Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals saw Giannis Antetokounmpo execute what will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest blocks in NBA history, up there with LeBron James on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, among other memorable swats.
So that immediately got us thinking: If we broke it down to the 11 best blocks in the history of the Association, what other swat-aways would make the list?
For our purposes, we’re taking into account the stakes at hand, degree of difficulty on said blocks and sheer audacity by the blocker in question.
Below, check out what we came up with as the 11 best blocks in NBA history in no particular order.
Giannis Antetokounmpo on Deandre Ayton (2021)
We’ll lead off with the most topical block on the list, which came Wednesday night late in a pivotal, hotly contested Game 4 between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.
With the Bucks up 101-99 and less than 1:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, Devin Booker ran a dribble hand-off action with his big man, Ayton, drove the ball towards the basket and tried to lob it up for the uber-athletic center, a play that has been exceedingly difficult to defend for every team Phoenix has faced in these playoffs.
Before Booker and Ayton could complete their own Shaq-and-Kobe playoff alley-oop, however, Antetokounmpo soared in legitimately out of nowhere to reject the shot when it looked like Ayton was going to be able to slam the ball through the hoop.
Stakes at hand, this block likely comes second to just LeBron’s on Iguodala historically, as we could one day look back and see it as a championship-deciding rejection from the aptly called Greek Freak.
Few players in the history of the league possess or possessed the wherewithal Antetokounmpo showed on the play or the freakish length, explosiveness and athleticism to make that block from where he was.
Otherworldly stuff by Antetokounmpo.
LeBron James on Andre Iguodala (2016)
In a career full of legacy-defining moments powerful enough to give him a strong claim to be considered the NBA’s GOAT, James’ block on Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals is near the top of the list of best James moments, if not flat-out at No. 1.
Not only did it come with some of the highest stakes possible, late in a tied Game 7 with fewer than two minutes remaining against the reigning Finals MVP, but the physics behind it were likewise jaw-dropping.
For James to leap that high in the air and get up to the ball quickly enough to block it before it touched the backboard – on a play that he was trailing far from behind for the majority of it – is still astonishing to see, even on replay all these years later.
And who knows?
If Iguodala had been able to get that layup to drop, do the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, still complete that historic comeback, giving James the hugely important third championship of his career? And does Kevin Durant still sign with the Golden State Warriors the following offseason if they win the title in 2016?
A legitimate history-changing block by James, and almost unquestionably the greatest rejection in league history.
LeBron James on Tiago Splitter (2013)
Unsurprisingly, a player with a career as long and as great as James’ was going to show up on this list more than once.
And though his block on Tiago Splitter didn’t have quite the stakes at hand as his 2016 swat on Iguodala, it was still extremely impressive in its own right just judging by first, the fact that he was blocking a center with full steam behind him, second, the sound the ball made when James’ hand met it and third, that it came in a Finals game in which his team at the time, the Miami Heat, were trailing in the series.
It may not have been a Game 7, but a Game 2 at home staring a 2-0 hole in the face before having to hit the road for the next three games are still pretty enormous stakes, and James came up huge at that moment for Miami with his block.
For almost any other player, this is the best rejection – and perhaps play – of their career. For James, however, it’s not even the best block he’s had in the Finals.
Tayshaun Prince on Reggie Miller (2004)
The 2003-04 playoffs were something of a coming-out party for Tayshaun Prince, a player who would go on to make four All-Defense teams, win a championship with the Detroit Pistons and even win a gold medal with one of the greatest Olympic basketball teams ever, the 2008 Redeem Team.
And the play that people remember most from that coming-out party came late in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Pistons up 69-67 over the Indiana Pacers and now-Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller, and just under 30 seconds remaining.
On the preceding play, Detroit ran a usual play that featured three of their stars, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, culminating with Wallace getting a decent look at the rim. In this instance, though, Wallace was met at the summit by another great shot-blocker historically, Jermaine O’Neal, who packed his shot, leading to Billups getting the ball back and turning it over.
With 20 seconds left and a clean lane, it looked like Miller was going to tie the game and perhaps help the Pacers sneak out of the game with a win and a 2-0 series lead.
Instead, Prince soared in for the second-greatest playoff chase-down block of all time, timing his swat perfectly, packing the ball against the rim before it flew up and eventually came down in the hands of Hamilton.
The Pistons would go on to tie the series that evening, eventually winning it in six games and then going on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the 2004 Finals, thus breaking up the Shaq-and-Kobe partnership once and for all.
Quietly, Prince’s block might have had a huge effect on basketball history.
Either way, it’s one of the greatest rejections the sport has ever seen.
Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen on Charles Smith (1993)
In what was one of the greatest defensive sequences in NBA playoff history, the dynastic ’90s Chicago Bulls put poor Charles Smith in an absolute box late in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, blocking his point-blank opportunities three times and stripping him a couple of other times for good measure.
The first block came from Horace Grant, was immediately followed by Michael Jordan stripping Smith down low, who somehow recovered the ball only to get blocked from behind by Scottie Pippen not once, but twice, before eventually losing the ball to Grant.
What some may not remember about that sequence was that the Knicks were trailing by one measly point at the time, the clock had fewer than 15 seconds remaining on it and had Smith been able to score and had New York gotten just one more stop, they would have taken a 3-2 lead in series, giving them two more opportunities to stop the Bulls dead to rights at two championships.
Instead… well, we all know what happened.
The Knicks lost in six, the Bulls went on to win the championship that, their third in a row, Jordan then retired for the first time, so on and so forth.
Roy Hibbert on Carmelo Anthony (2013)
This block didn’t decide a championship, but it did have some historical implications in that it was probably New York’s best chance to win a championship this millennium, ended at the hands of Roy Hibbert, who would be out of the league himself just four years later.
The Knicks, led by Carmelo Anthony, won 54 games that year and had a good amount of momentum heading into the playoffs, where many expected them to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for a showdown against the rival Miami Heat.
Hibbert and the Pacers would have other plans, however, and on the heels of that wrist-bending block by the 7-footer, would go on to win that night, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semis, by seven points, thus eliminating the Knicks in six games and ending that fun, early 2010s run from Anthony and New York.
The Knicks wouldn’t make the playoffs again until this season, a seven-year stretch of futility.
Nate Robinson on Yao Ming (2006)
This block didn’t have anywhere near the stakes at hand that the previous ones did, as it came early on in the 2006 season, but it still makes the list based solely on how absurd it was.
For a player generously listed at 5-foot-9 in Nate Robinson to cleanly block a 7-foot-6, 300-plus pound behemoth like Yao Ming is something that fans of the sport will never forget.
And Robinson didn’t block the shot from behind, either, instead meeting Ming face-to-face at the rim and getting to the ball before the Hall-of-Famer could smash it through the net.
That’s just how explosive and tough the former NBA guard was at his athletic prime, that he was able to pull off one of the best blocks the Association has ever seen.
Blake Griffin on Deron Williams (2012)
Again, limited stakes at hand here as this came in a November contest between the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets back in 2012, but this one makes the list for just how filthy it was.
Not only was Blake Griffin’s rejection on Deron Williams gravity-defying, that Griffin was able to palm the ball and control it on the way down was absolutely insane, making it one of the most forgotten-about-but-underrated packs in NBA history.
At least according to us.
Wilt Chamberlain on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is famous for talking about how unblockable his skyhook was, and for the most part, he was right. The man didn’t end up the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by accident, after all.
But that doesn’t mean it was never blocked.
Another all-time great, and Abdul-Jabbar’s biggest adversary early on in his career, Wilt Chamberlain, was able to do just that, twice in a row on the same play, in fact, pulling that immaculate feat off when he was already in his mid-30s, no less.
Those blocks make the list not just based on how difficult the skyhook was to contest, let alone swat away, let alone twice in one play, but also because of the names featured, Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain, two of the greatest the sport has ever witnessed.
Ben Wallace on Shaquille O'Neal (2006)
Another block that featured two all-time great big men, Ben Wallace’s 2006 swat on Shaquille O’Neal had relatively big stakes on the line, as it came in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals that year with the Pistons trailing Miami three games to one.
Early in the third quarter with Detroit clinging to a four-point lead, O’Neal caught the ball down low in his usual dominant positioning, discarding Rasheed Wallace before going up for what he thought would be an easy dunk.
That thought would prove incorrect quickly, as the other Wallace came from out of nowhere to pin the ball to O’Neal’s hands, blocking him so hard and for such a long time that the refs had no choice but to whistle a jump ball.
The Pistons would go on to win that night and force a Game 6, but would come up short on the road in Miami in the following contest to end their campaign, while the Heat would win the championship that year, O’Neal’s first, and only title, away from the Lakers.
Even so, for that one moment, Wallace, one of the greatest defensive bigs ever, made O’Neal look far from the dominant force he was known to be.
JaVale McGee on Wesley Matthews (2011)
No major stakes at play here, as the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010-11 were a 48-win team while JaVale McGee and the Washington Wizards were one of the worst clubs in the league, but the block by McGee on Wesley Matthews in the second quarter is still one of the most ridiculous in NBA history.
Matthews drove the ball in with a wide-open lane and not a defender in sight until McGee sores in from the top of the key to not just block Matthews’ dunk attempt, but to catch the ball at the rim, ripping it out of the guard’s hands with just his right paw and come down with it completely cleanly.
Visually, one of the most stunning blocks ever, a true marvel of athleticism pulled off by McGee back in 2011.