The most memorable moments from the NBA Bubble

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

October 13th, 2020

The NBA Bubble experiment is over, and after 94 days in isolation even the harshest critics would have to agree that the results were far better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

With the 2020 NBA Finals now complete, let’s look back and review the top five most memorable moments from the NBA Bubble.

5. Lakers vs. Clippers on opening night

Throughout the regular season and heading back into the Bubble, the overwhelming favorites to compete for the Western Conference title were the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers. While teams like the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and Dallas Mavericks had young, talented players, there was a strong belief that we were headed for the "Battle of Los Angeles."

In a bit of foreshadowing to the end of the season, LeBron James led the Lakers to a victory over the Clippers on opening night on July 30 by getting his own rebound off a miss and scoring on the second try. After months of questions about sports, the world, and indeed, the NBA season itself, the reemergence of the games was a memorable occasion.

4. Milwaukee Bucks sit out

During the three months of play in Orlando, the world outside experienced tremendous tumult. And unlike a real bubble, the players were very much attuned to it. Following a dramatic police shooting incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks opted to not play a regularly scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic. It came as a surprise to their opponents and a shock to the rest of us, as their decision was made unilaterally and created serious doubt about continuation of the games.

Following a tribal council of sorts, the players realized they could have a stronger social platform by continuing to play rather than going their separate ways, and the games continued. But for a brief stretch, it seemed like the bubble experiment would get cut short for a different reason than the virus.

3. Grizzlies vs. Blazers play-in game

In a forced-drama tactic stolen from Major League Baseball, the NBA opted to use the shortened season as reason for the creation of a play-in game for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. Knowing such a game was possible, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Blazers played inspired basketball leading up to their single-game elimination contest. The Blazers won, 126-122, led by Damian Lillard, arguably the most exciting player of the bubble. The play-in game was great theatre and introduced a concept that might be explored in future years.

2. Lakers win it all

The Miami Heat put together a playoff run that was as impressive and memorable as any in basketball history. The perpetual underdogs, they upset the overwhelming favorite Milwaukee Bucks, then the favored Boston Celtics, before eventually succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers. When it was all said and done, however, the Lakers 17th championship and LeBron James’ fourth championship will be one of the lasting memories of the bubble.

The title may come with an asterisk for some, but it still counts in the record books and was accomplished with some great play on the court. The Lakers had two defeats at the hands of the underdog that wouldn’t quit, but Game 6 was a decisive and dominating victory spurred on by inspired, championship defense. James, Rajon Rondo, Anthony Davis, and Alex Caruso led the way, locking down Heat scorers and propelling the Lakers to the second largest halftime lead in NBA Finals history. It made the second half feel like a victory lap, and after such a tumultuous 2020, it surely felt like a cathartic and memorable moment for Lakers fans. This one was for Kobe.

1. Luka Doncic's game winner

Before the Clippers reverted back to their franchise ways of losing in the playoffs, they looked destined for the 2020 NBA Finals. In their way was Luka Doncic and the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks, who challenged the Clippers through the first few games.

Doncic was questionable in Game 4, then came out and scored 43 points, added 17 rebounds, and had 13 assists. It was incredible play, and Doncic capped it off with a step-back three as the clock expired in a game in which the Mavs had been down 21 points in the second quarter. It was the single most thrilling single moment in the 94 days of the NBA Bubble, and it continued the "Legend of Luka."