The Top 10 Playoff Moments in Los Angeles Lakers History
You don't become one of the most storied franchises in NBA history without a long list of amazing highlights. The Los Angeles Lakers have played in a lot of playoff games, resulting in many great playoff moments.
Gracing this list are some of the greatest players in NBA history: Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Some of the most notorious clutch performers, like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher, made the cut too.
Here are the top 10 playoff moments in Los Angeles Lakers history. These plays were ranked based on their drama, the ridiculousness of the play and the stage of the playoffs when they occurred.
Honorable Mention: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Hook Finally Beats the Boston Celtics
Game 6, 1985 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Prior to 1985, the Los Angeles Lakers had played the Boston Celtics eight times for the NBA Championship. On all eight occasions, they had lost.
1985 looked no different, as they got demolished in Game 1 to the tune of a 148-114 loss. That game would later be dubbed "the Memorial Day Massacre."
The Lakers fought back and headed to Boston for Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead. They were faced with a task that nobody had (or has, to this day) accomplished: beating the Boston Celtics in Boston to win the trophy.
A 38-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds en route to a Finals MVP trophy. None of those points were more memorable than the hook shot he hit over Robert Parish to put the Lakers up 12 with one minute left in the game, sealing the victory for the Lakers and ending the Celtic dominance over the Lakers.
10. Derek Fisher Stuns the Orlando Magic
Game 4, 2009 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic
Everything that Derek Fisher brings to a basketball team goes beyond the box score. He can’t score, he can’t penetrate and he’s not a great playmaker. But he’s tough, he’s a leader, and he can hit a huge shot with a playoff game on the line. Sometimes, he can hit two huge shots.
Down 87-82 with 31 seconds left in the game, Kobe Bryant sliced through the lane and dumped it off to Pau Gasol for a dunk. On the ensuing play, Bryant fouled Dwight Howard to send the big man to the line with a chance to put his team up by five points.
He missed them both, and the Lakers called timeout. Phil Jackson chose not to advance the ball to give his offense more room. It turned out to be the right move.
They got the ball to Fisher, who dribbled up and saw Jameer Nelson (for some reason) on his heels and inside the three-point line. Fisher let his high-arching shot fly and got all net. That shot sent it into overtime, but Fisher wasn’t done yet.
With 34 seconds left in overtime and the game tied, Kobe Bryant worked his way into the post. Jameer Nelson came down for the double-team, leaving Fisher open at the top of the key. Swish.
He was 0-for-5 from three-point land before taking those two shots. He still had the confidence to take them, and the Los Angeles Lakers won the game and then the championship—Kobe’s first without Shaquille O’Neal.
You try telling Kobe that it wasn’t a big deal.
9. Ron Artest's Buzzer Beater vs. Phoenix Suns
Game 5, 2010 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
With 3.5 seconds left in a tied game, everybody in Staples Center knew where the ball was going to go. The only thing the Phoenix Suns were thinking was: Don’t let Kobe Bryant touch the ball.
Well, they failed miserably. Jared Dudley completely lost Bryant on a screen, and Bryant caught the inbounds pass, squared up and let it fly. On a night where Kobe Bryant had been dominant and just one assist shy of a triple-double, you would expect him to drain a game-winner.
It seems that everybody did, since only Ron Artest moved once the shot went up. He muscled his way into the paint, grabbed the air ball and banked in a layup as time expired.
He must have been relieved. The man formerly known as Ron Artest took not one, but two bad shots with the chance to take a commanding lead in a critical Game 5. But he seized the opportunity and was transformed from the village idiot into a hero.
The beauty of sports is that winning and success make people forget the bad—just ask LeBron James.
8. Kobe Bryant Kills the Phoenix Suns
Game 4, Western Conference quarterfinals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
2006 was the middle of the dark ages for the Los Angeles Lakers. That doesn’t mean there weren’t highlights though.
Technically, this is two separate moments, but I’m hoping you won’t object to my lumping them together. Combined, this is one of Kobe Bryant’s greatest moments, and one of the wildest finishes to a playoff game.
With just under eight seconds in the game, the Phoenix Suns had the ball and a two-point lead. With the best free-throw shooter in NBA history at their disposal, all the Suns had to do was get the ball to him, the Lakers would foul him, and he would hit two free throws.
They got the ball to Steve Nash, but he only held on to it for a second. Smush Parker poked it out of his hands, and suddenly the Lakers were tearing back the other way. Devean George did what he was supposed to do in that situation: Get the ball to Kobe Bryant. And Bryant did what he was supposed to do: Hit a tough shot to send the game into overtime.
The Black Mamba wasn’t done.
In overtime with the Suns up one, Steve Nash got tied up, and the result was a jump ball at center court against the much taller Luke Walton. Walton tipped it to Bryant, who had 6.1 seconds to do something spectacular.
Were you expecting anything less?
7. Jerry West's Steal and Layup
Game 3, 1962 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
There is a reason that Jerry West is nicknamed "Mr. Clutch."
In the 1962 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers faced their bitter rivals—the Boston Celtics. Jerry West scored four straight points to tie Game 3 at 115 apiece, leaving Boston with four seconds and the ball for a chance to win the game.
West stood between the inbounder, Sam Jones, and his target, Bob Cousy. When the pass left Jones’ hands, West jumped the passing lane and took it the other way to lay in the game-winner before the clock ran out.
Unfortunately, the Lakers couldn’t hold on to their series lead and lost the Finals—extending the Celtics’ stretch of dominance.
6. Kobe Bryant Lobs It to Shaquille O'Neal to Complete an Epic Game 7 Comeback
Game 7, 2000 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trailblazers
This play capped off a miraculous comeback and helped the Los Angeles Lakers avoid a calamitous meltdown.
The Lakers held a 3-1 series lead in the 2000 Western Conference finals, but they lost the next two games, setting up a Game 7 against the Portland Trailblazers.
Down 16 points with 10:28 left in the game, it looked as though the Lakers would lose and become only the seventh team in history to blow a 3-1 series lead.
Instead, they ended the game on a 29-9 run, punctuated by an alley-oop from Kobe Bryant to Shaquille O’Neal, who threw down a thunderous dunk to send the Staples Center into a frenzy.
5. Magic's Junior, Junior Sky Hook
Game 4, 1987 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Down two, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fouled in the post and sent to the free-throw line. He made the first but missed the second. Kevin McHale grabbed the rebound and sent the Boston crowd into a raucous frenzy, but he fumbled the ball out of bounds and gave the Lakers another chance.
With seven seconds on the clock, the ball was inbounded to Magic in the corner. He thought about taking a jump shot, but he decided against it as he saw the 6’11” McHale flying at him.
He drove to the middle of the lane and put up a beautiful, sweeping hook shot to give the Lakers the lead and the game.
As Larry Bird said after the game, “You expect to lose to the Lakers on a sky-hook. You don’t expect it to be from Magic.”
Johnson added another chapter to his growing legacy with this shot, and it will always be one of the most memorable shot in Finals history.
4. Mr. Clutch Nails a 60-Footer in the Finals
Game 3, 1970 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks
This shot remains one of the greatest and cruelest shots in Finals history.
Dave DeBusschere hit a shot to give the New York Knicks the lead with three seconds left in the game. Wilt Chamberlain inbounded the ball to West who heaved a shot from three-quarter court that swished in.
Why was the shot so cruel? It was before there was a three-point line, so it only tied the game and sent it to overtime…where the Lakers lost. The Lakers went on to lose the series in seven games.
Poor Mr. Clutch.
3. Big Shot Rob Slays the Kings
Game 4, 2002 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings
There were 11.8 seconds left in the game. The Los Angeles Lakers were down two, and a loss would mean that the Sacramento Kings would take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
The Lakers have two future Hall of Famers who should be able to take care of business, so don’t worry. They both had their chances, and they were bailed out by a man who has more rings than either of them.
Kobe Bryant sliced into the lane and threw up an off-balance runner that bounced off the rim. It bounced right into the waiting arms of Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal missed a point-blank layup, and Vlade Divac batted the ball away from the rim.
Unfortunately for the Kings, it went straight to Big Shot Rob. Robert Horry rose up and drained a game-winning three.
While Game 6 of this series will forever be tainted with the Tim Donaghy allegations, there can be no doubt about the outcome of this one.
2. Derek Fisher's Miracle Fling
Game 5, 2004 Western Conference Semifinals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan’s shot would have gone down as one of the best game-winners in the playoffs. He was smothered by Shaquille O’Neal and forced to take a fadeaway jumper from the top of the key that hit nothing but net.
That shot put the Spurs up one with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
It turns out that four-tenths of a second is all Derek Fisher needs.
1. Magic Johnson Starts at Center
Game 6, 1980 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When news broke that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t playing in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, many assumed that the Philadelphia 76ers would be able to win the title with relative ease.
Abdul-Jabbar was dominant as he averaged 33 points, 14 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game in the series. You can’t replace that kind of production.
Magic Johnson, a rookie, did even better.
He started at center, where he lost the opening tip to Caldwell Jones. He pretty much won everything else that night, dropping 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block.
The sight of Magic Johnson lining up for the opening tip in the game is one of the most incredible sights in NBA Finals history, and his stat sheet-stuffing performance was his coming-out party. He didn’t just win a championship that day; he started a legacy.