If you were born in 1995 or later (as I was), there are two special defensive moments that stick out to you when you think about the greatest blocked shots in NBA history. One of them is likely when LeBron James pinned Andre Iguodala against the backboard in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – arguably the greatest defensive play in basketball history when you put it into context.
But the other is more impressive from a strictly physical perspective; Tayshaun Prince is the proud owner of the most athletic block I have ever seen, and it happened 16 years ago today.
Let me set the scene real quick, although I’m sure most of you are familiar with how Prince pulled off this epic masterclass of unprecedented effort and perfect timing.
The Detroit Pistons of the early 2000s were a borderline dynasty, but one without a bonafide superstar. Prince was arguably only the fifth-best player on a team that featured Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace, but he was easily a dominating two-way presence. The 2003-04 Pistons were on a mission to finally break through to the Finals after falling short the previous two seasons. They matched up against Reggie Miller and his Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After losing Game 1, the Pistons held a slight two-point lead with time running low in the fourth quarter of Game 2 (also, notice how low scoring these games are. This was only 16 years ago!). Following a scrum that saw Billups stripped on his way to the basket, Miller is fed the ball on the break with no Detroit player within 15 feet of him when he receives the ball at mid-court. With under 18 seconds remaining, the shot that should have been the easiest field goal of the series for Miller was sent flying to the corner of the court. Prince came literally out of nowhere to swat Miller while somehow managing to keep the ball inbounds (this might be the most impressive aspect of the play, honestly. If Prince blocks the shot out of bounds, the Pacers have another chance to tie or win the game. Instead, Hamilton snags the ball and finishes Indiana off with a pair of free throws).
The reactions across the board are priceless, especially Jermaine O’Neal’s.
Winning Game 2 on the road proved to be a turning point for Detroit. They wound up beating the Pacers in six games before eliminating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games during the NBA Finals. To this day, Prince’s block is considered by many as the greatest block in NBA playoff history.
“In that situation, a two-point game, I’ve just got to make a play on the ball,” Prince said following the win. “Before I got there I knew it was going to be a tough play. … He [Reggie Miller] slowed up just a little bit at the last second and gave me time to get there.”
Prince had absolutely no business blocking that shot. But because he did, he’ll forever be enshrined in Pistons’ lore.