The NBA Playoffs just wouldn’t be the the NBA Playoffs without a game-winning, series-altering shot or two.
Take Kevin Durant’s game-winning three-pointer over Metta World Peace in last night’s Game 4 victory over the Lakers at the Staples Center. The shot not only capped a terrific fourth-quarter comeback by the Oklahoma City Thunder, giving them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinals series, and but it also possibly marked the unofficial passing of the torch from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant as the NBA’s best closer.
With the 14-year anniversary of Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” just a few weeks away, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at the greatest game-winning shots in NBA playoff history.
This shot’s place in NBA playoff history will ultimately be decided by how this series—and the Thunder’s season—ends. If it leads to an NBA Finals appearance, or better yet an NBA title, for Oklahoma City, this could be an important chapter in the growing legend of Kevin Durant.
Allan Houston’s shot ended the decisive Game 5 of the Knicks’ first-round playoff series against the No. 1 seeded Miami Heat, making New York just the second No. 8 seed to eliminate a No. 1 seed in NBA playoff history. (The Denver Nuggets were the first NBA team to achieve the feat when they upset the Seattle Supersonics in 1996).
Adding to this shot’s lore was the fact that the momentum carried the Knicks all the way to the NBA Finals, where they eventually fell to the San Antonio Spurs in what was the first of four (and counting) championships in the Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan era.
While the Knicks were in the midst of their own miraculous run, Elliot’s “Memorial Day Miracle” was key in propelling San Antonio past Portland in 1999’s Western Conference Finals.
Elliot’s ability to avoid stepping out of bounds made the play itself amazing, but the most important part of the story was that he was playing with a kidney disease that required a transplant later that year, making his mere presence on the court a miracle of its own.
This shot definitely won’t set any records for degree of difficulty, but it was one of the few moments that Ralph Sampson, widely considered to be one of the greatest college basketball players of all time, had a chance to shine during an NBA career that was cut short by bad knees.
Some of the NBA’s greatest players were denied their chances at an NBA title by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls through most of the 1990s.
Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers were poised to finally break through in 1998 after this go-ahead shot with .7 seconds left in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Alas, Miller’s joy was short-lived as the Bulls went on to win the series in seven games, and then went on to win their sixth NBA title of the decade.
Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings had a golden opportunity to knock off the two-time defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers and begin a dynasty of their own.
The Kings were poised to take a 3-1 series lead, but Big Shot Rob had other plans. His three-pointer at the top of the key was the straw that broke the camel’s back after the Lakers had overcome a 24-point deficit to win the game and tie the series 2-2.
Los Angeles went on to win the series in seven and win its third-straight NBA title, giving coach Phil Jackson his third three-peat and ninth overall championship ring.
Every sports fan, regardless of the sport, has a handful of memorable moments where they can tell you exactly where they were when an event occurred.
For me, this is one of those moments.
I was standing at the bar of a Dave & Busters when Derek Fisher hit what is still the most unbelievable game-winning shot I’ve ever seen.
What would the 1960s have been without the Lakers and Celtics facing off in the NBA Finals?
The Lakers were on the verge of a commanding 3-1 series lead before Jones hit this game-winner to tie the series at two games apiece.
This shot unquestionably shifted the momentum of the series, which the Celtics used to win the title in seven games.
Isiah Thomas may have been the floor clear leader of the Chuck Daly-coached Bad Boy Pistons, but it was “the Microwave” Vinnie Johnson who dropped it like it was hot on the Portland Trailblazers, leading Detroit to a 4-1 series victory and a second straight NBA title.
This series is best known for “The Flu Game,” Michael’s Jordan’s gutsy 31-point performance that put the Bulls ahead 3-2.
But it was Kerr who hit the go-ahead shot in the final minute of Game 6 to cap an epic comeback and give Chicago its fifth NBA title.
Well before he took his talents to Los Angeles, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was waging battle with the Boston Celtics. He used his patented sky hook to deliver this game-winner in double overtime of Game 6 of the 1974 NBA Finals, although the Bucks still lost the series in Game 7.
Abdul-Jabbar eventually got his, winning five NBA championships as a member of the Lakers.
Charles Barkley did everything humanly possible to lead his Phoenix Suns over the Bulls and end Chicago’s reign at the top of the NBA mountain.
It was not to be as John Paxson hit a go-ahead three-pointer that gave the Bulls another NBA title, capping off the first of their two three-peats.
This shot is famous for its pure artistry and degree of difficulty alone. But it holds a more significant place in NBA history for what it represented: the end of the Boston Celtics dynasty.
Magic Johnson’s game-winner gave the Lakers a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, which they would go on to win 4-2.
That began a 21-year run of misery for Celtics fans that wouldn’t end until the current version of The Big Three ended the drought in 2008.
If you need an explanation for this video, you probably shouldn’t be reading this column. I’ll let the video speak for itself.