During the strike-shortened season of 1999, one of the most significant plays in the history of the NBA Playoffs took place. Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals featured two up-and-coming teams who were total opposites in team makeup. The San Antonio Spurs, who were just entering the Tim Duncan era, were set to face the promising young core of the Portland Trail Blazers, which included Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudemire, Bonzi Wells and Jermaine O’Neal.
After winning Game 1 at home, the Spurs found themselves in a huge hole trailing Portland by as many as 18 points in the third quarter. San Antonio would battle back and cut the deficit all the way to two points with just 12 seconds remaining. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle…
Spurs swingman Sean Elliott took an inbounds pass and nearly fell out of bounds. Wobbling and tip-toeing the line, Elliott managed to stay in just long enough to launch a desperate heave over the onrushing arms of six-foot-eleven Rasheed Wallace with nine seconds remaining. The result? Nothing but the pure bottom of the net. As it was Elliott’s sixth trey of the night, it would be suspect to suggest that blind luck had anything to do with it.
"When I caught it, I thought I was going to fall out of bounds," Elliott said. "My jumper felt good all day so I just wanted to get an attempt at it. I just wanted to get the shot up."
As it would turn out, the shot would have even more significance as it sucked the life out of the Blazers. The Spurs would go on to Portland and win both games by double digits, sweeping the series. The momentum didn’t stop there as San Antonio would beat the New York Knicks in five games to capture their first NBA championship. As for the Blazers, they would be ousted in the first round of the playoffs the next three years.
The Memorial Day Miracle may not carry the weight as many other playoff heroics do, but when thinking about significant moments that jump start a franchise, one would have to point to this shot as one of the key bullet points to the Tim Duncan era and the four titles earned by the Spurs in the last 15 years- 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007.