The NBA Playoffs have made for some of the greatest moments in sports history. So far this season, we have seen Damian Lillard hit 2 game-tying shots to send the Blazers to double OT against the Nuggets, and Trae Young quieted the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Both of these moments were crazy and magical, but just not magical enough to reach my Top 5 shots of all time in the NBA Playoffs.
I have compiled my list of the Top 5 shots in NBA Playoff history and some honorable mentions. Let’s take a look back and see what makes the NBA Playoffs so special.
John Paxson vs. The Suns (1993 NBA Finals, Game 6)
Much like a shot that will be featured later on this list, what would Jordan’s legacy be had he managed to lose this series vs. The Suns?
Luckily for Jordan, Paxson’s 3-pointer sealed the deal on the Bulls’ first 3-peat of championships. Sometimes the Greatest of All Time needs some help every once in a while. We will see that again later.
Damian Lillard vs. The Thunder (2019 First Round, Game 5)
The iconic wave goodbye to the Thunder is what made this game-winner so special. Oh yeah, and he pulled up from 37 feet away like it was nothing.
This shot would have been even more iconic than had they went on to win the championship. They would get swept by the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Finals.
Michael Jordan “The Shot” vs. The Cavaliers (1989 First Round, Game 5)
This shot gave an insight into what was to come from the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. Like Damian Lillard’s shot above, had Jordan and the Bulls went on to win the championship in 1989, this shot and his career, for that matter, would have been even more iconic.
However, as we all know, this was just the start of a career filled with iconic shots. We will see one later in this piece.
#5: Kawhi Leonard’s Impossible Shot vs. The 76ers (2018 Second Round, Game 7)
The four bounce shot and in. With 4.2 seconds to go, Kawhi Leonard dribbled to the right corner and let go of an impossible shot. Four suspenseful bounces later, Kawhi and the Raptors were headed to the Eastern Conference Finals.
While this shot was magical, what followed the shot is where most of the magic happened as the Raptors went on to win their franchise’s first NBA Championship.
This would also capture Kawhi, his second championship and second NBA Finals MVP after his 2014 run with the San Antonio Spurs.
Sadly for them, Kawhi would leave for the Clippers in the offseason, and now they are left with a story of What if he stayed?
#4: Magic Johnson Skyhook vs. The Celtics (1987 NBA Finals, Game 4)
The Lakers and Celtics have long been rivals. And after a Lakers championship last year, both teams have 17 NBA Championships to their name. Boston has 17 in 21 Finals appearances, while the Lakers have 17 in 32 appearances in the Finals.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s rivalry defined NBA basketball in the 1980s. Especially the playoffs. During their careers, the Lakers and Celtics played in the Finals three times, with Los Angeles winning two of those meetings.
In Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, Magic and the Lakers held a 2-1 series advantage against the Celtics. Magic would extend that lead to 3-1 with a beautiful running hook. Boston held a one-point lead, but Johnson’s shot pushed his team ahead. With three defenders on him, Magic was not phased and would drop in a key game-winner.
#3: Kyrie Irving’s Step Back 3 vs. The Warriors (2016 NBA Finals, Game 7)
NBA Fans will always remember two key plays from the 2016 NBA Finals: LeBron James’ chase-down block on Andre Igoudala and Kyrie Irving’s shot over Steph Curry.
With less than a minute to play in Game 7, the Cavs and Warriors were locked at a score of 89 points apiece. Curry ends up matched with Irving after a J.R. Smith screen, leaving him alone guarding one of the best playmakers and shot creators in the NBA.
Irving dribbled back and forth, with Curry not budging to any of his fancy moves. With 5 seconds left on the shot clock, Irving let go of a step back for the ages and sank the biggest shot of his career.
The Cavaliers would go on to close out this game and win their first NBA Championship and the first professional sports championship in the city of Cleveland in 52 years.
#2: Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” vs. The Jazz (1998 NBA Finals, Game 6)
This shot is the reason Byron Russell’s name will ever remain relevant in NBA history conversations. Jordan dealt Russell one of the meanest crossovers (or push off depending on who you talk to) to open himself up for a wide-open jumper.
With this shot, Jordan would seal the deal on the second 3-peat of the Jordan and Pippen Bulls era and would cement his legacy as the GOAT.
Following this season, he would retire for the second time, only to return for a 2 year stint with the Washington Wizards two years later.
For most people, this will be remembered as the last shot of his “career.”
#1: Ray Allen’s Flamethrower Sends the Game to OT vs. The Spurs (2013 NBA Finals, Game 6)
Remember John Paxson being the help to “His Airness” and helping one of the greatest of all time forge their legacy?
I present to you Ray Allen’s Game 6 heroics to save the King.
Prior to Stephen Curry changing the game of basketball forever, Ray Allen was far and away from the greatest shooter the NBA had ever seen. Sorry, Reggie Miller.
His game had faded a bit by the time 2013 rolled around, but that did not affect him in this game. Ray Allen proved that he needs virtually no room and no time to get a shot off.
With the Heat trailing the Spurs 3-2 in the series, they would also be trailing by three points with 15 seconds left in this pivotal Game 6. Lebron and company were in a heap of trouble.
The Heat would inbound the ball, and with 12 seconds left, LeBron had a clean look from deep early in the possession, but his shot would not go. Chris Bosh skyed in for the rescue to grab the loose rebound, then sent the ball out to Allen, who was waiting in the corner and would sink a laserbeam shot from the corner with 5.2 seconds to go in Game 6.
The game would go on to overtime, where the Heat would come out victorious after Allen put in two more baskets to help tie the series at 3 games apiece.
This shot forever changed the trajectory of Lebron James’ career. Had the Heat lost, Lebron James would be 3-7 in the NBA Finals instead of 4-6. Maybe he would’ve left the Heat earlier after suffering three Finals losses in a four-year span.
Instead, the Heat tied the series and went on to win Game 7 to complete the Miami Heat back-to-back championships and get Lebron his second ring.
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