With the playoffs fast approaching, The Point Forward is taking a look back at the best and worst of the 2013-14 season.
Overall, 2013-14 will go down as a solid year for game-winners, but it was an especially strong season of last-second heroics for the league's All-Stars. Seven of The Point Forward's top 10 game-winners of the season were pulled off by 2014 All-Stars, and LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Joe Johnson -- among others -- all had additional game-winning efforts that didn't make the cut.
Before we get to the list, here are five honorable mention selections...
- Magic forward Tobias Harris pulled off a buzzer-beating dunk to upset the Thunder.
- Lakers guard Steve Blake cemented his fan-favorite status by nailing a three-pointer over Rockets center Dwight Howard.
- Nets guard Joe Johnson hit a pretty jumper over the long arms of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka.
- Mavericks guard Monta Ellis hit the buzzer-beater on the move to beat the Blazers.
- Warriors forward Andre Iguodala got the baseline jumper to go against the Thunder.
Here's The Point Forward's top 20 game-winners of 2012-13, if you're interested.
Without further ado, here’s a countdown of the top 10 game-winners of 2013-14. Factors that were considered in generating this list included originality, degree of difficulty, opponent, game situation and time left on the clock after the shot. Only shots made in the final two seconds of regulation or overtime were considered; any omissions are accidental.
10. Nets' Joe Johnson vs. Suns, Nov. 15, 2013
Everything about Joe Johnson's overtime game-winner against the Suns was unexpected, even the celebration. The Nets went from having their backs against the wall needing a stop in a tie game to watching an unguarded Johnson take off into open court in just a few seconds. Using a hesitation dribble near the three-point line, Johnson defied conventional wisdom by not attacking the rim at full speed, trying to draw a foul or stopping and popping. Instead, he settled for a middle ground where he slowed up as he approached the protected circle and tossed up a high-arcing floater over Channing Frye.
The soft-touch shot nestled into the net after the buzzer sounded to deliver the victory, but you wouldn't have known it by Johnson's non-reaction. He walked towards the corner of the court at US Airways Center, expressionless and perhaps exhausted, and that was that. Nets 100, Suns 98 (overtime).
Playing its first game of the season without LeBron James, Miami turned to the other two members of the "Big 3" to beat Portland at the Moda Center. Down two with less than seven seconds remaining, Dwyane Wade initiated the action out of an inbounds set up from the top, using a high screen from Chris Bosh to attack the hoop going right. Drawing the attention of both Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge by putting his head down as he turned the corner, Wade then cheekily dropped a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Bosh, who was spotting up wide open at the three-point line.
Two Blazers defenders went racing at Bosh, who stepped back to gather the ball before drilling the deep three with 0.5 seconds remaining. No one was more excited than James, who delivered a celebratory chest bump. Heat 108, Blazers 107.
The hopes and dreams of Knicks fans were already circling the drain by late February, and Dirk Nowitzki's goofy game-winner flushed them for good. Dallas set up with 10.6 seconds remaining in a tie game, hoping to take a road win outright rather than go to overtime. Nowitzki found himself with the ball at the top of the key with Carmelo Anthony on him in single coverage just seconds after the inbounds pass, and he pivoted and faked in a circle to milk the clock and face the hoop. Taking just one dribble, Nowitzki rose for a jumper at the two-second mark, as Anthony memorably put his hands behind his back so that he wouldn't be called for a foul.
Nowitzki's shot hit the backboard, rolled around the rim, jumped high up in the air, and then finally fell through just after the buzzer sounded. It might not have been the prettiest game-winner, but it was certainly the most demoralizing. The defeat marked the third loss of what would be a crippling seven-game losing streak for New York. Mavericks 110, Knicks 108.
7. Blazers' Damian Lillard vs. Cavaliers, Dec. 17, 2013
In less than two years, Damian Lillard has gone from relative anonymity at Weber State to the 2013 Rookie of the Year award and a 2014 All-Star selection. At this point just about everyone knows two things about Lillard: 1) he will pull from anywhere, and 2) he loves the stepback three.
Portland set up with seven seconds left in a tie game at Quicken Loans Arena, opting to turn the game over to Lillard, who was guarded by Alonzo Gee. As the clock hit three seconds remaining, Lillard unleashed his quick stepback move, pulling up for a three-pointer with one foot on the large center court graphic. The shot swished home with 0.4 seconds remaining, giving Lillard 36 points on the night, and he "celebrated" with a silent staredown that has become known as the "Dame Face." Blazers 119, Cavaliers 116.
Everyone loves a "no, no, no, no, yes!" game-winner. Down two with just 6.2 seconds remaining, the Nuggets set up at home against the Clippers on the left sideline. The ball came in to Kenneth Faried, who passed it to J.J. Hickson. Neither player is an outside threat, and yet the clock ran down with them holding the ball on the arc until less than three seconds remained.
Finally, Hickson found Randy Foye, who was being tracked by Jamal Crawford at the right angle. With nowhere else to go, Foye tried to use a pick from Hickson, only to find Blake Griffin waiting on the other side. With the clock at one second, Foye backed up to a good two steps behind the arc, pulling for a deep three from straight on over the top of Griffin. The shot swished home just after the buzzer, delivering a totally unexpected one-point victory. If you watch carefully at the 12-second mark of the video, you can see a man in a blue shirt throw up his arms in disgust and turn his head away from the court at Denver's disjointed play, only to turn back towards the court and go nuts once he saw the actual result. Hilarious and great. Nuggets 116, Clippers 115.
5. Heat's LeBron James vs. Warriors, Feb. 12, 2014
LeBron James has assembled a deep catalog of game-winners over the years, but his three to beat the Warriors was special, even by his standards. Down two with less than 10 seconds remaining, James was shadowed by Andre Iguodala, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league. Realizing that no defensive help was coming, James elected to go for the kill shot, letting the clock hit three seconds before he went to a stepback move to his left.
Although the jab step didn't create all that much space, James was able to comfortably rise into a deep three-pointer from the left angle. Iguodala got a hand up, but that didn't prevent the shot from swishing home with 0.1 seconds remaining, leaving the Oracle Arena crowd stunned. James swaggered back up court, beat his chest and pulled out a particularly vigorous Nick Van Exel "lower the room" celebration. Heat 111, Warriors 110.
4. Thunder's Russell Westbrook vs. Warriors, Nov. 29, 2013
Russell Westbrook is lightning in a bottle. The full scope of his energy was on display during a thrilling overtime game between the Thunder and Warriors that ranks high on the list when it comes to best games of the season. Down two, Oklahoma City set up from the baseline for its final offensive possession. The ball came in to Kevin Durant, who moved it along to Serge Ibaka, who found himself open enough to attempt a foul-line jumper.
The shot was long, but Westbrook came charging in from the right wing, leaping high above the rebounding pile to tap the ball towards the left baseline. Thabo Sefolosha made a great hustle play to keep the ball from going out of bounds, flinging it over his head back towards the court. Westbrook, who by this point had moved in the direction of the tap, snared the blind pass and moved back into the left corner. Shaking Harrison Barnes with a reverse pivot, Westbrook squared up and drained a wild three-pointer that went home with 0.1 seconds remaining, sending the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into pandemonium. Thunder 113, Warriors 112 (overtime).
3. Warriors' Stephen Curry vs. Mavericks, April 1, 2014
Go ahead and cue up Lauryn Hill singing "Killing Me Softly" to get the full effect as you watch this one. Stephen Curry's overtime game-winner against the Mavericks in Dallas was a careful, methodical, surgical, masterful handling of a late-game situation. With the score tied at 120 and less than 20 seconds left, Monta Ellis broke towards the basket to put up a runner. Jermaine O'Neal came across to block the shot -- in what the NBA would later admit was a goaltending violation -- and Curry found himself with the ball and just 13 seconds left.
Rather than call timeout, Curry calmly brought the ball up, beating a potential trap near mid-court as he worked towards the left sideline with Jose Calderon on him. He pulled off a little cat-and-mouse game to milk the clock, pulling the ball out and lulling the defense to sleep, before he unleashed a vicious right-to-left crossover to gain a step on Calderon with four seconds left. As the Spanish guard tried to recover, Curry expertly slammed on the brakes and rose up into a stepback jumper going left, draining the shot with just 0.1 seconds remaining. This was puppetmaster stuff. Warriors 122, Mavericks 120 (overtime).
2. Thunder's Kevin Durant vs. Raptors, Mar. 21, 2014
Nine of the 10 shots on this list went through with 0.5 seconds remaining or less. This Kevin Durant game-winner stands as the only exception, and it's a marvelous one. Oklahoma City began its final play of double-overtime down two with 8.8 seconds remaining. Durant had been sensational all night but the scrappy Raptors had refused to budge throughout the marathon game. Oklahoma City tried to get the ball to Durant quickly, but Amir Johnson deflected the pass, sending Durant back near midcourt to collect the ball.
An unexpected detour was not going to stop Durant, who sized up Johnson, worked a few rhythm dribbles to his left and then pulled up from way, way behind the arc at the left angle. Johnson contested the attempt but it would prove to be in vain, as Durant was still holding his follow-through as the ball swished home with 1.7 seconds remaining. Serge Ibaka came by with a jubilant head lock, as the Air Canada Centre came to terms with the fact that Durant had just upped his scoring tally to 51 points. Consider this shot the crown jewel of Durant's MVP candidacy. Thunder 119, Raptors 118 (double overtime).
Even though it came less than two weeks into the season, there was little double that Jeff Green's miraculous three-pointer to beat the two-time defending champions would stand as the single best game-winner of the 2013-14 campaign. Boston's Gerald Wallace set up on the left sideline with just 0.6 seconds remaining and Miami leading by two.
First-year coach Brad Stevens drew up a play that saw Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley set screens for each other as they moved to the top of the arc and the left corner, respectively. As all that movement unfolded and the five-second count ticked down, Green snuck to the far right corner of the court as Kelly Olynyk sealed Chris Bosh away from the play. LeBron James saw the pass was heading over the top and he attempted to close on the play like a center fielder or a defensive back, but Green had found just enough room to prepare himself for an open catch.
Wallace delivered an absolutely perfect pass, just over Bosh, and Green caught it with no bobble while getting directly into his shooting motion. Somehow, his feet were perfectly positioned behind the three-point line in the right corner but not out of bounds, and he got his quick-trigger shot off just before the buzzer sounded. Green's momentum caused him to drift slightly out of bounds into the corner, where he was able to watch the shot swish through. The vast majority of the American Airlines Arena crowd was shocked, but a few Celtics fans sitting courtside jumped up and down to celebrate with Green, who was mobbed by his teammates.
Watching the replays back all these months later, the enduring sensation is that Boston could attempt this play 100 more times and never execute it as perfectly as they did against Miami. What. A. Shot. Celtics 111, Heat 110.