The 10 Biggest Shots in NBA Finals History
The 2009 NBA playoffs, with its share of buzzer-beaters and clutch performances, was nothing short of amazing.
It prompted me to think about just how few get the opportunity to strut their stuff on the NBA's biggest stage, and how even fewer are able to excel in that pressure-packed atmosphere.
So what are the biggest shots ever made on the NBA's biggest stage of all, the NBA Finals?
This roster of 10 is comprised of game-winning shots that not only impacted the outcome of the championship series but also shots that defined the generation of the teams that won and, in many cases, the legacy of their opponents.
You may disagree with my selections or the placement of each shot. Please feel free to voice your opinion. I am excited to hear different perspectives regarding such emotional moments.
10. Robert Horry: San Antonio Spurs, Game Five, 2005
Robert Horry never appeared in an All Star game, never achieved all-NBA status, he never even won a Sixth Man Award.
What did "Big Shot Rob" do then?
He may very well have been the most terrifying role player of all-time.
He won seven NBA championships in 15 seasons. He won a championship for every team he played for, he never played on a team that didn't advance to (at least) the semifinals, and he arguably hit more clutch shots then any role player in the history or the NBA.
In Game Five of the 2005 Finals vs. the Detroit Pistons, it was not just the three-point shot with 5.9 seconds remaining in OT that made Horry's performance memorable. It was the 21 points scored in the fourth quarter and overtime that carried the struggling Spurs to victory.
On a team with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, Robert Horry completely took over the game. Every time he touched the ball, the Palace of Auburn Hills crowd would grumble and gasp as he hit several three-point shots down the stretch.
Horry's shooting display was accented by a dramatic dunk over the shoulders of Rip Hamliton with just over a minute left in overtime.
Horry's final three-point shot gave the Spurs a 3-2 lead in the championship series and brought Horry one game closer to his sixth title.
Horry has won more titles then Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Doctor J., and Shaquille O'Neal.
Horry's career average may only have been 7.4 points per game, but he had a big shot in every championship series he played in. It was very difficult, with his long list of game-winning shots, to choose 2005 as his finest.
I felt the combination of fourth quarter and overtime domination, seemingly taking over the game as the Spurs' three future Hall of Famers struggled, coupled with his last-second heroics made this the 10th biggest shot in NBA Finals history.
9. John Paxson: Chicago Bulls, Game Six, 1993
Before Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Tony Kukoc, and Steve Kerr, the Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan and John Paxson.
During their first several seasons together, John Paxson and Michael Jordan struggled through mediocrity and devastating early playoff exits.
Possibly, that is the reason John Paxson's championship-winning three-point shot in Game Six of the1993 NBA Finals versus the Phoenix Suns was so special.
After an NBA Finals-low nine points scored in the fourth quarter, the Bulls forced a 24-second violation on the Suns and had possession of the basketball trailing 98-96 with 14.1 seconds remaining.
John Paxson converted a three-point shot with 3.9 seconds remaining to give Chicago a one-point lead and their third consecutive championship.
If Scottie Pippen is credited for being Michael Jordan's "Robin," John Paxson would be considered MJ's "Alfred", the beacon of consistency and stability on teams that struggled to find their identity and on a team that brought home three straight NBA World Championship Titles.
8. Garfield Heard: Pheonix Suns, Game Five, 1976
"The Shot Heard Around the World" in the "Greatest Game Ever Played".
John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics had hit a runner to give them a one-point lead in the second overtime in Game Five of the NBA Finals. The Celtics score keeper never stopped the clock as time erroneously ran out.
The Celtics players had charged to their locker room and the fans had stormed the court. After two grueling overtimes, the Celtics had beaten the Phoenix Suns, or so it seemed...
John Havlicek, back in the locker room, had torn the tape off his ankles as his teammates celebrated the victory. Moments later, the Celtics players were informed that their was one second remaining to play and they were called back on the court.
The Suns, out of timeouts, intentionally took a technical foul and advanced the ball. Jo Jo White made it a two-point game by hitting the technical foul shot.
What ensued next was nothing short of remarkable. Garfield Heard received the pass and hit a turn-around jumper as the buzzer sounded to force a third overtime in the Boston Garden.
What was more incredible about that shot was that moments earlier, a riot had ensued on the parquet floor as thousands of fans were dispersed throughout the players. Legend has it that one Celtics fan was beating up on an official.
Despite the extremely hostile environment and the pressure of the moment, Gar Heard's shot was "heard around the world" after that second overtime.
The Boston Celtics won the contest in the third overtime.
7. Sam Jones: Boston Celtics, Game Four, 1969
Many people feel this play inspired the "picket fence scene" in the movie Hoosiers as the Boston Celtics ran the play to perfection.
Perennial Celtics scorer, Sam Jones, came off the "picket fence" and hit a running bank shot, off the wrong foot, to give the Celtics a 89-88 victory.
The shot tied the series against the Lakers at 2-2.
Los Angeles, with newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain, were heavily favored over the aged and injured Celtics. Boston had barely made the playoff, finishing the regular season at 41-41, the worst record of the Celtics dynasty.
This shot is credited with giving the Boston Celtics momentum in a championship series they were expected to be swept in.
They ended up upsetting the Lakers as Jones won his 10th title. Only Bill Russell has more championships.
6. Dennis Johnson - Boston Celtics, Game Four, 1985
In a rematch of the 1984 NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics again energized the country in 1985.
In the fourth contest of the Championship Series, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had kept his Los Angeles Lakers close throughout.
With under a minute left to play and the 24-second clock winding down, Danny Ainge hit a jumper to give Boston a two-point lead with 33 seconds remaining.
The Lakers' final possession ended in a Celtic rebound and put back off a rare Abdul-Jabbar miss.
The Lakers led by two points.
Boston chose not to advance the ball. Dennis Johnson brought the ball up court and passed to Celtics option No. 1, Larry Bird.
Bird drew the double-team as time was running down, he passed it to DJ who hit a 20-footer as the buzzer sounded. Celtics win.
In a rare public display of emotion, Larry Legend acted as if he just hit the championship-winning shot.
Years later, Bird called Dennis Johnson "the best teammate he ever had."
Can you believe Dennis Johnson has still not been elected to HOF?
5. Larry Bird: Boston Celtics, Game 4, 1984
After a blowout embarrassment in Game Three, Larry Bird accused himself and his teammates of playing basketball like "sissies."
Game Four of the series is considered to be one of the best Finals games in NBA history.
This game may also be the embodiment of the 1980s trademark physical play. The game was littered with such memorable physical moments as Kevin McHale's "clothes line," Kareem's elbow to Bird's face, and Bird knocking Cooper out of bounds.
This game featured more shoves, elbows, growls, hand-checks, snarls, and shoves that if it were officiated by today's standards, everyone would have been thrown out the game.
The grand finale was a dagger fade-away jumper by Larry Bird over rival Magic Johnson with only seconds left on the game clock.
Celtics won their 15th championship three games later in a Game Seven thriller at Boston Garden.
4. Jerry West: Los Angeles Lakers, Game Three, 1970
"Mr. Clutch!" It does not get more clutch then a half-court shot with three seconds left to tie an NBA Finals game.
That's exactly what Jerry West (Pictured left with retired jersey) did in Game Three of the 1970 Finals against the scrappy New York Knicks.
With Bill Russell retired and the Boston Celtics out of the way, the Lakers felt it was their year to finally win the title.
Jerry West hit a 60-foot shot to tie the game. In overtime, he suffered an injury to his hand and was ineffective. The Knicks won by three points.
The Lakers, fighting injuries, kept even with the Knicks to force a Game Seven where Willis Reed famously played injured and the rest is history...
3. Larry Bird: Boston Celtics, Game Four, 1987
The 1987 Celtics are arguably considered the toughest team of all time.
In the previous season's draft, Red Auerbach chose Len Bias. The college star tragically passed away prior to the start of the season. Bias was considered the future of the Celtics franchise.
With no Len Bias and a depleted bench, the Celtics worked so hard and showed legendary tenacity in every big game throughout the playoffs.
Scratching and clawing, they reached the NBA Finals to again face legendary archrival, the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the Finals, the Celtics would be playing with a six-man rotation and without their familiar home-court advantage. LA easily won Games One and Two at the Great Western Forum before they returned for three consecutive games in Boston.
After winning Game Three, Boston entered Game Four trying to avoid a 3-1 deficit.
Larry Bird had shot only 6-for-17 from the field as the Lakers would go on an 8-0 run late in the fourth quarter to take a two-point lead with 29 second remaining in the game.
Larry Bird had somehow launched a corner three-point shot over the outstretched hands of Michael Thompson, giving Boston a one-point lead with 12 seconds remaining.
A previously subdued Boston Garden crowd had gone into a frenzy as everyone thought the Celtics would likely have tied the series on the typical last moment heroics of Larry Bird.
History would end the story quite differently...
2. Michael Jordan: Chicago Bulls, Game Six, 1998
The Chicago Bulls had never allowed a Championship series to go to a seventh game.
Scottie Pippen would have to exit Game Six early with a back injury. The offensive load had fallen again on Michael Jordan. Though Jordan was in his final season, his playing abilities had not diminished and he would not disappoint.
In his last Finals appearance, MJ would score 45 points. Most importantly, Jordan would score four points in 30 seconds and he would steal the ball from Karl Malone to secure the last possession for Chicago.
Just as he did 10 years earlier with his "shot on Ehlo," Michael Jordan would perform his usual push-and-shoot with the usual result. Chicago would win the game 87-86.
Michael Jordan would walk away from basketball winning his sixth championship in eight seasons.
1. Magic Johnson: Los Angeles Lakers, Game Four, 1987
Larry Bird has hit a go-ahead three-point shot with 12 seconds remaining in the game.
The Boston Garden crowd was in a frenzy as Boston was about to tie the series at two games apiece.
The next play was originally drawn up for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but Magic Johnson waived him off and decided to take defender Kevin McHale one-on-one.
Magic dribbled into the lane and hit a "baby hook" over Bird, Parish and McHale.
This shot signaled the end of the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson championship rivalry.
Though this was the last appearance of the Celtics and the Lakers in the NBA Finals, Magic would lead his Lakers to the NBA Finals three more times.