This week at CBS Sports, we’re diving into the debate about the. Along the way, we’ll be taking a look at a number of related topics, including how the and prolific shooters who were simply .
In keeping with the historical theme, here’s a look back at the best, most important shot for every NBA team. While there were a few exceptions, we tried to limit this to actual jump shots, and not layups or dunks. Historical importance also took precedence over style or difficulty.
And with that, here are the shots:
- Bob Pettit: Title clinching tip-in in Game 6 the 1958 Finals
The footage we have from this game doesn’t actually show this particular shot, but the recap tells us that in Game 6 of the 1958 Finals against the Boston Celtics, Bob Pettit tipped in a basket in the closing seconds to put the Hawks up 110-107, and they eventually held on for a 110-109 win.
Pettit finished with 50 points in the game to help the Hawks — then playing in St. Louis — clinch their first and only title. Making it even sweeter for Pettit and Co. was the fact that the Celtics had beaten the Hawks in the Finals in 1957. While this wasn’t a jumper, no other shots in the 74-year history of the franchise have come close to this level of impact, so it will have to do.
In lieu of a clip of the bucket, please enjoy this highlight footage from the game, which features the Hawks running out the last few seconds in cartoonish fashion.
- Don Nelson: Clutch jumper late in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals
For a team with as many legendary moments as the Celtics, nailing this down to just one shot was a bit of a challenge. But in trying to limit this to jump shots where possible, the answer has to be Don Nelson’s clutch jumper late in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.
Even making it to the Finals was a bit of a surprise for the Celtics that season, and they were big underdogs against a Lakers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Yet in Game 7 on the road, they were up by 15 going into the fourth.
A furious Lakers comeback cut the lead to just one in the final minute, however, and the Celtics were on the ropes. That’s when Nelson stepped up. After the ball was knocked away from John Havlicek, it went right to Nelson, who beat the shot clock buzzer with a jumper that hit the back iron, bounced straight up and then fell through the net.
Nelson’s shot gave the Celtics a 105-102 lead, and they held on for a stunning 108-106 win to capture their 11th title, and the last of the Bill Russell era.
- Julius Erving: Buzzer-beater to win Game 3 of the 1974 ABA Eastern Division finals
Aside from two trips to the Finals in the early 2000s, the Nets haven’t had much success since moving to the NBA. So for their best shot we’ll travel back to 1974, when they were playing in the ABA as the New York Nets.
In Game 3 of the 1974 ABA Eastern Division finals — essentially the conference finals — Julius Erving hit a buzzer-beater to lift the Nets to an 89-87 victory over the Kentucky Colonels. Finishing with 30 points, Erving led the Nets back from a 15-point deficit before hitting the game-winner, which gave the Nets a 3-0 lead in the series, and put them on track to sweep a talented Colonels team that boasted Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and Louie Dampier.
A few weeks later, Erving and the Nets went on to beat the Utah Stars in the ABA Finals to capture their first title in franchise history. Unfortunately, footage of Erving’s game-winner isn’t readily available online. However, in Terry Pluto’s classic book about the ABA, Loose Balls, we get an incredible story about the moment, which might be even better.
Dave Vance: I was the GM of the Colonels when Julius made that shot, and [Nets head coach Kevin Loughery] tells a great story about what went on in the huddle.
When they called timeout with 15 seconds left, Kevin went down on his knee and started to draw up a play. He didn’t get very far when a huge hand landed on his shoulder.
‘Kevin,’ said Julius, ‘I’ll take the last shot.’
Kevin said he got chills when he heard Doc say that. It was almost like the voice of God.
So Kevin says, ‘Okay guys, if Doc misses–‘
The hand came back on Kevin’s shoulder and Julius said, ‘Kevin, I won’t miss.’
That just stopped Kevin. Finally, he said, ‘Okay, let’s get Doc the ball and let’s go.’
I can still see Julius floating to the right in the air, the shot leaving his hand, and he just ran right to the dressing room after he let it go. Julius knew it was in and he knew he had won the game.
- Baron Davis: The longest shot in NBA history
The list of important moments involving the Hornets is pretty short, so we’ll have to go for the most spectacular shot instead, and there’s only one answer when you think about it like that.
Back in 2001, the Hornets were taking on the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-February in what turned out to be a preview of a second-round playoff matchup. The Bucks won that series in seven games, but the Hornets won on that night, thanks in large part to Baron Davis, who finished with 21 points and nine assists.
Late in the third quarter, Davis also hit the longest shot in NBA history. Taking the ball out under their own basket with less than a second to play in the third, Jamal Mashburn tossed the ball to Davis, who flung it the length of the court with one hand, and sent it straight through the net.
The official distance on the shot was 89 feet, and no one has ever made a longer effort that counted. Jon Bois of SB Nation produced an excellent video about the shot that’s worth checking out for more about this historic moment.
- Michael Jordan: ‘The Last Shot’
After watching “The Last Dance”, you should all know the answer for this one. Michael Jordan produced plenty of iconic moments for the Bulls over his remarkable career, but none was better than his title-clinching jumper against the Jazz in the 1998 Finals.
Down by three in the closing minute of Game 6 in Salt Lake City, Jordan drove inside to convert a layup to cut the deficit to one, then stole the ball from Karl Malone on the ensuing possession, setting up one of the most famous shots in NBA history.
Controlling up top against Bryon Russell, he drove right, stopped on a dime, gave Russell a little push and rose up for a wide open jumper that caught nothing but the bottom of the net. The last-second shot gave Jordan 45 points on the night, and the Bulls their sixth title in eight seasons.
It was also the last shot Jordan ever took with the Bulls, as he announced his second retirement from basketball in January of 1999.
- Kyrie Irving: Game-winning 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals
This was one of the easiest decisions in this entire project. The Cavs only have one title in the history of their franchise, and one shot along the way was bigger than all the rest.
The story of the Cavaliers’ historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals is well known by everyone. So much so that “blowing a 3-1 lead” has become a meme.
Late in Game 7 in Oakland, the score was all tied up at 89-89 with a minute to play. The Cavs had the ball, but instead of letting LeBron James go to work, it was Kyrie Irving operating out on the perimeter. After a series of dribbling moves, he stepped back and knocked down a 3-pointer right in Steph Curry’s face.
Irving’s shot put the Cavs up 92-89, and they held on for a 93-89 win, and their first and only title. Though he later forced his way out of Cleveland, this shot will make him a legend in the city forever.
- Dirk Nowitzki: Clutch 3-pointer late in Game 2 of the 2011 Finals
After years of playoff failure, including a loss to the Miami Heat in the Finals in 2006, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks finally got back to the Finals in 2011. Go figure, they were matched up with the Heat again, and this time Dwyane Wade had LeBron James and Chris Bosh alongside him.
The Mavericks were not expected to beat the Heatles, especially not after losing Game 1. And when they went down by 15 points in Game 2, it definitely seemed over. But they came storming back, and with less than 30 seconds to play, Nowitzki drilled a 3 to give them the lead for the first time since the second quarter.
A few possessions later, Nowitzki — who scored the Mavs’ last nine points — drove inside for the game-winner to even the series at 1-1. Dallas later went on to win the series, 4-2, to earn its first and only title in franchise history.
- Carmelo Anthony: 3-pointer to win Game 3 of 2009 second-round series vs. Mavericks
Debuting as the Denver Rockets in the ABA in 1967, the Nuggets franchise has been around a long time. Unfortunately, they haven’t had much success in their 50-plus-year history.
One of the few runs they have gone on, though, was back in 2009, when they pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the Western Conference finals. Along the way, they dispatched the Hornets in the first round, and the Mavericks in the second, winning each series 4-1.
In Game 3 of the second round against the Mavericks, they were down by two points in the closing seconds but had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. So they gave it to their main man, Carmelo Anthony, and let him go to work.
He actually lost control of the ball for a split second, as the Mavericks tried to use their foul to give, but the refs let the contact go, and Anthony sunk a leaning 3 for the win. The 106-105 victory put the Nuggets up 3-0 in the series, and they cruised into the conference finals, where they’ve never been since.
- Vinnie Johnson: Title-clinching jumper to win the 1990 Finals
While “The Last Dance” was about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, that story can’t be told without mentioning the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, and they got plenty of screen time over the past few months.
In the short gap between Larry Bird’s Celtics aging out of title contention, and Jordan reaching the height of his powers, the Pistons ran the East, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. The second of those two titles came as they beat the Trail Blazers, 4-1.
Though they had numerous Hall of Famers on those teams, including Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars, the biggest shot goes to a dynamite bench scorer named Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson.
Johnson twice went on personal 9-0 runs in the deciding Game 5 in Portland in the 1990 Finals, including one to close out the game. With 0.7 seconds left, and the game tied at 90-90, he took a pass from Thomas, dribbled left and pulled up for the most important shot of his career. It caught all net, giving the Pistons the win, and the second of their back-to-back rings.
Golden State Warriors
- Stephen Curry: Deep game-winning 3-pointer vs. Thunder in regular-season duel
The Warriors have been to the Finals five seasons in a row, winning three titles along the way. But despite all their playoff success, the defining moment of this group’s run so far came in the regular season.
In February of 2016, during their historic 73-9 season, they went to Oklahoma City for a primetime matchup with Kevin Durant and the Thunder, who they would later face in the Western Conference finals.
It turned out to be one of the best regular-season contests in recent memory, and perhaps ever. Curry finished with 46 points, thanks to 12 3-pointers, the last of which was a game-winner from almost halfcourt, and the most impressive shot he’s ever hit.
With the game tied at 118-118, and time winding down, Curry brought the ball down the floor, as Steve Kerr opted not to call timeout. Despite just a few seconds remaining, Curry wasn’t in a hurry, and instead of pushing to the basket, pulled up for an extremely deep 3 that caught everyone off guard.
As you know by now, he banged it home for the win, then pranced around the Thunder court. He has three rings and two MVPs, but the first play people think about with Curry is this shot, in what was a largely meaningless late-season game.
- Ralph Sampson: Buzzer-beater in Game 5 to clinch the 1986 Western Conference crown
Back in 1983 and 1984, the Rockets had the No. 1 overall pick in back-to-back drafts, and used them to select Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Sampson’s injury problems prevented us from ever seeing the full potential of that fascinating frontline, but in 1986 they did make it to the Finals after just a few seasons together.
In the Western Conference finals, they took a 3-1 lead over the top-seeded Lakers, and closed things out, thanks to some last-second heroics by Sampson. With the score tied at 112-112, and just one second remaining, the Rockets had the ball at halfcourt.
Sampson cut toward the basket, and still had his back to the basket when he caught the inbounds pass from Rodney McCray. Somehow, he managed to grab the ball, contort his body and put up a wild shot all in one motion to beat the buzzer. It bounced up off the front of the rim, and dropped through to stun the defending champion Lakers.
The Rockets went on to lose to the Celtics in the Finals in six games, and unfortunately this was the last great moment for Sampson, who never played more than 61 games in a season after this. By 1992, injury problems had him out of the league for good, less than 10 years after being drafted.
- Reggie Miller: Last-second 3-pointer to win Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals
This is another moment that will be quite familiar to viewers of “The Last Dance.” While the Pacers fell short in Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals, they were able to give the Bulls a legitimate challenge.
Reggie Miller was a big reason why. The Hall of Famer averaged 17.4 points and shot 43.6 percent from 3 over the seven games. In Game 4, he hit the biggest of those triples to help the Pacers even the series.
Down 2-1 in the series, the Pacers desperately needed Game 4 at home to avoid going down 3-1, but trailed by one point with just 2.9 seconds to play. They had the ball, though, so they had a chance, and Miller made it count.
Curling through traffic, he ran straight into Michael Jordan, shoved him away and broke free for the pass from Derrick McKey. He rose up and swished in the 3 to give the Pacers a 96-94 lead, which they would hold onto for the win.
The Clippers are not exactly the most successful NBA team of all time, but over the past decade or so, they’ve been trying to change that. Starting with the Lob City teams, and now with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, it’s a new era of Clippers basketball.
Even still, they’ve never made it past the second round of the playoffs, and, in fact, have only won five series in 50 years of basketball. One of them was in 2015, when they defeated the Spurs in a thrilling seven-game, first-round series.
Game 7 of that matchup is one of the best playoff games in recent memory. There were 16 ties, and a whopping 31 lead changes, the last of which came in the final second, thanks to Chris Paul. Driving inside, Paul banked in a floater over Tim Duncan to give the Clippers the win in thrilling fashion.
The legacy of that shot has been sullied by the Clippers’ epic collapse a few weeks later in the second round to the Rockets, but it’s still the crowning moment of Paul’s career — which, take that how you will.
Los Angeles Lakers
- Magic Johnson: Junior skyhook to beat Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals
Picking just one shot for a team with as many classic moments as the Lakers is a near-impossible task. Jerry West’s 60-foot heave to send Game 3 of the 1970 Finals to overtime would be a reasonable choice, but since they ended up losing that series, we’ll turn elsewhere.
Instead, we’ll jump to 1987, as the Lakers continued their legendary rivalry with the Celtics with another Finals matchup. The Lakers led the series 2-1, but late in Game 4 in the Boston Garden, the Celtics were up by one, and just seconds away from evening up the series.
That’s when Magic Johnson took the ball on the left wing, drove middle and tossed up a little baby skyhook reminiscent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It dropped through the net to give the Lakers a 107-106 win, and what would prove to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the series.
“Magic’s just a great basketball player,” a stunned Larry Bird said after the loss. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen. I … unbelievable. I don’t know what to say.”
- Marc Gasol: Game-winner vs. the Spurs in Game 4 of their 2017 first-round series
The Grizzlies are in full rebuild mode these days, but back in their Grit ‘n’ Grind days, they were a real problem in the Western Conference, and even managed to make the conference finals in 2013.
Along the way, they had some great battles with the Spurs, including in the 2017 playoffs, when they met in the first round. Though the Spurs ultimately won 4-2, the Grizzlies made them work, and Game 4 was a thriller.
Mike Conley sent things to overtime with a last-second jumper in regulation, and then Marc Gasol followed that up with a game-winner in the extra frame. Driving middle against LaMarcus Aldridge, Gasol pushed up a little runner that nestled into the back of the net to give the Grizzlies the win and knot the series up at 2-2.
It turned out to be the last great moment for that Grizzlies group. They lost the next two games of the series, and injuries and age caught up with them soon after that.
- Ray Allen: Game-tying 3-pointer in final seconds of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals
Another very easy call here, as Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals is one of the most clutch shots of all time.
After winning their first title together in 2012, the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were looking to become the sixth team to repeat as champs, but faced a strong test in the form of the San Antonio Spurs.
Up 3-2 in the series, the Spurs went into Miami and took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter, and despite LeBron James’ best efforts — this was “The Headband Game” — the Spurs still led by three with just 20 seconds to play. At that point, even the league assumed it was over, as they started roping off the court to prepare for the Spurs’ celebration. Allen, however, had other ideas.
LeBron launched a 3-pointer that didn’t land, but Bosh grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to Allen, who stepped back into the corner and drilled a game-tying 3. The Heat went on to win in overtime, 103-100, and took Game 7 a few days later to claim their second and final title during that run.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Game-winning skyhook in Game 6 of the 1974 Finals
The Bucks are on the rise again thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but for their best shot we’ll travel back to the ’70s, when they were led by a different MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
After leading the Bucks to the title in 1971, Abdul-Jabbar — fresh off winning his third MVP in four seasons — had them back in the Finals in 1974. They were matched up with the mighty Boston Celtics, who were led by some legends of their own, in Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White.
The teams traded wins in the first five games of the series, and up 3-2, the Celtics had a chance to close things out on their home floor. They couldn’t get the job done, however, as Abdul-Jabbar played hero with 34 points and a game-winning skyhook in the closing seconds of double overtime in Game 6.
Catching the inbounds pass from Oscar Robertson with seven seconds left, Abdul-Jabbar drove right and tossed in his signature shot from nearly 20 feet. His incredible basket was the 10th and final lead change in the last three minutes and 23 seconds, and forced Game 7. “They ain’t gonna drink no champagne tonight,” Abdul-Jabbar said as he ran off the floor.
But unfortunately for him and the Bucks, the Celtics’ enjoyment of that sweet drink was merely postponed a few days, as Boston went to Milwaukee and won the final game by 15 points, thanks to their defensive strategy of triple-teaming Abdul-Jabbar.
- Kevin Garnett: Clutch jumper late in Game 3 of their 2004 second-round series vs. Kings
The Timberwolves have only won two playoff series in franchise history, and both came during the 2004 season, when Kevin Garnett, who won MVP that season, nearly led them to the NBA Finals.
Though they ultimately fell short to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, they had a strong run along the way, finishing 58-24 in the regular season — still a franchise-best record — before eliminating the Nuggets in the first round, and the Kings in the second.
The series with the Kings was tremendous, going the full seven games, with six of them decided by eight points or less. That included Game 3 in Sacramento, which is one of the better playoff games since the turn of the century.
Down by 15 in the fourth, the Kings embarked on a furious comeback, and a last-second Peja Stojakovic 3-pointer sent things to overtime. But in the extra frame, Garnett rescued the Timberwolves by scoring six of their 10 points, including a ridiculous fadeaway jumper to beat the shot clock with just 10 seconds left.
That bucket put the Wolves up 114-111, and they held on for a 114-113 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
- Anthony Davis: Double-clutch buzzer-beater vs. the Thunder in 2015 regular-season game
As one of the newer teams in the league, the Pelicans don’t have much in the way of history or memorable moments, but they have had some real superstars come through town.
One of them was Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, who last summer forced his way to the Lakers via trade after years of frustration over the team wasting his talents. Despite putting up incredible numbers, the Pelicans made the playoffs just twice with Davis. Once was in 2015, and to little surprise, it was heroics from Davis that got them there.
In early February, the Pels faced off against the Thunder in an incredible game that went down to the wire. All tied up at 113-113 with 1.2 seconds left, Davis popped open at the top of the key and immediately rose up for a shot. Kevin Durant was closing fast, however, so Davis had to double clutch to get the show away. It didn’t matter, and he knocked it down to give the Pels the win.
Even though it was just a mid-season game, the shot ended up getting the Pelicans into the playoffs. The win gave them a 3-1 regular-season record over the Thunder, and the head-to-head tiebreaker. When they finished the season with identical 45-37 records, it was New Orleans who advanced to the postseason.
- Willis Reed: Early jumpers while injured in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals
Almost all of these shots are understandably from the last few minutes or seconds of games, if not outright buzzer-beaters. But not these two efforts from Willis Reed in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.
We’re including both shots here just because it’s impossible to separate one from the other. Hobbled by bad knees and a torn thigh muscle suffered in Game 5 of the series, Reed sat out Game 6 but made a stunning return in Game 7.
Just minutes before the opening tip, he emerged from the tunnel to a roaring Madison Square Garden crowd. He proceeded to knock down his first two shots, and though he soon checked out of the game, he had provided the boost his team needed.
Inspired by Reed, the Knicks ran away with the game, winning 113-99 to secure their first title in franchise history. Reed was honored with Finals MVP, a feat he would repeat a few years later, when he led the Knicks to their second title in 1973, once again defeating the Lakers.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Derrick McKey: Series-winning buzzer-beater in Game 4 of 1989 first-round series vs. Rockets
The Seattle SuperSonics’ 1989 playoff run wasn’t the most successful this franchise — which moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008 — ever had, but it was one of the most memorable. If only for the fact that it produced one of the rarest shots in all of basketball: the series-clinching buzzer-beater.
Up 2-1 in the best-of-five first-round series with the Rockets, the Sonics traveled to Houston with a chance to close things out. They had the lead in the closing seconds of Game 4 until Sleepy Floyd drilled a 3-pointer with one second left to tie the ball game. It looked like things would head to overtime, and possibly a decisive Game 5.
Derrick McKey, however, had other ideas. Planted under the basket, he received a perfect inbound pass from Nate McMillan, and banked in a short little shot to give the Sonics a thrilling 98-96 win, and send them into the second round, where they would ultimately get swept by the Lakers.
Though it wasn’t technically a jumper, the rarity and importance of this shot makes it the clear choice for the best shot in Sonics/Thunder history.
- Rashard Lewis: Game-winning 3-pointer vs. Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference finals
For a team that’s only been around since 1989, the Magic sure have had their fair share of star players and big moments. The last decade or so has been pretty rough, but as recently as 2009 they were in the NBA Finals.
They got there by going through LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. And while everyone remembers LeBron’s incredible buzzer-beater from Game 2 of that series, the Magic actually won Game 1 on a last-second 3-pointer of their own.
In the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the Magic trailed by two points and were looking to tie or take the lead. It ended up being the latter, as Rashard Lewis squared up Anderson Varejao, and drained a 3-pointer right in his face to put the Magic up, 107-106.
They went on to win by the same score to take a 1-0 lead in the series, which they eventually won in six games.
- Allen Iverson: Game-sealing jumper and step over on Ty Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals
The Sixers may have more important shots in the storied history of their franchise, but there was always only one choice for them: Allen Iverson’s iconic jumper and subsequent step over on Tyronn Lue.
Winning the scoring title and the MVP, Iverson was at the height of his powers in 2001, and led the Sixers to the Finals for the first time since 1983, when they swept the Lakers for their third title. Coincidentally, they were up against Los Angeles again in 2001, but this time it was the Sixers who were overmatched against Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
They would go on to lose the series 4-1, but not before stealing Game 1 in L.A. behind a 48-point effort from Iverson. With just a minute left in overtime, the Sixers were clinging to a two-point lead, and Iverson had the ball in the corner.
He started to drive baseline, then stopped on a dime, pulled back and drained a tough jumper. As he made his way back down the court, he dramatically stepped over Lue, who had fallen to the ground in his path.
The Sixers held on for a 107-101 win, and though they would lose the rest of the games in that series, Iverson had created a moment that will live on forever.
- Garfield Heard: Buzzer-beater to send Game 5 of the 1976 Finals to triple overtime
The history of the Phoenix Suns is, unfortunately, having very good teams that ultimately come up short in the playoffs. We’ve seen it most recently with the Steve Nash teams in the mid-2000s and the Charles Barkley teams in the early 1990s.
It was also the case back in 1976, when they made the first of their two trips to the Finals. Led by Paul Westphal, they were giving the mighty Celtics all they could handle, and heading into Game 5 in Boston, the series was all tied at 2-2.
What followed was arguably the greatest game of all time, as the Celtics secured a 128-126 win amid all sorts of drama in triple overtime. We don’t have space here to get into everything that happened, but the fact that it even went a third overtime is because of Garfield Heard and his “Shot Heard Round the World.”
After John Havlicek put the Celtics up by one at 111-110 with just one second left in double OT — Celtics fans stormed the court because they thought it was a buzzer-beater and had to be cleared from the floor — Westphal purposely took a timeout the Suns didn’t have.
Even though it was a technical foul, the penalty was just one shot, and the Suns were then able to inbound the ball from mid-court instead of their own baseline. Jo Jo White made the free throw to put the Celtics up 112-110, but Westphal’s ploy worked.
The Suns got the ball to Heard near the elbow, and his turnaround jumper was pure to tie the game and force a third overtime. Phoenix ultimately lost that game and the series, but Heard’s moment, and the game as a whole, will never be forgotten.
Portland Trail Blazers
- Damian Lillard: Buzzer-beating 3-pointer to eliminate Thunder in their 2019 first-round matchup
Series-winning buzzer-beaters in the NBA are extremely rare, yet somehow Damian Lillard has two of them. The first came back in 2014 when he sent the Rockets home, but his effort last year against the Thunder was even more impressive.
Though they were up 3-1 in their first-round series, the Blazers had their hands full at home in Game 5. Strong performances from Russell Westbrook and Paul George had the Thunder on the cusp of stealing one on the road and bringing the series back to OKC for Game 6.
Lillard didn’t let that happen. The game was all square at 115-115 when Lillard brought the ball up the floor and controlled near midcourt. It seemed like he was being a bit too casual as the seconds wound down, but apparently he knew what he was doing.
Stepping back from 37 feet, he hit an outrageous buzzer-beater over George’s outstretched arm to give the Blazers the game and the series. His wave to the Thunder as they walked off and the crowd erupted was just as memorable as the shot.
- Tyreke Evans: Buzzer beater from halfcourt to beat Grizzlies in 2010 regular-season game
Researching the greatest shot for the Kings was a pretty bleak exercise, to be honest. Dating back to their days as the Rochester Royals in the BAA, the franchise has been around for over 70 years, and has just 29 playoff appearances. Nearly half of those — 14 to be exact — came before 1967.
They did win a title, though, way back in 1951, when they took down the Knicks in seven games. Game 7 was decided by a score of 79-75, and they apparently clinched the win “when Jack Coleman drove a cripple shot through the strings on a pass from Red Holzman with three seconds left.”
Without being able to watch a highlight, I really have no idea what that means and the phrasing sounds a bit offensive, to be honest, so let’s just pick a different shot. Instead, we’ll jump forward all the way to 2010, when Tyreke Evans hit an incredible buzzer-beater against the Grizzlies.
Up by one with just 5.5 seconds remaining, the Kings seemed in good shape to get a win until OJ Mayo hit an absurd off-balance jumper to put the Grizzlies in front. The Kings then hurried and got the ball back in play and Tyreke Evans had just enough time to launch a prayer from way beyond halfcourt.
Nothing but net, and he jumped up on the scorer’s table to celebrate in front of a raucous crowd. He made the All-Rookie team that season, and it seemed like the Kings might have a new star on their hands, but Evans’ rookie campaign turned out to be his best with the club.
San Antonio Spurs
- Sean Elliott: “Memorial Day Miracle” in Game 2 of 1999 Western Conference finals vs. Blazers
An interesting aspect of compiling this list is that it really shows how important it is to have role players you can count on in crunch time. As much as you need stars to carry you throughout the season, winning titles depends a lot on your unheralded players stepping up.
A perfect example is the Spurs in the 1999 playoffs. Tim Duncan was starting to emerge as a superstar, and they still had David Robinson, but the biggest shot of the postseason for them was made by Sean Elliott.
Trailing for pretty much the entirety of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the Trail Blazers, the Spurs clawed their way back into the game but were still down by two with just seconds remaining. Taking the ball out of bounds on the sideline, they got it to Elliott, who nearly lost his balance before recovering and raining in a game-winning 3-pointer, which was later dubbed the “Memorial Day Miracle.”
The Spurs went on to sweep the Blazers, and then take down the Knicks in the Finals for the first of their five titles in the Duncan era. And speaking of role players, it was Avery Johnson who hit a game-winner in Game 5 of the Finals to seal the title. In classic Spurs fashion, it was a true team effort.
- Kawhi Leonard: Buzzer-beater to eliminate Sixers in Game 7 of their 2019 second-round series
The most recent shot on this list and another of the easiest choices to make. In Game 7 of the second round of the 2019 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard hit an unbelievable fadeaway buzzer-beater to lift the Raptors over the 76ers.
There were seven ties and 10 lead changes, and neither team ever led by double digits in the memorable game. With four seconds to play, and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals on the line, Jimmy Butler drove inside to tie the game at 90-90, and keep the Sixers alive, at least for the moment.
Philadelphia’s relief would be short-lived. Down on the other end, Leonard took the inbounds pass from Marc Gasol at the top of the key, drove all the way to the corner and fired up a fadeaway over the outstretched arms of Joel Embiid.
One, two, three, four times it bounced on the rim, before falling through in one of the most dramatic moments in NBA history. An iconic shot regardless, it only became more important as the Raptors marched on to win their first and only title just a few weeks later.
- John Stockton: Buzzer-beating 3-pointer to eliminate Rockets, send Jazz to first Finals in 1997
John Stockton wasn’t known for his scoring ability, but he was a strong outside shooter, and not afraid to step up with the game on the line, as he proved in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
After beating the Rockets in Game 5 at home, the Jazz traveled to Houston with a chance to clinch their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Things weren’t looking good late in the fourth, however, as they trailed by double digits with just over three minutes remaining.
That’s when Stockton took control. He scored 13 of the Jazz’s final 19 points and tied things up with a runner at the 22-second mark. The Jazz then got a stop, which set up the biggest shot of Stockton’s career, and an all-time playoff moment.
Breaking free at the top of the key, Stockton took the inbounds pass and drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Jazz to the Finals for the first time.
- Charles Johnson: Clutch jumpers in overtime of Game 4 vs. Sonics in 1978 Finals
Charles Johnson isn’t a name most basketball fans are familiar with. A sixth-round pick in 1971, he played just seven seasons with the Warriors and Bullets, and was little more than a role player. But he won two titles and was especially key for the Bullets in the 1978 Finals.
He averaged 14 points over the last four games of the ’78 Finals, as the Bullets came back from a 2-1 series deficit against the SuperSonics to win their only title in franchise history. In Game 4, in particular, he was the hero.
Playing in the Kingdome in Seattle in front of nearly 40,000 people — the Sonics’ arena was double-booked with a mobile home expo — the Bullets and Sonics played a classic game that went into overtime. In the extra frame, Johnson took over down the stretch, hitting three straight jumpers to give the Bullets at 120-116 win that tied the series at 2-2.
Unfortunately, footage of Johnson’s outburst isn’t available online, so we can’t pick one specific shot, but we do have this incredible quote from him after the win.
“We could have laid down like puppy dogs with our stomachs in the air,” Johnson said. “But we’re made of more than that.”