The Best Buzzer Beaters In NBA Playoffs History
Michael Jordan’s “shot” Bulls vs. Cavaliers Game 5, Round 1, 1989
It’s hard to get more iconic than this one. Trailing the Cavaliers by a point in the final seconds of a winner-take-all Game 5, the Bulls inbounded to Michael Jordan on the right wing. He beelined to the elbow, fading to the left as he shot over Craig Ehlo, and nailed the game-winner. Jordan’s leaping, fist-pumping celebration after the shot has become one of the defining images of his career. The buzzer-beating masterpiece sent the Bulls to the second round, but Chicago would see their run ended by the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.
John Stockton sends the Utah to the Finals, Jazz vs. Rockets, Game 6, WCF, 1997
Before the Jazz ran into Jordan’s Bulls in the 1997 NBA Finals, they had to get through the Rockets. Visiting Houston in the sixth game of the series, John Stockton was dynamite, dishing out 13 assists and pouring in 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Stockton’s biggest shot of the game came in the final moments with score knotted at 100, when he cleanly lofted a three-pointer from deep as time expired. The shot flew through the net, Stockton’s teammates mobbed him at midcourt and Utah headed to the NBA Finals. Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich looked like he knew his team’s season was over when the shot left Stockton’s hand. The point guard posted 15 points in the fourth quarter of the series-clinching win.
Chauncey Billups banks one in from half court, Nets vs. Pistons, Game 5, Round 2, 2004
They don’t call him Mr. Big Shot for nothing. Trailing by three points with just under three seconds to play, Billups took an inbound pass and dribbled twice toward midcourt before launching a last-second prayer against New Jersey. The ball banked off the glass and settled into the basket, sending the game into the first of what would be three overtime periods. Though the Pistons eventually lost the game, the half-court heave would contribute to Billups’s legacy as a clutch performer. Detroit eventually won the series despite the home loss in Game 5, and would later win that year’s NBA Finals over the Lakers.
Paul Pierce’s “I called game” Wizards vs. Hawks Game 3, Round 1, 2015
The Wizards had blown a 20-plus-point lead late in this one and were hanging on for dear life at home. Pierce came off a screen and banked it in from a few feet behind the elbow, fading away and falling to the ground as Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver all closed in. But the shot, which gave Washington a 2-1 series advantage and its last win in a series it would go on to lose 4-2, plays second fiddle to one of The Truth’s great declarations. When asked by Chris Broussard if he had called bank, Pierce had just three words: “I called game.”
Derek Fisher’s catch-and-shoot to beat San Antonio, Game 5, WCF, 2004
This incredible finish came at the end of one of the ugliest games in recent memory. The Lakers shot 43.1% and made just six of their 13 free throws while the Spurs shot a brutal 38.2% but kept themselves in it with 13 offensive rebounds. Down 71-70, Kobe Bryant came around a Karl Malone (yes, he played for the Lakers) screen to knock down a 18 footer to put his team up one. Then came one of the toughest (and most forgotten) shots in NBA history: Tim Duncan dribbling left with Shaquille O’Neal in his grill before knocking down a ridiculous fall-away jumper from the top of the key. Duncan was only to be outdone, of course, by the shot we remember most: Derek Fisher’s catch-and-shoot fall-away bucket to give the Lakers a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. The Lake Show closed out the Spurs the next game but lost to the Pistons in the Finals.
Derrick Rose and LeBron James trade buzzer beaters, Games 3 and 4, Round 2, 2015
These two shots were outstanding for different reasons. For Rose, it was one final lasting moment in Chicago red, and it came in front of his home fans. Neither the player nor the fans have had a moment like this in the Windy City since, but they’ll always have Rose banking in this shot to take a 2-1 lead over LeBron’s Cavaliers. It also marked the last time Cleveland trailed in an Eastern Conference playoff series. Rose finished with 30, 7 and 7, and boy do we miss that.
Derrick Rose and LeBron James trade buzzer beaters, Games 3 and 4, Round 2, 2015
Then came LeBron, under 48 hours later, silencing a Sunday matinee crowd after it had been on the other end of a buzzer beater on Friday night. If LeBron doesn’t make this shot, he’s headed into overtime on the road staring at a 3-1 deficit if he loses. Instead, the shot knotted the series at two, and the Cavs finished the series just four days (and two games) later.
Paul Pierce buries the Heat, Celtics vs. Heat, Game 3, Round 1, 2010
The Truth always seemed to come through in the clutch as a Celtic, and facing a tie in Game 3 of Boston’s first-round series with Miami in 2010, Pierce delivered once more. The Celtics had worked to overcome a 46-point masterpiece from Dwyane Wade, and the score stood locked at 98 coming down to the final possession. Then Pierce went to work, holding the ball at the top of the key and then unleashing his signature pull-up from beyond the elbow. The shot cleared the outstretched hand of Dorell Wright and found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded. The win gave the Celtics a commanding 3-0 lead over the Heat and they ultimately won the series in five games. Pierce didn’t even need the bank for this one.
Damian Lillard beats the Rockets, Game 6, Round 1, 2014
Damon Stoudamire. Steve Smith. Scottie Pippen. Rasheed Wallace. Arvydas Sabonis. That was your starting five the last time the Trail Blazers won a playoff series. That was, until Damian Lillard nailed this three to give Rip City its first playoff series win since 2000. Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for over 45 points per game this series, and five of the six games were decided by seven points or fewer.
Ralph Sampson sends Houston to the Finals, 1986 WCF
There was no shortage of legends in this series. Kareem. Hakeem. Magic. Ralph. James Worthy. Kurt Rambis. The Lakers were at the height of their dynastic powers while the Rockets loomed over the league with the twin towers of Olajuwon and Sampson. In a result that surprised most, the Rockets breezed to a 4-1 win capped by this mid-air turnaround by Sampson. The two Houston big men combined for 59 in the win, but they couldn’t lead the Rockets past the Celtics in the Finals.
LeBron rescues Cavs in Cleveland against Magic, Game 2, ECF. 2009
Cleveland was already down 1-0 at home and, having given up a huge run to end the game. The Cavaliers were in big, big trouble. But in stepped LeBron with a catch-and-shoot three from straight away to give his hometown team yet another incredible moment. This is remembered as LeBron’s first great, clutch moment in his professional career, even though the Magic would go on to win the series.
Robert Horry cleans things up at the buzzer, Kings vs. Lakers, Game 4, WFC, 2002
This list would not be complete without a shot from Big Shot Bob, and it’s hard to get bigger than Horry’s buzzer beater against Sacramento in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals. The Kings held a two-point lead and were on the verge of taking a 3-1 series lead when Kobe Bryant drove to the hoop the final seconds and… missed a running layup. Shaquille O’Neal collected the rebound and laid the ball back up toward the basket, but he missed too. The ball was knocked out to the top of the key to Horry, who quickly lined up the game-winner and fired as time expired. He nailed it, tying the series. The Lakers proceeded to win the series in seven games and then cruised by the Nets in the Finals. They say the best time to take a three is off an offensive rebound, after all.
Glen Davis is the unlikely hero, Celtics vs. Magic, Game 4, Round 2, 2009
It seemed like Pierce might be poised to add to his lengthy collection of game-winners in Game 4 of Boston’s series with the Magic in 2009. The Celtics trailed by a point coming out of a timeout, and Pierce ran a pick-and-roll with Glen Davis on the left wing. Magic forward Rashard Lewis followed Pierce for a split-second, leaving Davis open, and Pierce quickly delivered it to the big man, who was playing in place of the injured Kevin Garnett. Davis rose and fired as Lewis tried to recover and close out. The shot found the bottom of the net, and Davis charged down the sideline, pushing a Magic fan in his excitement. The huge shot from Big Baby tied the series at two games apiece, but the Celtics would fall short in the series.