NBA | Feb 25, 2022

The Top 10 Buzzer-Beaters in NBA Playoff History

By Harry Bazley

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Now, a championship ring may top the wish-list of every NBA star out there, but making that winning shot at the buzzer of game 7 simply cannot be compared.

All players dream of hitting a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, but only a few get the chance to make it a reality. Whether it's a ring-winning 3-pointer or a fade-away to flip the series lead, these shots are relived for eternity, cementing legacies in the process. It comes as no shock then, that some of the greatest to ever lace-up kicks make an appearance on this list, from MJ to Lebron and many more.

Considering a few factors like shot difficulty, circumstance and series impact, lets walk through the top 10 playoff buzzer-beaters in NBA history.

10. Lebron James - Cleveland Cavaliers, 2009

This list wouldn't be complete without an appearance from the all time leader for game-winning shots - Lebron James.

The 2008-09 season gave one of Lebron's best performances early in his career - he won the first of his four MVP titles and topped it off with one of the greatest buzzer-beaters ever seen.

Trailing the Orlando Magic 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs were down 95-93 in Game 2 with just 1 second left. Lebron hit a catch-and-shoot fadeaway-three to win the game and put them even with the Magic in the series.

9. Jerry West - Los Angeles Lakers, 1970

For this one we're heading way back to before the 3-point line even existed. Imagine making a 60-foot shot at the buzzer that only counts for 2... Jerry West knows exactly how that feels.

In Game 3 of the 1970 Finals, the Lakers gave up a jumper to the New York Knicks in the final few seconds of the game for a 102-100 lead. But Jerry West instantly replied by throwing up a 60-foot buzzer-beater to tie the game.

If only the 3-point line was introduced 9-years earlier, West could have changed the course of the series and perhaps history as a whole.

8. Ralph Sampson - Houston Rockets, 1986

This shot from Ralph Sampson earns a place with it's circus-like fashion - maxing out the difficulty scale.

In Game 5 of the 1986 Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and LA Lakers, Sampson made a mid-air catch-and-shoot buzzer-beater to secure a 114-112 win. The crowd was left absolutely stunned as he twisted around mid-flight, barely touching the ball to sink the shot before the buzzer. This game took the 4-1 series victory for Houston, although they later lost to the Celtic in the NBA Finals.

7. Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers, 2014

Game 6 in the first round of the 2014 playoffs provided one of the most memorable moments in league history.

With just 0.9 seconds on the clock and a Game 7 on the cards, Damian Lillard made a fadeaway 27-footer to send the Rockets home and take the series win. Thanks to Lillard's triple, Portland went through to the second round of the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

6. Robert Horry - Los Angeles Lakers, 2002

With this shot alone giving Robert Horry the nickname "Big Shot Bob", it's no surprise that he made his way onto our list.

After two missed shots from legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, the ball fell to a wide open Robert Horry who fired a three-pointer past the outstretched arms of Chris Webber for a 100-99 Lakers victory. This bucket kept LA from entering Game 5 with a 3-1 deficit and instead put them even with the Sacramento Kings. They later won the Western Conference Finals in seven games and eventually took home their third straight NBA title.

5. Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles, 2006

It's only right that Kobe makes an appearance on this Top 10 and he does so in style.

After sinking a lay-up to tie the scoreline 90-90 and take the game to overtime, Kobe came back to upset the Suns once more. 6.1 seconds remained on the clock in OT of Game 4 in this 2006 first-round series and the Lakers trailed the Suns 98-97. Kobe took a few dribbles after collecting a tipped jump-ball and pulled up to land one of the most infamous game winners in history.

4. John Stockton - Utah Jazz, 1997

The stakes couldn't have been much higher with this shot. The Jazz had just 2.8 seconds to break a 100-100 tie in Game 6 and John Stockton went for it all. He got free after a well-placed screen and took the inbound pass just inside half-court, he dribbled to the 3-point line and pulled-up from deep to land a 4-2 series win and send Utah to their first-ever NBA Finals.

3. Derek Fisher - Los Angeles Lakers, 2004

Following Tim Duncan's go-ahead 22-foot fade away over Shaquille O'Neal, the Spurs had a 73-72 lead and left just 0.4 seconds on the clock. Somehow, Derek Fisher managed to get a shot off and nail one of the greatest buzzer-beating game-winners in NBA history. He swiftly sprinted off the court to leave no time for players, officials or fans to question if he made it before the clock hit zero, later saying:

"I just wanted to get out of there and not give them an opportunity to think that we didn't believe it went in."

2. Gar Heard - Phoenix Suns, 1976

In what many believe is the greatest game ever played, fans saw a triple-overtime classic between the Suns and Celtics in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals.

At the end of the second OT, the crowd stormed the Boston Garden court after John Havlicek gave the Celtics a 111-110 lead with a 15-foot jumper, but nobody had realised that one second remained on the clock.

The Suns illegally called a timeout that they did not have, which gave them the ball at half-court but also conceded a technical free throw, making the score 112-110. Once the fans had been cleared, Phoenix had one opportunity to pull back the lead and within a second, the ball was inbounded, caught and released by Gar Heard to sink the 2-points and send the game to a third overtime.

1. Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls, 1989

Any NBA list feels incomplete without Michael Jordan's name and in this case his place on top is more than deserved, with one of the most iconic moments in not just the NBA but sports history as a whole. This game winning buzzer beater is so infamous it has since been coined 'The Shot'.

The Bulls were down 100-99 with just three ticks left in the game. Jordan got the ball from an inbound pass, took a few dribbles and pulled up to shoot as Craig Ehlo came flying by for an attempted block. The Bulls legend was forced to double clutch and release the deep jumper on his way down. He hit nothing but net and was one step closer to becoming the greatest player of all time.