J.R. Smith celebrates with his teammates after hitting a buzzer-beater.
The buzzer-beater is an abrupt and often spectacular ending to intense competition. It has the power to rouse a crowd of thousands into a state of ecstasy and bring a roster of professional athletes to their knees.
People appreciate and remember buzzer-beaters partly due to the difficulty of the shot. A contested, fadeaway jumper from 30 feet is more remarkable than an open layup. The amount of time a player has to release a shot is also significant.
Game-winning buzzer-beaters are generally more exciting than shots that merely tie a game. Overtime ups the ante for last-second shots, as does a game with playoff implications.
Sometimes a buzzer-beater takes on added meaning within the context of a particular game. Game-winners that cap off a comeback are often the most dramatic, and those that extend a winning streak, add to a historic individual performance or secure a win against a rival are particularly meaningful.
Here are the top 10 buzzer-beaters in the NBA this season.
The Denver Nuggets have compiled a 54-25 record without an All-Star. That lack of star power forces George Karl to be creative in his late-game play calls. He typically opts for the hot hand, sometimes calling for Danilo Gallinari to come off a screen or Andre Iguodala on a clear out.
Wilson Chandler matched his career high with 35 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 1, but Karl turned to his point guard, Ty Lawson, with the game tied at 103 in the closing seconds.
Fearful of Lawson's quickness, Thabo Sefolosha gave the point guard plenty of room. Lawson let the clock run down and then calmly nailed a deep two with 0.2 seconds remaining to lift the Nuggets over the Thunder, 105-103. He celebrated with a little shimmy at half court.
LaMarcus Aldridge turned in a 29-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks on January 29, capping it off with a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.
The Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit to tie the game at 104 with 1.5 seconds remaining. Portland inbounded the ball to Aldridge on the left block. He took one dribble and casually drained a fadeaway jumper over Mavs big man Brandan Wright.
Aldridge nailed a game-winner against Dallas last season as well. On that occasion, it was a step-back jumper from the elbow that did the Mavs in.
DeMar DeRozan was the Toronto Raptors' go-to player before the team acquired Rudy Gay at the end of January, and the fourth-year forward delivered the game-winner against the Orlando Magic on January 24.
The Raptors inbounded the ball with 4.3 seconds left and the game tied at 95. Jose Calderon swung it to DeRozan on the left wing, who took two dribbles to his left before releasing a fadeaway jumper from just inside the three-point line.
The high-arcing floater sailed over the outstretched arm of the Magic's Glen Davis and hit nothing but net as time expired. The Raptors escaped with a 97-95 win.
Nobody gave the Washington Wizards a chance when the Oklahoma City Thunder came to town on January 7. Randy Wittman's team was 4-28 without John Wall and lost to the Miami Heat by 28 points the night before. OKC entered the game with a 26-7 record.
Bradley Beal and Martell Webster kept the game close with 22 points apiece. Wittman put the ball in Beal's hands at the top of the key with the game tied at 94 and spread the floor with shooters.
Thabo Sefolosha guarded the rookie, and Kendrick Perkins came over to help. Beal faked left and got both Thunder players in the air. He then double-clutched, leaned in and released a shot from just past the foul line. The ball dropped in with 0.3 seconds left, and the Wizards took down the mighty Thunder.
Many basketball insiders believed it was a changing of the guard when the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs four consecutive times in the 2012 Western Conference finals.
As a result, the Spurs wanted to show that they were still a team to be reckoned with when they met the Thunder on the second day of the 2012-13 season.
With the score tied and just six seconds to go, the Spurs had the final possession. Russell Westbrook lost sight of Tony Parker as the Spurs guard cut along the baseline and out to the left wing. Tim Duncan sealed Kendrick Perkins so that he could not help out, and Parker knocked down a 21-footer for the win.
Joe Johnson hit several big shots during his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks and has done more of the same in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets. On December 14, Johnson nailed a contested step-back jumper from the top of the key at the end of double overtime to beat the Detroit Pistons 107-105.
It was the first of two double-overtime game-winners for the Nets guard. On January 4, Johnson hit another step-back jump shot at the buzzer to beat the Washington Wizards at the end of OT.
Johnson was at it again on February 19 against the Milwaukee Bucks. It only took him one overtime to put the Bucks away with a 17-footer from the top of the key. The Nets would not have made it to overtime if Johnson had not connected on a game-tying three-pointer with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
The New York Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony when they visited the Phoenix Suns on December 26. Sixth man J.R. Smith picked up the slack, contributing 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals and two remarkable shots down the stretch.
Smith hit an improbable fall-away shot from the top of the key to tie the game with 11 seconds remaining. New York forced a turnover on the ensuing possession and called timeout with one second left.
Jason Kidd inbounded the ball to Smith, who let fly an off-balance jumper from just inside the arc. The ball dropped in with no time remaining, and the Knicks won 99-97.
It was Smith's second buzzer-beater of the season. Three weeks earlier, he drained a step-back jumper over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to elevate the Knicks over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard has played with the poise of a 10-year veteran during his first season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Coach Terry Stotts had no problem trusting his point guard to make a play in the closing seconds of a tie game against the New Orleans Hornets on December 16.
Luke Babbitt set a pick for Lillard with a couple of seconds remaining. When Lillard's man went under the screen, the rookie stepped back and launched a three-pointer. Babbitt's defender, Ryan Anderson, couldn't get to Lillard in time, and the shot fell through the basket with 0.3 seconds left to seal the win for the Trail Blazers.
Brandon Jennings made just one of his five three-point attempts when the Milwaukee Bucks played the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 3, but that one was the difference.
The game was tied at 102 with 0.7 seconds remaining. Mike Dunleavy had 29 points on the night and was 6-of-7 from behind the arc, but then-Bucks coach Scott Skiles tapped Jennings to take the final shot.
Dunleavy took the ball out of bounds from the Bucks' frontcourt and delivered a perfect pass to Jennings, who had freed himself at the top of the key. The Bucks point guard caught the ball and put up the game-winning three-pointer in time. He finished the game with 13 points and 13 assists.
The Houston Rockets built a 17-point lead over the Milwaukee Bucks when the two teams squared off in Houston on February 27, but the Bucks fought their way back to tie the game at 107 behind the strong play of shooting guard Monta Ellis.
Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings intended to take the final shot but was unable to beat Jeremy Lin off the dribble. He kicked the ball out to Ellis, whose momentum carried him away from the basket. In less than one second, Ellis caught the ball and heaved a fadeaway shot off one foot from about 27 feet.
The ball rolled around the rim before dropping through the cylinder to give the Bucks a 110-107 win. Ellis continued running all the way to the locker room as the Houston crowd looked on in disbelief. Ellis finished with 27 points and 13 assists.