Most Clutch Shots in NBA Finals History
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Tony Parker is a three-time NBA champion. In 2007, he won the NBA Finals MVP award. That's quite the career—and he just turned 31.
But in Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals, he reached true immortality.
Yes, even in a rings-or-bust league, one thing trumps all: performance in the clutch.
By making one of the most improbable, head-scratching shots in history, Parker put himself into every future finals highlight video that will ever be made.
Stats, All-Star appearances and even championships can fade in time. For most sports fans, they fall into the Wikipedia trivia category.
But clutch shots?
They are forever.
Parker's shot doesn't quite rank up there with the absolute best of the best. The San Antonio Spurs already had the lead and very well could have won the game even if his miracle shot was ruled a 24-second violation. And it was ultimately Parker's fault that the play became such a comedy of errors and near turnovers that the buzzer-beating release was necessary.
Still, in the modern era, where every big-time shot is hyped that much more, and in an era when the official review of the play added some requisite drama, this one was special.
Just not as special as those that follow: the most memorable game-winning and overtime-forcing shots of all time.
These are the best clutch shots in finals history.
NOTE: Sam Jones and Don Nelson both hit game-winners for the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, but since neither appears on YouTube, neither appears on this list. Both deserve praise.
9. Steve Kerr Buries the Jumper, Wins the Title
"If he comes off, I'll be ready." This is what Steve Kerr told the greatest player in history on the bench in the waning seconds of Game 6 in 1997.
Everyone expected Michael Jordan to take the shot.
But when John Stockton left Kerr, Jordan—still fighting a reputation as a scorer first, passer never—kicked it out.
Kerr did what he does: buried a jumper.
The Bulls took the lead and won the series. It was MJ's fifth title, and another that proved that even the best player alive needed a little help from his friends.
8. Vinnie Johnson Beats the Trail Blazers
See 6:00 in the video
The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons won back-to-back titles in 1998-89 and 1989-90. They were one of the most balanced teams to ever have such success.
Isiah Thomas was the team's lone star, but the Pistons were deep and relied on gritty performers up and down the roster.
Vinnie Johnson was a fan favorite. Known as The Microwave for his ability to get hot immediately coming off the bench, never was he bigger than in Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals.
In a tie game, he found himself with the ball on the wing with the clock dwindling.
He made a move, pulled up and hit the mid-ranger jumper. It was a tough shot.
For most people.
The Pistons would celebrate over champagne minutes later.
7. Big Shot Bob Does It Again
Big Shot Bob. For years, Robert Horry had been a crunch-time killer. He had been critical late in games during title runs by both the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
When this clutch gun-for-hire moved on to the San Antonio Spurs, nothing changed but the uniform.
In the 2005 NBA Finals, Rasheed Wallace proved that he doesn't always pay utmost attention to what else is going on in the league.
If he had, he would have known: You don't leave Horry open late in games.
Especially not in overtime.
But 'Sheed did. Horry got the ball and knocked it down.
The Spurs took a one-point lead and won the game seconds later. The Detroit Pistons were so close to taking a 3-2 lead in this series, but with one lapse and one (more) huge shot by Horry, it was the Spurs that took command of the series.
They won the title in seven games.
6. Gar Heard Forces a 3rd Overtime
Some call Game 5 of the Boston Celtics/Phoenix Suns NBA Finals in 1976 the greatest game ever played.
"That was the most exciting basketball game I've ever seen," said legend Rick Barry, according to NBA.com. "They just had one great play after another."
There was none greater than a turnaround jumper from Guy Heard of the Phoenix Suns that forced the game into a third overtime.
But as amazing as the shot was, it was a savvy move by Suns guard Paul Westphal that was even more impressive.
Celtics legend John Havlicek had seemingly just hit a game-winning shot. But after coming together and causing a lengthy delay, the refs ruled that one second remained on the clock.
The Suns had life. But they would have to inbound the ball under their own hoop, making this a Hail Mary attempt at best.
Westphal had an idea.
His team was out of timeouts, and he knew this, so he took one.
The Celtics got a free throw, and they made it to put them up by two.
But this allowed the Suns to advance the ball to half court. From there, they were able to get Heard open on the top of the key. He caught it, turned and made it.
The Celtics would go on to win, but nobody would ever forget Heard's shot or Westphal's timeout.
5. John Paxson's 3-Peat Clincher
The 1993 NBA Finals was one of the biggest in league history.
That previous summer, the Dream Team won gold in Barcelona, and Charles Barkley was traded from Philadelphia to Phoenix. Through the Olympics and his play during the first year in the Western Conference (where he won the NBA MVP), Barkley had become the second-biggest star in the game.
Only Michael Jordan topped him.
As he would in the finals.
But it wasn't MJ who actually stuck the knife through Chuck's heart.
Instead, Jordan would further cement his reputation as an all-around player, learning to trust his teammates to make the shot.
Jordan had already scored nine points in the quarter and drove the lane in hopes of tying the game. But as the defense collapsed, he dished to Horace Grant. Grant had a look, but saw John Paxson open behind the arc.
He was one of the game's best shooters.
He didn't miss this wide-open look.
The series was billed as one in which Barkley might be the first guy in three years who could dethrone Jordan. Paxson ended that dream, and the series, with his dagger.
It was the final shot made in the Bulls' (first) three-peat.
4. Jerry West's Prayer Is Answered
Jerry West had a nickname: "Mr. Clutch." I don't doubt that there are few other players a team would rather have hoist a 60-foot heave with the game on the line.
But as great a shooter as West was, there is certainly some luck here.
Still, if this happened today, SportsCenter might explode. The whole set, and perhaps all of Bristol.
During a tie game in the 1970 NBA Finals, Dave DeBusschere scored for the New York Knicks. It seemed to be the game-winner.
Wilt Chamberlain inbounded the ball to West, who launched.
Today, it would have won the game. But shots were worth two points from everywhere, so it merely sent the game into overtime.
Alas, the Knicks would take the game in OT and eventually the series in seven games. But it was one of the most amazing, well-played NBA Finals of all time, and West's shot added the "I can't believe this" factor.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Wins It in Double OT
Fast forward to the 6:06 mark.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson were one of the best dynamic duos in NBA history. They might be the two best players ever at their respective positions.
In 1971, they joined forces and won a title. In 1974, they had a second chance, though the mighty Boston Celtics had other ideas.
In Game 6, however, the Bucks were only concerned with forcing a Game 7.
They were playing at the Boston Garden and found themselves in a double-overtime dogfight.
With seven seconds left, a John Havlicek jumper put the Celtics up one.
If the Bucks were to play another game, it would be up to reigning MVP Abdul-Jabbar. Luckily for Milwaukee, its center came equipped with the most devastating weapon in league history: the sky hook.
He broke it out, lofting a 17-foot, baseline, arching parabola to the rim.
It was good. Of course it was. It always was.
The Bucks would fall in Game 7, but few people have ever silenced the Garden faithful as quickly as Kareem did with his patented move.
2. Magic Johnson's Baby Sky Hook
Down by one point during a pivotal Game 4 in the Boston Garden, the Los Angeles Lakers needed a bucket.
Michael Cooper inbounded the ball to Magic Johnson on the wing. He had normally been defended by Dennis Johnson, but the best point guard in NBA history looked up and saw Kevin McHale in front of him.
As he reached the lane, the entire Big Three—McHale, Robert Parish and Larry Bird—surrounded him. There wasn't much room to get to the hoop.
So instead, he drew from the arsenal of his center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and went to the baby sky hook. It wasn't a shot in the Magic's repertoire.
He made it nonetheless.
The Lakers won and took a 3-1 series lead. They would close out their hated rivals in six games.
At the time, both Bird and Johnson had three rings. This gave Magic his fourth (he would add a fifth the next year), while the Boston Celtics didn't win another title until 2008.
1. Michael Jordan's Final Shot as a Bull
Was it an offensive foul?
It was the most "Michael Jordan" moment ever, and it gave the NBA arguably the most iconic image in its history.
Down by one point with the clock dwindling, the Chicago Bulls needed a stop. The Utah Jazz dumped the ball into Karl Malone, hoping that the best player in franchise history could get them that one all-important extra bucket.
MJ had other ideas.
He doubled-teamed Malone and stripped the ball.
Phil Jackson didn't bother with a timeout, and the rest is history—a history so perfect that it would seem unbelievable in a movie.
Jordan walked the ball up, measured Bryon Russell, dribbled right, pushed off, crossed over left, pulled up and hit the shot.
He paused, admiring his work as if reminiscing on the totality of most marvelous career the sport has ever seen.
He would retire soon after. It was the last shot he would ever make in a Bulls uniform.