?).

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade goes up for a shot against Dallas Mavericks center Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, left, in the second half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami on Tuesday.