In today’s NBA, the regular season is a place where defense seems optional, stars sit out, and most games carry very little importance. In the playoffs however, intensity rises immensely as the spotlight shines brighter. During crunch time, some players can disregard the chaos and pressure, while other crumble on the big stage. The final moments of close playoff meetings bring out the most clutch stars. Fan’s are found on the edge of their seats, as these incredible shooters are found in the history books. Here is a list of the 10 greatest shots since 2000:
10. Tracy McGrady
Game: Regular Season
Team/Opponent: Houston Rockets/San Antonio Spurs
Despite this scenario not including a specific shot, Tracy Mcgrady’s 13 points in 33 seconds easily meets the criteria for this category. Trailing by 10 with 33 seconds left, the Rockets would go on a 13-2 run to win the game 81-80. Consisting four threes(one and one), McGrady pulled off the most remarkable comeback in NBA history.
9. Kobe Bryant
Game: Game 4 Western Conference First Round
Team/Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers/Phoenix Suns
On April 30th in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant contributed two clutch shots to earn Los Angeles an overwhelming game 4 victory. Nearing a potential series-tying loss, Smush Parker forced a game-changing turnover with under 10 seconds on Steve Nash. With the clock nearly expiring, Kobe Bryant would send the game to overtime.
Lakers were down one point (98-97), and there was a jump ball at center court with 6.1 seconds remaining. As Kobe gathered the ball, he drove towards the right elbow. Kobe Bryant rose to shoot with 1.5 on the clock and nailed the buzzer beater over Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. As the 7th seed Lakers had just beaten faced the 2nd seed Suns, Kobe’s historic game gave LA a 3-1 game lead.
8. Damian Lillard
Game: Game 6 Western Conference First Round
Team/Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers/Houston Rockets
On May 2nd, 2014, the Portland Trail Blazers won the first playoff series for their franchise in 14 years versus the Houston Rockets. With 45 seconds to go, the Rockets held a two-point lead. Nicolas Batum drove into the lane and knocked down a fadeaway over James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Following a missed shot by James Harden, the ball was rebounded and put back up by Chandler Parsons. With less than a second remaining (0.9), Damian Lillard called for the ball as he sprinted towards the left wing. The lightning-quick catch and shoot play resulted in Lillard terminating the series at 4 games to 2.
7. Derek Fisher
Game: Game 5 Western Conference Semifinals
Team/Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers/San Antonio Spurs
Despite a ringless end to the season, this runaround J, caught by Derek Fisher with 0.4 seconds on the clock will forever be historical. Winning back-to-back-to-back championships (three-peating), two years prior, the Los Angeles Lakers were on track to winning the franchise's 15th Championship Title. After being eliminated from San Antonio the year before (2003), this shot set the stage requiring one more victory to take revenge over the Spurs.
Finishing out the series in Game 6, the Lakers would move on to play the Minnesota Timberwolves. Following another Game 6 victory, the Lakers would enter their 4th NBA Finals in 5 years. Detroit would hand the Lakers three double-digit losses, including a 20 point 68-88 blowout in Game 3. This season would conclude an elite Laker class after Fisher signs with Golden State and Shaq and LA part ways.
6. Ron Artest
Game: Game 5 Western Conference Finals
Team/Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers/Phoenix Suns
There was 3.5 seconds on the clock in a crucial final shot moment. The game was split at 101 apiece, and Los Angeles’s future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant is ready for the opportunity. When passed the ball, smothered in defenders, the Black Mamba would embarrassingly airball the potential game winning shot. Luckily for Kobe and Lakers, Ron Artest anticipated the miss and got a shot off from close range.
That shot would kiss the glass and perfectly fall in the hoop, earning LA a pivotal Game 5 victory. The Los Angeles Lakers would move on to face their rival the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. In a spectacular NBA Championship for the Lakers, key hussle plays similar to Ron Artest’s will never be forgotten in Lakers history.
5. Kevin Durant
Game: Game 3 NBA Finals
Team/Opponent: Golden State Warriors/Cleveland Cavaliers
After losing in the Finals with a 73-9 record-breaking season, the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant. This transaction was the biggest surprise of the 2016 summer. A ring-hungry KD could relate to the mockery of blowing a 3-1 lead. This mutual feeling the Warriors and Durant shared facilitated the creation of this superteam.
With extreme championship pressure, Kevin Durant thrived all series long, averaging: 35 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. During Game 2 of the 2017 Finals, the Cavaliers were leading a majority of the game, nearing their first win of the series. With a minute twenty to go, the Cavs led by four. Following a quick bucket by KD, the Warriors forced a huge defensive stop. Within 6 seconds of the shot clock, Durant would bury a crucial shot over LeBron James, putting the Warriors up 114-113.
With continuous defensive stops, the Warriors would build a 118-113 lead, thanks to perfection from the free throw line. This historical swish essentially destroyed all Cleveland championship hopes. During a string of phenomenal 4th quarter games, Durant would refer to his game-sealing three as “a passing of the torch” moment. Golden State went on to beat the Cavaliers where KD earned his first ring. “I made the game-winning shot in the Finals against my f—ing idol. Somebody that I really, really, really followed since I was a ninth-grade high schooler."
4. Robert Horry
Game: Game 5 of the NBA Finals
Team/Opponent: San Antonio Spurs/Detroit Pistons
In 2005, Robert Horry’s game-winning shot put San Antonio in a position to win a third championship in 7 seasons.
Many incredible factors combine to make Horry’s shot beyond remarkable. Despite atrocious free throw shooting, the Spurs pulled off a clutch overtime win. Secondly, these determined Spurs pulled off this sensational win on the road, in the tough noisy Detroit Palace. This win sent the series to San Antonio with the Spurs only one win away from raising a banner.
Meanwhile, the most important factor was Horry’s roll during the play. Popovich’s game plan consisted of Horry inbounding, Duncan screening Ginobili’s defender, and Ginobili finding the corner. This set up was executed to perfection. When Rasheed Wallace (guarding the inbound) saw how open Ginobili was, he rushed over to defend a possible game-winning shot. Ironically, this defensive mistake left Robert Horry wide open. Manu displayed superb court vision finding the open man, sealing a crucial game 5.
3. Kobe Bryant
Game: Game 2 of the NBA Finals
Team/Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers/Detroit Pistons
Shadowing a 12 point loss in the opening game of the NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant would put it on himself to pull LA ‘out of the hole’. They were down 3, 86-89, with 10 seconds on the clock. Kobe Bryant dribbled toward the left wing and drained a heavily contested three-point bomb to force overtime. The Lakers would outscore the Pistons 2-10, evening up the series at one game a piece. Unfortunately, Los Angeles went on to drop three losses in a row, finalizing the era of the Lakers’ trio, Fisher, O’Neal, and Bryant
2. Ray Allen
Game: Game 6 of the NBA Finals
Team/Opponent: Miami Heat/San Antonio Spurs
“Ray Allen hit the greatest clutch shot ever, saved LeBron from being the literal goat of Game 6 w/3 late turnovers and from falling to 1-3 in the Finals.” - Skip Bayless.
It was LeBron’s third straight Finals in a Miami jersey. Time was ticking down and Coach Pop seemed to outsmart LeBron’s playstyle. After missing the game-tying shot, Lebron’s board was tracked down by Chris Bosh. Bosh located a backpedaling Ray Allen who swished the biggest shot of the Finals to force an elimination game over time. The Heat would survive with a three-point win, fueling their confidence to close out the series. The Heat would earn their franchise a third title in a historical 7 Game NBA Finals.
1. Kyrie Irving
Game: Game 7 NBA Finals
Team/Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers/Golden State Warriors
After being sidelined for injury and helplessly witnessing his team lose the 2015 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving would not take the next championship opportunity for granted. During game 7, it seemed to be Cleveland versus the world. Facing a historical team who only lost 2 home games all year, the odds sided with Golden State. Following 12 consecutive misses from both teams, which lasted 3 minutes and 46 seconds, Irving put an end to the scoring absence.
After Klay Thompson and Steph Curry would switch on Smith’s pick, Kyrie Irving drained the shot which would be later named “The Biggest Shot of NBA History” by the Wall Street Journal. There were incredible factors to this win including coming back from being down 3-1, defeating the record-breaking 73-9 win team, and even more impressive than winning in their own blaring Oracle Arena. Despite the summer departure between Kyrie and the Cavs, Cleveland fans will forever remain thankful for the memories and Finals-winning shot from their 2011 first overall pick.