The NBA playoffs begin on Saturday, with 16 remaining teams vying for that coveted championship trophy. Plenty of people (like us!) can give you the stats and scouting reports to help you pick a winner, but we're basing our analysis of each team's capabilities based on their best and most ridiculous GIFs of the season.
Of course, only a few of the 16 playoff teams actually have a reasonable chance to win. In the Eastern Conference, that field is basically limited to the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, the top two seeds this year by a wide margin. Over in the Western Conference, the top three teams stand above the rest: the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers. Who among those five will be victorious in our GIF Battle to the Death?
The Spurs are, for lack of a better word, boring. Yes, they were 29 seconds away from winning the title last year, and finished this season with the best record in the NBA (again), but neither of those matters in these GIF rankings. The team is a reflection of its leader, "The Big Fundamental" Tim Duncan, playing incredibly good basketball while showing nothing flashy. Any team that had just one single alley-oop dunk all last season is going to struggle in a GIF tournament. As the above GIF shows, sharing is caring, but as far as season highlights go, sharing is snoozing.
Soon-to-be MVP Kevin Durant is the clear star of the Thunder, but their success and/or failure in the playoffs will depend on the enigmatic Russell Westbrook. Westbrook's explosive speed and power makes him capable of thunderous dunks like the one above, but he's a definite risk-taker and can sometimes try to do too much for his own good at times. With him making steals and slams in the playoffs, the Thunder will be weapons. But this GIF doesn't quite have the oomph of an NBA champion.
The Heat are going for their third straight title with LeBron at the helm, and are the Vegas favorites going into the playoffs. It's hard to overstate just how good LeBron is at this point in his career. After back-to-back MVP seasons, he is an even more efficient player this year, setting career highs in field goal percentage and true shooting percentage (which gives greater weight to three-pointers.)
Nothing explains his unique skill set quite like this no-look, around-another-person's-back pass to an open Ray Allen for three. The quick drive to the hoop to draw the double team gets Allen open, and LeBron uses his formidable strength to make enough space to flick him the ball. That really is poetry in motion.
The Clippers always benefit from having the Human GIF Machine Blake Griffin on the roster. The high-flying forward did his thing plenty this year, but nothing quite emphatically stated the Clippers arrival as a real contender like this dunk from early March. For too long, Clippers have been the little brother to the dominant cross-town Lakers, with their Wilt and Worthy and Magic and Shaq and Kobe and whatnot. Those roles have been reversed this year in a big way, but Lob City still needs that title to truly switch places. With this GIF as evidence of their talents, they'll certainly have a shot.
The Pacers have not one but two moments that will live in GIFamy, and both involve forward Paul George. He provided the most blatantly awesome moment of the NBA season with this 360 dunk, a flashy move that was as unnecessary as it was spectacular.
And yet. That may not even have been his most GIF-able play of the year. That honor belongs to this barely-trying three-pointer from so far away that he was closer to mid-court than the three-point line.
There is so much wrong with his decision to shoot here, particularly as it came with just three minutes left in a close game, and with plenty of time on the shot clock. But Paul George does what Paul George does, and that mix of calm, clutch perfection will give the Pacers the title.
Is it unfair that the Pacers win our rankings because of two strong GIF moments? Well, no. No, it is not unfair. I mean, did you even see how far away George was?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.