Top 15 all-time NBA playoff buzzer-beaters

The criteria is rather simple, the shot has to mean something. So, team success has a huge bearing on the rankings. We’ll give more weight to shots that directly, or indirectly, propelled a team to the NBA championship, for example. Whether a shot vaulted a “david” past a “goliath”, embarrassed and utterly demorilized an opponent, or turned a mere all-star into a legend, we’re looking for the greatest NBA playoff buzzer beaters of the last 25 years. So, while Jerry West’s 1970 miracle, near full-court shot against the Boston Celtics was impressive, to maintain some level of sanity we’re limiting this particular list to the Bird and Magic era, and beyond.

Before we get into the shots, a little observation on the shotmakers. You’ll notice, a few things run common among these unique players, their flawless execution, their healthy disregard for defensive pressure and a heart the size of the grand canyon – you’ll see names like Jordan, Bird, Magic and Miller. So, without further adieu, the top 15 NBA playoff buzzer beaters of the last 25 years.

15. 2006 Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) – Cavaliers vs. Pistons: Tied at 107, LeBron James drove it from the top of the key for a go-ahead layup that sent his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. But, it was what transpired prior to that shot that cemented LeBron’s place on this list. Our jaw was on the floor, watching one of the greatest single performances in NBA history, against one of the stingiest defensive teams of this current era. Our eyes were registering what was happening, but our mind almost couldn’t believe it. Watch the clip.

14. 1998 ECF – Pacers vs. Bulls: The only player, other than the immortal Michael Jordan, who is found twice on our list, Reggie Miller was probably the best clutch shooter of all-time. In this one, the Pacers are down by 1 with seconds to go in Game 6, and Miller shakes Jordan to knock down the game winner. The Pacers, unfortunately, would lose the series in 7 games. Watch the clip.

13. 1997 WCF – Rockets vs. Jazz: Eddie Johnson’s 3-pointer beat the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of the WCF, but the Jazz went on to win the series in 6 games. The real significance of this game winner, however, is in the fact that Johnson’s shot was followed by one of the most exciting and indelibly memorable celebrations in recent NBA history. Most NBA fans won’t soon forget the image of Johnson running the length of the court, both arms in the air, smiling from ear to ear, with his teammates in hot pursuit. Simply classic. Watch the game winner.

12. 1989 First Round – Cavaliers vs. Bulls: Although Craig Ehlo, we’re sure, has been trying to erase it from his memory, fans won’t soon forget “The Shot” Michael Jordan hit over Ehlo, and of course the ensuing celebration that saw Ehlo’s knees buckle in disbelief as he fell to the ground. But, interestingly enough, Ehlo had just hit his own clutch layup that put the Cavs ahead in the game, capping one of the best playoff performances of his career. We all remember the shot, but check out this video to watch the interesting events that preceeded it.

11. 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Pacers vs. Knicks: If “TheShot” is a defining moment in Michael Jordan’s career, then the 8 points that Reggie Miller scored during 8.9 seconds in the final moments of Game 1 of the ECS against the Knicks is the moment that immortalized Miller in NBA lore. There is no doubt, Miller was easily the best clutch shooter of our time. Watch the video for proof.

10. 1999 WCF – Spurs vs. Blazers: Despite serious issues with his Kidney, which later required a transplant, Sean Elliott tiptoed along the sidelines, barely keeping his heel from touching the white out-of-bounds line, and calmly drained a three-pointer over the outstreached arms of the Blazers Rasheed Wallace. The loss seemed to completely demoralize the Blazers, while propelling the Spurs to the first championship in franchise history. Watch Elliott’s historic game winner.

9. 1995 WCS – Rockets vs. Suns: Mario Elie’s “kiss of death”, following his 3-point buzzer-beater that sank the Suns, was aimed at Phoenix center Joe Klien. Elie later admitted that the gesture was a spur of the moment reaction, but it became a signature image representing the “clutch city” Houston Rockets teams. The Rockets would of course go on to sweep the Shaq and Penny led Magic in the Finals. Watch Elie in action.

8. 1997 WCF – Jazz vs. Rockets: John Stockton’s 25 foot game winner is the shot that sent the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals for the first time in the team’s history. In somewhat tragic manner of course, the prolific duo of Stockton and Malone lost to Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals, and never did win a championship in their careers. Watch the clip here.

7. 1987 ECF – Celtics vs. Pistons: “Now there’s a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ! He lays it up and in!” is one of the most immortal calls in the history of the league. As a result of the play, the Celtics won the game and the series, and the old Boston Garden went bonkers! The Celtics though would lose in the NBA finals to the Lakers, because of another buzzer beater detailed later in our countdown. Watch the exciting clip.

6. 1986 WCF – Rockets vs. Lakers: This was the playoffs when a young Michael Jordan dropped 63 on the Boston Celtics. While that accomplishment launched a legend, Ralph Sampson’s tip-in at the buzzer in Game 5 of the WCF sent the Rockets to the NBA finals. Who could forget the image of Lakers guard Michael Cooper grabbing his head, falling on his back and laying on the floor in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity? Watch the clip of Sampson’s heroics.

5. 2002 WCF – Lakers vs. Kings: “Big shot” Rob makes the countdown with his fortuidous buzzer-beater that sank the Kings in Game 7 no less and propelled the Lakers to their third straight NBA championship. What makes this shot even more significant is that the Kings teams haven’t been the same since this demorilizing loss. Watch Vlade Divacs knock it out to the 3-point line and Horry calmly nail the jumper.

4. 1999 First Round – Knicks vs. Heat: The 1999 NBA Playoffs was one of the most memorable ones, but perhaps the defining moment of that incredible playoff season was Alan Houston’s game winner against the New York Knicks. The Knicks came in as the underdog number 8 seed and found themselves tied at 2 games a piece with the heavily favored Heat, but Houston’s shot not only won the first-round series, but it also propelled the Knicks all the way to the NBA Finals. They lost in the final series to the Spurs, but Houston’s shot will forever be etched in our memories. Watch Houston’s leaner against the Heat and check out Alonzo Mourning’s reaction.

3. 2004 WCF – Lakers vs. Spurs: We’ll always remember the unbelievable fadeaway jumper from Derek Fisher with a mere .4 seconds left on the clock, but people tend to forget that Fisher’s shot was preceeded by what at the time seemed like a fall-away game-winner from Tim Duncan that could have signaled the end of the Lakers championship run. Fisher’s shot is easily the most difficult and most amazing game winner on the list, and easily could have been #1 had the Lakers not gone on to lose the NBA finals to the Pistons. Watch Fisher’s miracle game winner and Duncan's shot that preceeded it.

2. 1987 NBA Finals – Lakers vs. Celtics: The top 2 spots are reserved for the two biggest game winning shots within the last 25 years that were made on the grand stage of the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson’s so-called running “junior sky-hook” can make a solid claim to the #1 spot, if not for one variable, which we’ll discuss in a second. But Magic’s shot during a pivotal Game 4, in and of itself, was one of the greatest in NBA history and propelled the “showtime” Lakers to their back-to-back championships of the late 80s. Watch Magic take on the legendary “Celtics trio” and guide home the game winner.

1. 1998 NBA Finals – Bulls vs. Jazz: We try to block Jordan’s twilight years in Washington from our memory, and try to remember the greatest player of all-time taking this shot, rising over a helpless Bryon Russell, wrist cocked and pointed towards the basket, and holding his follow-through as if to say "don't tug on Superman's cape, please". Jordan’s jumper in Game 6 of the NBA Finals is significant because it cemented the second Bulls 3-peat, but it is nearly as important as Jordan’s last shot in a Bull’s uniform. The moment, the shot, it was all simply poetic and no other moment in the past 25 seasons of the NBA can match it. Watch the clip and feel the goosebumps.

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