20 Greatest Buzzer Beaters in the NBA Playoffs
The NBA playoffs bring a level of excitement not palpable during the regular season, and there's nothing quite like watching a buzzer beater in the postseason.
Ask any player who's hit one before, and I'm sure they'll tell you that there's no greater feeling than hitting a shot with the clock expiring that gives the opposing team no chance for a rebuttal.
With the ultimate prize on the line and elimination lurking around the corner for each team in contention, the stakes are raised for every game played and each shot taken.
The degree of difficulty, importance and impact of the game at hand, whether it was a game-winning or game-tying shot, its place in NBA history and if the shot was more skill than luck all factored into the rankings.
So who tops the list?
Honorable Mention: Gary Neal, 2011 Western Conference First Round, Game 5
The San Antonio Spurs, at home on the brink of elimination in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, had their backs against the wall in Game 5 against the Memphis Grizzles.
With the Spurs down three, their season on the line and 1.7 seconds remaining in regulation, they found an unlikely hero in rookie Gary Neal.
Neal caught the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the key and forced overtime after pulling up and drilling the game-tying buzzer beater.
20. Glen Davis: 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4
During Game 4 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, the Magic had a one-point lead with 11 seconds remaining.
Rajon Rondo took the inbounds pass, dribbled the ball to the top of the arc and passed to Paul Pierce on the left side of the court.
Pierce dribbled to the top of the key and drew two defenders, which freed up Davis on the left baseline for the open jumper.
With the clock running down, Davis caught the ball and nailed the game-winning shot.
Davis' celebration, which included barreling his way through a kid standing on the sidelines, is a memory that will live on for years to come.
19. Kevin Martin: 2006 Western Conference First Round, Game 3
In Game 3 of the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs, the Sacramento Kings were trailing the San Antonio Spurs by two games.
The Spurs had a 93-92 lead and the ball with 27.4 seconds remaining in the game.
Manu Ginobili took the ball out of the backcourt and began to run the clock down with Ron Artest pressuring him.
With six seconds remaining on the shot clock, Ginobili made his move and drove down the lane.
Mike Bibby poked the ball out of his hand and started the fast break.
Bibby found Kevin Martin streaking down the left side of the court, who took it straight to the bucket and hit the bank shot right over the outstretched hands of Tim Duncan to seal the victory for the Kings.
18. Dudley Bradley: 1986 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1
The Washington Bullets were down by 17 to the Philadelphia 76ers with four minutes to go in the first round of the 1986 NBA playoffs.
The Bullets proceeded to go on a scoring binge while the 76ers choked, allowing the Bullets to get within two with three seconds left on the shot clock.
Dudley Bradley got the ball near midcourt, dribbled to the top of the arc and fired off a shot—at the 13:50 mark in the video—that banked off the glass for the win.
No one expected him to make the shot, let alone take it, but he won the game for the Bullets and capped off one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history.
17. Ron Artest: 2010 Western Conference Finals, Game 5
With 3.5 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, the game was tied at 101.
Kobe Bryant got the inbounds pass and forced up a fadeaway three that missed everything but went into the hands of a streaking Ron Artest.
Artest twisted around and threw up the game-winning shot off the glass to give the Lakers the 3-2 series lead.
16. Kobe Bryant: 2006 Western Conference First Round, Game 4
The Phoenix lead the Los Angeles Lakers 98-97 with less than 12 seconds remaining in Game 4 of the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs.
Phoenix had possession of the ball and Steve Nash dribbled the ball up, but was trapped by Kobe Bryant and Luke Walton near midcourt.
Walton managed to force a jump ball, which the Lakers proceeded to win.
Bryant took the ball, drove crosscourt and pulled up for the dagger at the buzzer to give the Lakers the win.
15. Eddie Johnson: 1997 Western Conference Finals, Game 4
During Game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, the game was tied at 92 with 6.7 seconds remaining in the game.
Matt Maloney took the inbounds pass and found Clyde Drexler along the left wing.
Drexler immediately got doubled and was forced to give the ball back to Maloney.
Maloney dumped it off into the waiting hands of Eddie Johnson at the top of the arc with less than a second remaining.
Johnson shot up the prayer and got nothing but net to tie the series up.
14. Alonzo Mourning: 1993 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 5
During Game 4 of the First Round of the 1993 NBA playoffs between the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets, the Hornets were down 103-102 with 3.3 seconds left in the game.
On the final possession, rookie center Alonzo Mourning got the ball near the top of the key, dribbled once and stepped back for the game-winning jumper.
Mourning's final shot capped off a brilliant 33-point outing for the big man and won the series for the Hornets.
13. LeBron James: 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2
The Orlando Magic were leading the series 1-0 heading into Game 2 during the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
After the two sides battled back-and-forth for four quarters, the Magic took a two-point lead with one second left on the clock.
With a second remaining in the game and Cleveland down 95-93, LeBron James caught the inbounds pass from Mo Williams to hit the game-winning three at the top of the arc to seal the game and tie the series up.
12. Rik Smits: 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4
Game 4 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals featured one big shot after another with only 13.3 seconds remaining on the clock.
The first was a three by the Orlando Magic's Brian Shaw to give them the lead.
Reggie Miller answered on the other end with a three of his own to take the lead back.
Anfernee Hardaway responded to Miller with another three for the Magic with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.
Finally, the unlikeliest of heroes, Rik Smits, caught the inbounds pass, turned around and pump faked Tree Rollins to get him off of his feet before pulling up for the game-winning jumper.
11. Chauncey Billups: 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
During Game 5 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the New Jersey Nets had an 88-85 lead over the Detroit Pistons with 2.9 seconds left on the clock.
Chauncey Billups caught the inbounds pass and raced up the court.
He pulled up just passed the halfcourt line and leaned forward for a final shot attempt.
Living up to his nickname, Mr. Big Shot, Billups' shot banked in and forced overtime.
While the shot was a prayer that relied on a lot of luck, it was an impressive feat that only one of the most poised players in the game could make.
10. Michael Jordan: 1997 NBA Finals, Game 1
In Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, the score was tied at 82 with 7.5 seconds left to go.
Toni Kukoc got in the inbounds pass and dropped it off to Michael Jordan.
Almost as if he was toying with Byron Russell, Jordan took the ball to the top of the arc, dribbled around the perimeter and made his move with about three seconds on the clock.
He did a quick hesitation move, which froze Russell for a split-second, giving Jordan the opening he needed.
Russell tried to recover, but by the time he got a hand anywhere near Jordan, MJ was already hanging in the air with the ball leaving his hands.
The ball sailed through the air and right through the net to give the Bulls the victory.
9. Sam Jones: 1969 NBA Finals, Game 4
The 1969 NBA Finals pitted the two most storied franchises in NBA history and one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports up against one another—the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
With seven seconds left and the Boston Celtics down 88-87, John Havlicek had the ball near midcourt and found Sam Jones running across the court.
Jones took an off-balance shot that rattled around the rim and dropped through the net to give the Celtics the victory.
8. John Stockton: 1997 Western Conference Finals, Game 6
During Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, the score was knotted up at 100.
With 2.8 seconds left on the shot clock, John Stockton took the inbounds pass near midcourt and took several steps before pulling up to drill the game-winning three.
The shot not only propelled the team to a win, but it gave the Jazz the series victory and put them in the 1997 NBA Finals.
7. Robert Horry: 2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 4
In Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, the Lakers were down 99-97 with 11 seconds remaining in the game.
Kobe Bryant got the ball and drove along the right side to the hoop, but missed his layup attempt.
Shaquille O'Neal had a chance to tie it with a putback, but missed on his follow up attempt.
Instead of going for the rebound, Vlade Divac swatted the ball out of the paint, but it went right into the hands of Robert Horry.
Horry, calm and collected, drilled the three with less than a second remaining on the clock for the victory.
Instead of going to Sacramento down 3-1, they tied it up at two games apiece and eventually won the series in seven games on their way to completing their three-peat.
6. Ralph Sampson: 1986 Western Conference Finals, Game 5
In the 1986 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, the score was tied at 112 apiece.
With only one second remaining on the clock, Ralph Sampson caught an inbounds pass from Rodney McCray and pulled off one of the greatest plays in playoff history.
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defending him, Sampson somehow managed to catch the ball, spin and throw it toward the basket.
The ball took a friendly bounce off the rim to go in and send the Rockets to the Finals.
5. Bob Harrison: 1950 NBA Finals, Game 1
In Game 1 of the very first NBA Finals, the game featured the Minneapolis Lakers and Syracuse Nationals.
The game was tied at 66-66 with roughly 30 seconds left in the game.
After the Nationals missed a shot with 10 seconds on the clock, the Lakers got the ball back with a chance to win the game.
Bob Harrison got the ball at midcourt and threw in a 40-foot desperation heave to give the Lakers the 68-66 victory.
4. Jerry West: 1970 NBA Finals, Game 3
The 1970 NBA Finals pitted the Los Angeles Lakers against the New York Knicks.
The first two games of the series were split at one a piece, and the pivotal Game 3 was a nail-biter.
Both teams battled back-and-forth for four quarters with the game tied at 100 with 13 seconds remaining.
Dave DeBusschere gave the Knicks the lead with three seconds left to go to put the Knicks ahead by two.
With no timeouts remaining, Jerry West took the inbounds pass and heaved up a 60-foot halfcourt shot that somehow managed to find its way through the rim tying the game at 102.
While the Lakers ended up losing in overtime, West cemented his place in NBA history with yet another memorable moment in his storied career.
3. Gar Heard: 1976 NBA Finals, Game 5
Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns in the 1976 NBA Finals is widely regarded as one of the greatest games in NBA history.
With the series tied at two games apiece, the fifth game had the potential to change the landscape of the series.
The two teams pushed the game into overtime with the score tied at the end of regulation.
The first overtime had a controversial ending as an unacknowledged timeout would’ve resulted in a technical foul that would’ve granted the Suns a chance to win the game.
However, the first overtime ended with the score tied and pushed the game into a second overtime.
With four seconds left in the second extra period, the Suns managed to grab a one-point lead. However, a 15-foot bank shot by John Havlicek gave the Celtics the lead once again.
Fans stormed the court thinking the game was over, but there was one second remaining.
After the court was cleared, Paul Westphal, knowing that the team was out of timeouts, called one anyway, resulting in an automatic technical which resulted in a two-point lead for the Celtics.
However, it allowed the Suns to advance the ball to halfcourt.
Gar Heard caught the inbounds pass on the ensuing possession and shot up a turnaround rainbow to force a third overtime.
2. Derek Fisher: 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5
The stage was set in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs with the series split at two games apiece.
With 5.4 seconds remaining and the Spurs down 72-71, Tim Duncan got the inbounds pass near the top of the arc with Shaquille O'Neal draped all over him.
Duncan dribbled to his left and launched a fadeaway jumper at the top of the arc to put the Spurs ahead by one.
However, the game wasn't over just yet.
After a Laker timeout, Derek Fisher got the ball on the left side of the court with 0.4 seconds remaining and heaved up a wild turnaround shot for the game-winner.
You could argue for a number of buzzer-beaters to top this one, but few that matched the level of pressure and level of difficulty of this shot.
1. Michael Jordan: 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 5
Did you really expect to see another buzzer beater top this one?
In Game 5 of the first-round matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls were down 100-99 with two seconds left on the clock.
Fighting off a double team, Jordan managed to find a seam to sneak through to get the inbounds pass.
Jordan immediately drove towards the paint and pulled up for a jumper.
He hung for what seemed like an eternity, released with the clock winding down and drilled the buzzer-beating game-winner.
Jordan’s fist-pumping celebration following the game-winner is one of the most iconic images in NBA history, and the jump shot is permanently etched in the history books as “The Shot."