The 2020 NBA Playoffs were like none that came before them. No packed arenas, no home court advantage, and no (sanctioned) street parties. One thing that didn't waver through all of this? The players’ desire to win an NBA championship. The lack of IRL fans and playing in a Disney ballroom didn’t hurt the on-court product, which left fans at home just as enthralled as previous playoffs.
Heading into the 2020 NBA Playoffs, fans north of the 49th parallel didn’t need to dig too deep to find storylines laden with CanCon. Could the Raptors repeat as Champions and bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to The North? Could Jamal Murray and the upstart Denver Nuggets emerge from the suddenly star-studded Western Conference? Could Shai Gilgeous-Alexander make some magic with Chris Paul in his sophomore season? And would Miami Heat journeyman Kelly Olynyk finally capture a title riding shotgun with Jimmy Buckets?
Alas, pre-season favourites the Los Angeles Lakers—led by NBA royalty Lebron James and Anthony Davis—prevailed in six games over the Miami Heat and won the franchise their 17th (!!!) title. And while there’s no direct Canadian connection to the Lakers, there was no shortage of defining Canadian basketball moments throughout the playoffs.
5. Kamloops Kelly helps shift momentum in the NBA Finals
After falling down 2-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, Kelly Olynyk helped get the Miami Heat back in the series with back to back double-digit point performances. In game two, Olynyk put up 24 points, setting the record for most points by a Canadian in an NBA Finals game. Not only did those 24 points set a record, they also set the tone—one that told the Lakers they were going to have to fight to the bitter end for their Championship.
In game three, Olynyk put up 17 points and seven rebounds for the Heat as they won 115-104 and remained right in the thick of it. Of course, we all know how it shook out from there with the Lakers winning in six games, however, Olynyk did us Canadians proud.
4. OG Anunoby beats the the buzzer (and Boston)
Down two games in the series, the Raptors faced a two-point deficit with 0.5 seconds remaining in game three of the semi finals vs. the Boston Celtics. Kyle Lowry had the ball along the far sideline ready for a quick inbound and shot. Standing in his way, seven-foot-five-inch Tacko Fall was making life difficult for Lowry. Meanwhile, OG Anunoby jogged casually along the baseline and out to the three-point line, about fifty feet away from Lowry. With no other options, Lowry lobbed the ball over Fall’s outstretched arms and right to Anunoby who immediately got the shot off, just past Jaylen Brown’s fingertips as he attempted to block it.
It went in. But if you were going off OG’s reaction alone, you would’ve thought it missed. Anunoby took it easy as he strolled over to his wildly celebrating teammates as they flooded onto the court. Anyone hoping for more emotion from OG after the game doesn’t know his style. When asked about the clutch shot post-game, all Anunoby had to say was, “It was cool.”
3. Jamal Murray: Part I
If we were going chronologically, Jamal Murray’s performance against the Clippers would be Part II, but this list is based on performance.
After ousting the Utah Jazz in seven games in the opening series (we’ll get to that), Jamal Murray and the underdog Denver Nuggets fell into a 3-1 series hole against the revamped Los Angeles Clippers team featuring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The critics were already scripting the storylines for an all-Los Angeles Western Conference Finals, but Murray and his partner-in-crime Nicola Jokic were having none of it.
Murray rattled off 26 and 21 points in games five and six respectively, before putting up a 40-spot in the series clinching game-seven win (a game in which the Nuggets were down by double-digits at points). With the win, Jamal Murray and his Denver Nuggets became the only team to come back from two 3-1 series deficits in an NBA Playoffs.
2. Raptors force a(nother) semi-finals game seven
The Raptors took the Sixers to seven games en route to their 2019 NBA Championship and down 3-2 heading into game six vs. the Celtics in 2020, they were going to have to do it in seven games again.
Although there were no buzzer-beating, last-minute heroics in this game, it took every player on the Raptors to force a game seven. Kyle Lowry made a team-high 33 points and further solidified his spot as the greatest Raptor of all time. Fred VanVleet once again came through with clutch shots from beyond the arc. Norm Powell came off the bench and put up 23 points. OG Anunoby came down with 13 boards. And Pascal Siakam put his offensive struggles aside and dominated the defensive end of the court.
All of these efforts combined resulted in a double-overtime 125-123 win for the Raptors, giving them a shot to advance in the winner-take-all game seven. Unfortunately this year, it wasn’t meant to be as Boston won game seven en route to being eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.
1. Jamal Murray: Part II
Jamal Murray treated us to the single best NBA Playoffs performance from a Canadian basketball player. To open the NBA Playoffs, Murray, Jokic, and the Nuggets started off slow going down 3-1 to the Jazz. But as we’d soon learn, down 3-1 is exactly where they wanted to be.
In game five, Murray put up 42 points to lead the Nuggets to a win. In game six, he topped that with 50 points en route to another Nuggets win. This was the first time since Michael Jordan, yes, MICHAEL JORDAN, that a player followed up a 40-point game with a 50-point game in the NBA Playoffs. That’s GOAT-level stuff right there.
Murray and Jokic then pressed eject on the Jazz as they tossed them from the playoffs in the seventh and deciding game. Although the Nuggets magical run came to an end vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Canadian basketball fans have a lot to be excited about with Murray and his Canadian counterparts shining brighter than the North Star on a clear night in Colwood.