Every week on NBA.com, we'll unveil a new bracket with daily matchups to vote on. By the end of the week, we'll crown a champion and determine a winner based on fan voting. Starting us off this week? The greatest shots in postseason history!
What is the greatest shot in postseason history? Is it Michael Jordan's last shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls? What about Kyrie Irving's clutch 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals? Or Ray Allen saving the Miami Heat in 2013?
Could it be a shot that didn't even take place in the NBA Finals? Kawhi Leonard and his four-bounce buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers might have something to say about that.
There is no right or wrong answer or any clear-cut way to decide, which is why we need your help.
We picked what we thought we the best 16 shots in postseason history and seeded them 1 through 16. Each day, we'll advance winners based on your votes from across every global edition of NBA.com and crown a champion by the end of the week. Here are the eight matchups for today's first round (if you want to skip down to vote and watch each shot, simply click on each matchup).
- Michael Jordan in 1998 vs Damian Lillard in 2019
- Steve Kerr in 1997 vs John Paxson in 1993
- Michael Jordan in 1989 vs Larry Bird in 1981
- Kawhi Leonard in 2019 vs John Stockton in 1997
- Magic Johnson in 1987 vs Robert Horry in 2002
- Kyrie Irving in 2016 vs Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974
- Sam Jones in 1969 vs Jerry West in 1970
- Ray Allen in 2013 vs Allan Houston in 1999
Here is this week's schedule:
- Monday: First round
- Tuesday: The Final 8
- Wednesday: Semifinals
- Thursday: Championship
- Friday: Winner announced
Below are each of the matchups along with a short clip of each shot. Simply vote on each matchup and winners will advance every day! To skip down, simply click on each matchup link.
So here's the deal... picking 16 and only 16 was TOUGH. Factors considered for each shot included the stakes, whether or not that shot changed the outcome of a series, and the degree of difficulty.
|1.||Michael Jordan||1998 NBA Finals Game 6 - game winner over Bryon Russell|
|2.||Ray Allen||2013 NBA Finals Game 6 - corner 3 to tie game and force OT|
|3.||Kyrie Irving||2016 NBA Finals Game 7 - pull-up 3 from right elbow|
|4.||Kawhi Leonard||2017 Conf Semis Game 7 - four bounces and in|
|5.||Michael Jordan||1989 1st Round Game 5 - The Shot over Craig Ehlo|
|6.||Magic Johnson||1987 NBA Finals Game 4 - Jr. Skyhook to beat the C's|
|7.||Sam Jones||1969 NBA Finals Game 4 - jumper at buzzer to win|
|8.||Steve Kerr||1997 NBA Finals Game 6 - game-winning shot with 5 sec left to clinch title|
|9.||John Paxson||1993 NBA Finals Game 6 - game-winning 3 in final seconds to clinch title|
|10.||Jerry West||1970 NBA Finals Game 3 - 60-footer to force overtime (no 3-point line)|
|11.||Robert Horry||2002 Western Conf Finals Game 4 - 3 at buzzer to win 100-99|
|12.||Larry Bird||1981 NBA Finals Game 1 - shot and putback to win it at end|
|13.||John Stockton||1997 West Conf Finals Game 6 - 3 at buzzer to send Jazz to first Finals|
|14.||Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||1974 NBA Finals Game 6 - game-winning skyhook in double OT|
|15.||Allan Houston||1999 1st Round Game 5 (best of 5) - game winner in lane over Miami Heat|
|16.||Damian Lillard||2019 1st Round Game 5 - deep 3 over Paul Geroge to eliminate OKC|
Some of our hardest omissions:
- Robert Horry's shot to beat the Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals.
- Don Nelson's go-ahead shot in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals
- Derek Fisher and "0.4 seconds"
- Any of the game-winners by LeBron James
- Kobe Bryant against the Suns in 2006
- Damian Lillard's shot to sink the Rockets in 2014
1 vs 16 - The Last Shot vs Dame's Dagger
You've seen it a mllion times. Michael Jordan buries a jumper in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals over the outstretched arms of Jazz guard Bryon Russell, holds the pose and puts the ultimate exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bulls.
Lillard's shot from almost 40 feet out over Paul George was quite the way to cap a 50-point effort in a series clincher. In terms of degree of difficulty, there aren't many more impressive than this one. So why down at 16? It happened in the first round and the game was tied so if he missed, it was still going to overtime. The Blazers were also up 3-1 so even with a loss, they would have had two more chances to close it out.
To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced this is even the right Lillard shot. His 3 to beat the Rockets in 2014 came in a Game 6 with the Blazers down two with 0.9 seconds remaiing, staring down a potential Game 7 on the road had he missed.
8 vs 9 - Helping out MJ
Both on assists from Michael Jordan, both to clinch NBA titles in the deciding games. Both also happened with the potential for a looming Game 7 so it's not as if the series outcome in either case was all but inevitable. Assuming 'The Last Shot' takes care of business as the No. 1 overall seed, the winner of this one will advance to face off against Jordan himself in the second round.
5 vs 12 - The Shot and The Putback
Michael Jordan's shot over Craig Ehlo remains one of the most iconic and everlasting moments in postseason history. Never mind the fact that it came in the 1st Round, there was a heightened sense of urgency given it came in a winner-take-all game. Not only were the Bulls losing by one and facing yet another early exit had that shot not gone in, at that point in his career Jordan had only been out of the 1st Round once. Up until that point, Jordan's greatest postseason moment came in a loss (scoring 63 points against the Boston Celtics in 1986) and in a series his team got swept.
Red Auerbach called this "the greatest play I've ever seen." Playing in the first NBA Finals game of his career, Larry Bird wasted no time in asserting himself as a Finals legend. Trailing in the fourth quarter, Bird lofted a 20-footer, realized it was short and followed his own shot. In one motion, he caught the ball in mid-air and smoothly scooped it left-handed into the net while falling out of bounds. Technically, this wasn't a game winner. But the display of dexterity was jawdropping enough that it swung the momentum in a pivotal Game 1 that Bird and Celtics used as a springboard to the NBA title.
4 vs 13 - Four bounces vs WCF glory
It's impossible to overstate the magnitude of Kawhi Leonard's shot and what it meant not only for the Toronto Raptors but for basketball in all of Canada. That it happened in the Conference Semifinals instead of later on is the only reason it's not higher. But to do that in a Game 7 over the outstretched arms of a fully extended Joel Embiid and wait for it to play pin ball on the rim... just an incredible moment.
John Stockton is the single biggest reason that Michael Jordan's Bulls and Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets never squared off in what would have been an epic battle for 90s supremacy. His buzzer-beater to win Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals sent the Jazz to their first Finals appearance in franchise history.
6 vs 11 - Magic's skyhook vs Big Shot Bob
Magic Johnson's skyhook to beat the Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals gave the Lakers a 3-1 lead and ultimately catapulted them on to the NBA title. In the most storied rivalry in NBA history, there's perhaps no more defining moment than Johnson's skyhook to beat the Celtics in the Boston Garden.
The Lakers don't finish their 2000s 3-peat without this shot from Robert Horry. 'Big Shot Bob' had lots of major moments, none bigger than the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings. Had Horry missed that shot, the Lakers would have been down 3-1 and a long shot to make it back to the NBA Finals. What many tend to forget? It came after misses in the closing seconds by both Kobe Bryant AND Shaquille O'Neal.
3 vs 14 - Kyrie in Game 7 vs Kareem's double OT skyhook
Kyrie Irving's go-ahead 3-pointer with 53 seconds left in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals came less than a minute after LeBron's famous block of Andre Iguodala. Just how big of a shot was it? In terms of how much it actually swung the series according to win probability, there's a case to be made it's the single biggest shot in NBA history as was reasoned in 2016 by the Wall Street Journal.
The all-time leading scorer and that year's Most Valuable Player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a skyhook in the closing seconds of double overtime in Game 6 of the 1974 NBA Finals against the Celtics. The only reason this shot isn't higher is because the Bucks ultimately ended up losing the series in seven games.
7 vs 10 - Sam Jones comes up clutch vs Jerry West's half-court heave
Time for a history lesson!
Bill Russell is without a doubt the player most responsible for Boston's run of dominance in the 50s and 60s. But it's Sam Jones who came up with the biggest moment, hitting a jumper in the final seconds to win Game 4 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Had Jones missed that shot, the Celtics would have gone down 3-1 and it's very likely that Russell's career ends with a Finals loss. While Don Nelson's go-ahead shot with 1:33 left in Game 7 is probably the more famous shot, the Celtics aren't even in that position had it not been for the heroics of Jones in Game 4.
Imagine a 60-footer at the buzzer in the NBA Finals to force overtime. If that happened today, it would break the internet. Well that's exactly what happened in Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals. After Dave DeBusschere gave the Knicks a two-point lead with three seconds left, West took the inbounds pass from Wilt Chamberlain and launched a 60-footer which went in to force overtime. The Lakers ended up losing in overtime and would go on to lose the series for yet another Finals heartbreak for West.
2 vs 15 - Ray Allen saves the day vs Allan Houston's first-round runner
It's wild to think how much different we'd view the legacy of LeBron James had Ray Allen not sank the clutch 3-pointer from the corner to force overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Allen's only made 3 of the game came at the biggest possible moment and right after Kawhi Leonard missed the opportunity for the Spurs to go up by four points. If Allen misses that shot, who knows what happens next with James and the Heat.
The Knicks' unlikely run to the NBA Finals in 1999 as an 8-seed began with a brutal 1st Round clash with the Miami Heat. In an incredibly physical series, Houston's game winner in the lane in the closing seconds of a winner-take-all Game 5 proved the difference maker.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.