NBA fans can all agree that there’s nothing like the playoffs, especially when it comes time to either clinch a series or keep it going. While most playoff games end with the winning team shooting free throws or running out the clock, we occasionally get a glorious buzzer-beater to put the finishing touches on a series. Of course, not all buzzer-beaters are created equal, which is why we put together a list of the best shots in NBA playoff history that put a series to bed.
John Stockton, 1997
For those in need of a history lesson, check out the highlights of this shot. Contrary to popular opinion, Stockton didn’t always need Karl Malone to put the ball in the basket for him. With Utah leading 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals, the game was tied at 100 and Stockton had just enough time to take one dribble before putting up the shot.
The great Charles Barkley closed out as well as any defender can, but it didn’t matter. Stockton nailed the shot with Barkley coming at him, sending the Jazz to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Chris Paul, 2015
The Clippers haven’t won too many playoff series in their history, and Paul’s shot made this series win even sweeter. Paul almost single-handedly helped the Clippers recover from a 3-2 deficit against the Spurs, who were the reigning NBA champs at the time.
He capped off the series with an incredible drive and bank shot in the waning seconds of Game 7. Otherwise, L.A. would have been going to overtime in Game 7 with the defending champs.
Damian Lillard, 2019
Lillard has what turned out to be only the second-best series-ending shot of the 2019 playoffs. It’s worth mentioning that Lillard played the situation all wrong. He didn’t even try to take a good shot.
Instead, he settled for a 37-footer that was closer to mid-court than the three-point line. But he sunk it, and that’s all that matters. The level of difficulty matters in this situation, which is why only a couple of shots top it.
Kawhi Leonard, 2019
This shot is literally the only thing better than a game going to overtime in a Game 7. No matter how difficult of a shot he had to take, Leonard was always going to be the guy taking the last shot in a tie game.
Leonard, quite literally, put himself in a corner, only to launch up an impossible shot that hit high off the rim and bounced around the rim a few more times before it went down. Plus he barely got it off before the buzzer. It’s hard to say whether that shot or his MVP performance in the NBA Finals was more impressive in 2019.
Michael Jordan, 1989
There’s a reason why this play is simply called “The Shot.” In a decisive Game 5 of the first round, the Bulls were underdogs against the Cavs, who swept the regular-season series from Chicago. The Cavs got a bucket late to go up by a single point. However, the world didn’t yet know that you never give Jordan the final shot of a game.
Jordan dribbled hard to the foul line and hung in the air long enough to get his shot off, creating one of the most amazing finishes in NBA playoff history.