It’s hard to find anything in basketball more thrilling and exciting than a buzzer beater. Just like a walk-off in baseball, buzzer beaters are the ultimate “go home” moment. Buzzer beaters can add to a player’s legacy and their reputation as a clutch performer. After Damian’s Lillard miraculous game-winner against the Thunder, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and list the greatest buzzer-beaters in NBA Playoffs history. Just a couple weeks later, Kawhi Leonard hit the first buzzer-beater in a Game 7. Some of the greatest players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James have hit game winners.
Big Shot Rob Beats The Kings- Robert Horry
There’s a reason why Robert Horry is known as “Big Shot Rob.” (Some might refer to him as “Big Shot Bob” depending on who you talk to.) Horry is widely known as one of the greatest clutch players and winners in NBA history. Horry is a seven-time NBA champion, but I’ll remember Horry for his game-winning three-pointer against the Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Think about this. Horry wasn’t the first or second option on this play. Kobe Bryant missed his attempt and then Shaq missed his attempt. However, after a Vlade Divac tip out to try and clear the ball, Horry was “Johnny on the Spot” and grabbed the loose ball and sunk the winning shot. This was just another example of Big Shot Rob doing Big Shot Rob things.
LeBron James Delivers Game Winner
It’s hard to create any list and not have a play from LeBron James on it. LeBron is not known for his outside shot, but in crunch time, LeBron can hit a deep jumper. Down two points to the Magic with one second left, LeBron put on his Superman cape and hit a spectacular three-pointer to nod the series at 1. Unfortunately, the Cavs went on to lose the series, 4-2. I call this the “Series That Ruined Everything” because had LeBron and the Cavs won the East, they would have faced Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Thanks a lot, Hedo Türkoğlu and Rashard Lewis.
Dame Called Game- Damian Lillard
Is this a case of recency bias? Maybe, but the buildup for this buzzer beater was spectacular. I am pro trash talking in sports if you can back it up. If you back up your talk, never shut up. However, when you’re down 2-1 in a series and Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder are taunting like they’re about to sweep the Blazers, then you must back it up or you will look silly. It’s safe to say Westbrook and Schroder look like fools right now. In one of the greatest playoff performances I have ever seen, Damian Lillard scored 50 points including the game-winning 37-footer to send the Thunder into the offseason. Dame called game and waved bye-bye.
The Fish Who Saved LA- Derek Fisher
In terms of the degree of difficulty, Derek Fisher’s 2004 buzzer beater over the Spurs is one of the toughest shots ever made to win a game. Luck definitely played a factor in the setup to this hot. With .4 seconds on the clock, there is enough time to catch and shoot. If it’s .2 seconds less, then it has to be a tip in. Also, the ball was being inbounded on the left side of the court so Fisher was watching the ball on his strong side. If he catches it on the opposite side of the court, the odds of him making the shot are practically zero. What’s crazy is before Fisher’s shot, Tim Duncan made an equally impressive fadeaway at the top of the key. Fisher saved LA this series.
Kawhi Leonard Gets Four Bounces For Buzzer Beater
Kawhi Leonard hit the first game-winning buzzer beater in a Game 7 in NBA Playoffs history. This shot rivals Derek Fisher for the most difficult on this list. He ended the series against the Philadephia 76ers with a ridiculous fadeaway shot over the outstretched hand of 7’2″ Joel Embiid. The most insane part of the shot was that it seemingly hit every part of the rim before bouncing in. The crowd stood still and every person watching was silent for what seemed like an eternity. Skip Bayless said the shot was lucky. I believe it was 100% skill.
Michael Jordan Hits “The Shot” x2
Poor Craig Ehlo. Out of all the clutch plays in Michael Jordan’s career, this is the one that started it all. This play changed the course of history not only in Jordan’s career but the landscape of the NBA. In Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, the 6-seeded Chicago Bulls were down one point to the 3-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers with three seconds on the clock. Jordan defeated a double team to catch the ball, dribbled to the middle of the cylinder, hung in the air, and hit the shot to send the Bulls to the next round. Although the Bulls went on to lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, this shot was the catalyst for the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s. Speaking of Ehlo, what’s forgotten is the fact that Ehlo hit a layup to give the Cavs the lead before Jordan hit a buzzer beater. However, now he’s known as the defender in “The Shot.”
*Note: Despite being the most iconic shot in NBA history, Michael Jordan’s shot over Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals was NOT a buzzer beater. There were five seconds left on the clock after his make. I’ll hear the argument for less than two seconds left on the clock as a buzzer beater, but not five.
What buzzer beaters are on your list? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @unafraidshow.