The NBA is known for slam dunks, buzzer beaters, and some of the most incredible moments in all of sports history. Which shots do you think sit among the best of all time?
Across the 75 years of the NBA, we have seen some pretty miraculous moments. Crossovers are awesome, blocks and dunks are great too, but nothing touches an iconic shot. Whether it is a buzzer-beater or not, the shots that carry the most weight seem to tell the story of the NBA the best. Let’s take a look at some of the best shots the league has seen.
Incredible Buzzer Beaters
We will start with the all-time buzzer-beaters. Nothing better than the game-winning shot, dropping the bucket as time expires, being carried by the team, and all that comes with it. Over the years, we have seen so many amazing buckets in the final seconds of regulation. Whether it is game seven in the playoffs or game one of the regular season, nothing hypes up the team and crowd like putting a nail in the coffin as time expires. These shots are some of the most amazing and memorable in NBA history.
Jerry West – 1970 NBA Finals – Game Three
Let’s take it all the way back to the 1970 for this first buzzer-beater. The Los Angeles Lakers had made it to the NBA Finals for the ninth time in the last eleven seasons, but this time was different. Instead of facing the Boston Celtics, they were taking on the New York Knicks and their budding roster led by Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Dave DeBusschere.
After two games, the series was tied at one a piece, and DeBusschere had just hit a shot to take the lead with only three seconds left. The Lakers would go on to in bound the ball to Jerry West as he heaved up a 60-foot prayer of a shot. He sinks the buzzer beater to take the game to OT. Unfortunatly for West and the Lakers, the three point line was about a decade from existence. While it was an all time shot, the Lakers would lose game three and eventually the series to the Knicks.
John Stockton – 1997 Western Conference Finals – Game Six
John Stockton and Karl Malone. One of the all-time NBA duos led the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference to face Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and the Houston Rockets. With a 3-2 lead, the Jazz were tied at 100 with the Rockets, and OT was looming. They could either win here, or risk a game seven with an experienced Rockets team. The Jazz opted to go for the win, in bounding the ball to Stockton who had enough room to step up and sink the game winning three point shot, sending the Jazz to the the first of their back to back Finals appearances.
Unfotunatley for them, they were in the midst of one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports, and would lose to the Chicago Bulls in ’97 and ’98. They may not have won the Finals, but no one can deny the impact that shot carried.
Michael Jordan – First Round Of 1989 Playoffs – Game Five
MJ and the Chicago Bulls were tied at two games a piece in the first round of the NBA playoffs. In these days, the first round was a best of five games series, so elimination for one of these teams was imminent. Down 99-100 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Michael Jordan catches an inbound pass, dribbles to the free-throw line, and shoots a jumper to seal the deal. MJ would follow this shot with his now-iconic fist-first leap into the air. One of many all-time Jordan moments, and an all-time buzzer-beater.
Kawhi Leonard – 2019 Eastern Conference Semis – Game Seven
Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors faced elimination in game seven of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Their opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers. After trading blows through the first six games, it comes down to the final seconds of this series. With the game tied at 90 a piece and just over four seconds left, Kawhi catches the inbound pass, drives to the baseline, and throws up a prayer with less than a second left. The shot hits the rim, and nearly an eternity passes before the final shot drops with Kawhi crouched in the corner looking on.
The crowd erupts and the Raptors go on to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals and make the 2019 NBA Finals. They would go on to win that series as well against the Golden State Warriors, capturing their first title in franchise history. The 76ers, on the other hand, would eventually move on from Jimmy Butler and still have not made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2001.
Magic Johnson – 1987 NBA Finals – Game Four
In the midst of the 1987 NBA Finals, the classic rivalry of the Celtics and Lakers were entering a pivotal game four with the Lakers leading the Celtics 2-1. Game four proved to be a battle for the ages, with Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem trading shots with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish for all of regulation into the finals seconds. As time was expring, Magic Johnson did his best Kareem impression and heaved up a “baby hook shot” and nailed it to take a 107-105 lead, leaving just two seconds on the clock.
Although Bird had an opportunity to win the game with a buzzer beater three, he would ultimately come up short as the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead. Los Angeles would close the series in six games, the final championship bout between Magic and Bird.
Ray Allen – 2013 NBA Finals – Game Six
The year is 2013 and the Miami Heat in battling the Spurs for the right to call themselves back-to-back NBA Champions. After five games, the Spurs were up 3-2 and the Heat had their backs against the wall. The Heat, facing elimination, were down three to the Spurs with just over five seconds left. With the trophy presentation being set up, Ray Allen drains a three to close the gap on the Spurs and tie the game. Game six would eventually be one by the Heat with game seven getting locked up by the Heat and their big three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.
This Finals loss would be the only one of Duncan’s illustrious career. The Spurs would go on to rematch the Heat and beat them in just five games the following year, earning Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich their fifth championship. LeBron on the other hand would move on from the Heat and return to his home town Cleveland Cavaliers.
Michael Jordan – The Last Shot – 1998 NBA Finals
If you were to rank all of the moments on this list, you may not be a more recognizable moment than The Last Shot. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were on the cusp of their sixth championship in eight years. It was game six of the 1998 NBA Finals and the Bulls held a 3-2 lead over the Utah Jazz. In the final seconds, Jordan takes a jump shot over Byron Russell to bump the score to 87 and take a one point lead over the Jazz. This would be the final lead change and the final shot of Michael Jordan’s career as a Bull.
The significance of this shot is almost unrealistic. It secured MJ’s sixth title, sixth Finals MVP award, locked in the second three-peat for the franchise, and solidified Jordan as the GOAT of basketball. The image of Jordan shooting with the shot clock in view is one of the best shots in NBA history.
Kyrie Irving – 2016 NBA Finals – Game Seven
I had to include this shot as it secured the greatest NBA Finals comeback of all time. The Golden State Warriors – who had just completed an NBA best 73-9 record – were well on their way to routing the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning their second championship against them in as many years. With a 3-1 lead, things were looking pretty bleak in Cleveland. The Cavs would go on to win the next two games, forcing a game seven against the Warriors.
With just over a minute left, the Cavs got the ball and Kyrie Irving hit a dagger of a shot from 25 feet, pushing the Cavs in front 92-89 leaving just over 50 seconds remaining. This lead would prove insurmountable and the Cleveland Cavaliers became the only team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.
These two teams met the next two years in the Finals. With Kevin Durant joining the Warriors following the 2016 Finals, the Warriors would prove to be too much to handle as they secured three titles in four years. If not for Kyrie and the Cavs, the Warriors very easily could have completed the first four-peat since the Boston Celtics of the ’60s.
Dame Dolla has had a hard time getting to the Finals in his career. But that doesn’t mean he is not one of the most clutch shooters in the NBA today. Lillard has hit crucial threes in some key playoff moments, most notably against the Rockets in 2014 and the Thunder in 2019. Damian Lillard has hit so many game winners, he earned the nickname “Dame Time” which is often thrown around in the final seconds of any close game he is a part of. It even inspired the Space Jam 2 character that shares his likeness. At just 31, Lillard has many more clutch shots to make.
There may not be a more iconic shot that Kareem’s Sky Hook. This shot has been often replicated, but never duplicated. Even Magic Johnson’s “Baby Sky Hook” doesn’t compare to the pure beauty of his hook shot. No player in the history of the NBA has a more recognizable move and it is absolutely worth mentioning.
Check out some of Dan’s other Stadium Rant content here. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_tf40 and check in with his podcast The Fastest 40 on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, & anywhere you listen to podcasts!