Ask any NBA fan and they’ll tell you few things in life are more exciting than playoff buzzer-beaters. Clutch shots under enormous pressure on the game’s biggest stage? What more could you possibly want?
Of course, not all playoff buzzer-beaters are created equal. Sometimes the defense blows it and your guy gets wide open for an easy trey. And sometimes your guy beats the buzzer a little to quickly, giving the other team one last shot of their own.
Meanwhile, the best playoff buzzer-beaters are the ones that come right as time is running out and leave you jumping up and down in a state of utter disbelief. And those are the one’s we’re going to celebrate today with this list of the 23 greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in NBA history. If they don’t get you pumped up for the playoffs, nothing will.
2013 NBA Finals, Game 1
Technically, this Tony Parker buzzer-beater from Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals doesn't meet the criteria for this list. It left a lot of time on the clock, and the Spurs were already winning at the time. However, it was also just too damn clutch to leave off the list entirely. So we gave it "honorable mention" status instead.
You're welcome, Tony.
Honorable Mention: Tony Parker Sticks a Fork in the Heat
2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3
The guy they call "The Truth" has has his fair share of memorable playoff moments, like the trash talk duel vs. Al Harrington in 2003. However, this was only his second true playoff buzzer-beater (the other came against pre-LeBron Miami in 2010), it gave Washington a 2-1 series lead, and it was fantastic.
23. Paul Pierce Beats the Hawks
1997 NBA Finals, Game 1
MJ's dagger against the Jazz in the '97 Finals wasn't as dramatic as some of the others we'll see on this list. The game was tied, so the worst-case scenario if he missed was overtime. And then even if the Bulls wound up losing, it was only Game 1. The series would hardly have been over.
Of course, Jordan didn't miss. He hit a brilliant shot to move the Bulls three wins away from their fifth ring.
22. Jordan Snatches Game 1
2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2
The Cavaliers trailed the Magic by two points and were just one second away from falling into a 2-0 series hole against the Magic when LeBron hit his first career playoff buzzer-beater.
Of course, the Cavs wound up losing the series 4-2, so ultimately it didn't matter. But at the time it was clutch.
21. LeBron’s Game-Winning Three
2010 Western Conference Finals, Game 5
Everybody expects Kobe to take the big shot with the game on the line, and in Game 5 against the Suns in 2010 he did just that...and it was an airball.
Luckily, the Artist Formerly Known as Metta World Peace swooped in from out of nowhere to catch that airball and throw a shot off the backboard and in as the horn rang out, handing the Lakers an improbably 103-101 victory en route to their second consecutive title.
20. Artest Saves Lakers from Kobe Airball
1995 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4
This game had a wild finish. A Brian Shaw three-pointer made it 90-89 Orlando with 13.3 seconds left. Then a Reggie Miller three-pointer made it 92-90 Indiana with 5.2 seconds left, and a Penny Hardaway three-pointer made it 93-92 Orlando with 1.3 seconds left.
The icing on the cake? A buzzer-beating two-pointer from the top of the key by Rik Smitts, the Pacers' 7'4" center.
19. Rik Smitts: Unlikely Hero
1993 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 5
Alonzo Mourning gave the Hornets a dramatic first round win over the celtics with this one. Not bad for a rookiecenter, huh?
18. Alonzo’s Series Winner
1997 Western Conference Finals, Game 4
The Jazz won this series in six games on a John Stockton buzzer-beater. However, the series wouldn't even have gotten to Game 6 if the Rockets hadn't tied thigns at 2-2 on this even more impressive Eddie Johnson buzzer-beater in Game 4.
17. Eddie Johnson’s Game Four Winner
1993 NBA Finals, Game 6
As Marv Albert points out, Michael Jordan had scored all nine of the Bulls points in the fourth quarter. Nobody on earth thought there was any chance someone not wearing #23 in his back would take the final shot with the Bulls down two and a chance to clinch their third straight title. So obviously, Phil Jackson drew up a brilliant play that used three long passes to open up John Paxson for the last shot.
Seriously. Watch the whole sequence a couple of times. The whole play was designed to get the ball to Paxson for three. And he nailed it. Because Phil Jackson is a genius.
16. Paxson’s Shocker
1997 NBA Finals, Game 6
That "get the ball to the last guy they'd expect" strategy worked so well in '93, Phil Jackson tried it again in '97. And once again it worked, handing the Bulls their fifth championship in seven years.
15. Steve Kerr Clinches No. 4 for the Bulls
2006 Western Conference First Round, Game 4
Come on, we've got to have one from Kobe. We can't leave it at that buzzer-beating airball in 2010. So how about this legit buzzer-beater from 2006? The actual shot wasn't that amazing, but a jump ball at center court with 6.1 seconds left and the Lakers down a point? That's heart-pounding stuff.
14. Kobe Beats the Suns
1987 NBA Finals, Game 4
The Lakers won the first two games of the '87 Finals at home, and Larry Legend and the Celtics were on the verge to return the favor, holding on to a 106-105 lead with five seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, Magic had other plans. He took an inbound pass, headed straight for the middle of the lane, and buried the Celtics with an unstoppable sky hook.
Boston would go on to win Game 5, but the Lakers took Game 6 and the championship.
13. Magic’s Sky Hook
1974 NBA Finals, Game 6
Of course, Magic's sky hook was nice, but it wasn't the first time an NBA Finals game had been won with that shot. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the guy who invented the sky hook, used it from 17 feet out to force a Game 7 against the Celtics in 1974.
12. Kareem’s Sky Hook
1986 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1
Dudley Bradley's buzzer-beater didn't just hand the Bullets a win over the 76ers in the opening game of the '86 playoffs. It capped one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the NBA playoffs.
The Bullets trailed by 17 points with only four minutes to go, but the Sixers came undone. Then the one guy nobody thought would take the last shot took the last shot, giving Washington a miracle win.
11. Dudley Bradley Caps Epic Comeback
2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3
Back in February of 2015, after yet another knee injury, we were wondering if Derrick Rose would ever be the player he once was. But just two months later Rose beat LeBron and the Cavs in Game 3 with a three-pointer off the backboard from way downtown. So I guess all our worried were unfounded.
10. D-Rose’s Game-Winning Three
2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4
Two days after D-Rose beat the bulls with a three-pointer off the backboard, LeBron James returned the favor, tying the series with his greatest playoff buzzer-beater to date—a two-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded.
What was that about LeBron not being clutch, haters?
9. LeBron’s Sinks the Bulls
1998 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4
Reggie Miller used a litte shove to evade the NBA's best defender (some guy named Michael Jordan) and sink the buzzer-beater in Game 4 of the '98 conference finals. But hey, it wouldn't be a Reggie Miller highlight if there weren't a little controversy, right?
8. Reggie Ditches Jordan
1950 NBA Finals, Game 1
The Minneapolis Lakers and Syracuse Nationals were tied at 66 and heading to overtime in Game 1 of the 1950 Finals when Lakers guard Bob Harrison threw up a desperation half-court shot at time expired...and it went it.
The Lakers won the game 68-66, because there were no three-pointers back then, and they would go on to win the series four games to two.
7. Bob Harrison’s Half Court Game-Winner
1970 NBA Finals, Game 3
Bob Harrison's half-court game-winning buzzer-beater for the Lakers in 1950 was great, but Jerry West's 63-foot game-tying buzzer-beater for the Lakers in 1970 was better.
Sure, the Lakers would eventually lose the game and the series, but 63 feet? Come on, that's insane.
6. Jerry West’s 63-Foot Miracle
1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
Bird steals the inbound pass from Isiah Thomas with 5 seconds left and dishes to Dennis Johnson who lays it in with 1 second left? That's just about the most Larry Bird thing ever.
The Pistons would come back to win Game 6, but the Celtics took Game 7 for the right to face Magic and the Lakers in the Finals.
5. Bird’s Steal, Johnson’s Layup
1986 Western Conference Finals, Game 5
The mighty Lakers were in big trouble against the Rockets in '86, trailing 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. However, with just one second to go in Game 5 and the score tied at 112 a piece, they thought they'd at least forced overtime. So try to imagine how shocked they were when Ralph Sampson caught a pass in mid air, turned, and shot the game-winner before ever touching the ground.
It was, simply put, one of the best shots in NBA history.
4. Ralph Sampson Shocks the Lakers
1989 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 5
Obviously, we couldn't do a list of the greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in NBA history without covering "The Shot," Jordan's series-clinching buzzer-beater over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo. I mean, this is the play that made Jordan a legend.
3. The Shot
2004 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5
This is one of the best finishes we've ever seen to an NBA playoff game. Tim Duncan hit a ridiculous off-balance fadeaway jumper to give the Spurs a one-point lead with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. However, after the timeout, Derek Fisher somehow fired off a jumper before the clock expired to win the game for the Lakers.
You could try that shot 10 more times and miss, but Fisher made it when it counted most. And it was unbelievable.
2. Derek Fisher’s 0.4 Shot
1976 NBA Finals, Game 5
If you don't know about Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, please, watch the entire 10-minute video. There's a reason they call it "the greatest game ever played."
With 20 seconds left in the second overtime—that's right, the second overtime—the Phoenix Suns trailed the Boston Celtics 109-106. The Suns cut the lead to 109-108 with 15 seconds left, then Paul Westphal stole the inbound pass from John Havlicek and passed to Curtis Perry, who missed an 18-footer. However, Havlicek accidentally tipped the ball back to Perry while going for the rebound on the first shot, and this time Perry drained a 15-footer to give the Suns the lead 110-109 lead with five seconds left.
Game over, right? Wrong. Not even close. After a timeout, the Celtics got the ball to Havlicek who took it to the hoop and scored. The time on the clock ran down to zero, so Celtics fans went mad and stormed the court thinking they'd won the championship. However, Havlicek's shot actually went in with 1 second left. So the refs had to kick the fans off the court and restore order.
Then Westphal called a timeout that the Suns didn't have. But he did it on purpose. Why? Because under the rules of the day, you got the ball back at half court after a technical foul. And the only way the Suns were going to have a chance to score was if they got the ball at half court.
On the ensuing inbound play, the last person the Suns wanted to get the ball at the top of the key was Garfield Heard. However, he's the only player who could get open. And after catching the pass, he turned and fired a rainbow that went in and forced a third overtime.
It was, without a doubt, the greatest playoff buzzer-beater in NBA history. (Even if the Suns did lost the game.)
1. Garfield Heard’s Turnaround Rainbow
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