The 30 Greatest Buzzer Beaters in NBA History
One of the great things about the game of basketball is the ability to execute great plays at the buzzer. While other sports such as hockey or football also have a time limit, basketball consistently gives great buzzer beaters in a way that other sports don’t. In the NBA, we saw countless shots beat the buzzer over the course of the last few decades — including in the playoffs. Here are the 30 greatest buzzer beaters in NBA history.
30. Joe Johnson over the Pistons in Double OT
In the 2012–13 season, Joe Johnson and the Brooklyn Nets tried to convince themselves that they were a contender in the Eastern Conference. With the Detroit Pistons in town and the game going to double-overtime, the Nets had the ball with 5.8 seconds remaining and the score tied at 105. Johnson inbounded the ball to point guard Deron Williams, who flipped it back to the forward. Johnson took a few dribbles, then stepped back on Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince to drill a long two-pointer at the horn.
29. J.R. Smith over the Bobcats
Back in 2012, the Charlotte Bobcats were tied up with the New York Knicks with just 3.4 seconds remaining in the game. The only problem for Charlotte? The Knicks had the ball. Point guard Jason Kidd inbounded to J.R. Smith about halfway between the three-point line and half court, leading Smith to take two dribbles, step back on the left sideline, and nail a fading jumper at the buzzer. The tremendously athletic shot sunk the Bobcats, 100-98.
28. J.R. Smith over the Suns
Just a few weeks later, the New York Knicks again found themselves on the road in a tie game without much time left on the clock. This time, the game was in Phoenix against the Suns, with the score tied at 97 and just one second left in the fourth quarter. Again Kidd inbounded, and again Smith got the ball and put one up on the left sideline. Fading out of bounds, Smith hit the long two-pointer to beat the Suns.
27. Derrick Rose banks it in to beat the Cavs
In the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers were knotted up in score and in the series. The two teams played Game 3 with one of them trying to take a 2-1 series edge; the score was tied at 96 with three seconds remaining. Mike Dunleavy Jr. inbounded the ball for Chicago, and eventually he bounced it to point guard Derrick Rose. After dribbling around a screen from Taj Gibson, Rose banked in a fading three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game.
26. Emeka Okafor off-balance shot ties it up
In March 2011, the New Orleans Hornets and Utah Jazz played a game that was otherwise not noteworthy. After a free throw from Jazz forward Paul Millsap put Utah ahead 105-103 with 1.3 seconds left, it looked like a sure victory. The Hornets had no timeouts and needed to go the length of the floor. Center Aaron Gray threw a baseball pass all the way down the court, and the ball was tipped. Emeka Okafor picked it up, and from about 20 feet away flipped an off-balance shot that somehow banked in. That tied it up at the buzzer, and the Hornets won in overtime.
25. Kevin Durant for three against the Mavericks
Back in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks took a 102-101 lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder. With just 1.4 seconds on the clock, guard Thabo Sefolosha inbounded the ball past the outstretched arms of Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki right to superstar Kevin Durant. He didn’t even take a dribble, settling for putting up a three-pointer that was around five feet beyond the line. Fortunately for the Thunder fans in attendance, Durant hit the shot and won the game, 104-102.
24. Vince Carter from way downtown
The 2008–09 season ended up being Vince Carter’s last with the New Jersey Nets, but in this game he made it count. The Atlanta Hawks took a one-point lead in overtime against the Nets with 5.3 seconds remaining. The in-bounds pass was deflected into the backcourt, ensuring that it would be difficult for Carter to get close to the basket. Without hesitation, the star forward stopped at around 30 feet away, put up a long three, and nailed it to steal the win from the Hawks.
23. Chauncey Billups sends Game 5 to OT
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New Jersey Nets, Detroit Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups played hero at the end of regulation. After the Nets missed three of four free throws (including two by Kidd), the Pistons found themselves down by three points with no timeouts and 2.9 seconds on the clock. Billups raced the ball to half-court, put up the prayer, and banked it in to force the game to overtime. The Pistons lost the game, but they won the series.
22. Kobe Bryant beats the Suns in the playoffs
With the Phoenix Suns leading Game 4 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals over the Los Angeles Lakers, 90-88, and inbounding the ball with 7.9 seconds in the fourth quarter, things looked good for the Suns. But Steve Nash turned it over to Kobe Bryant, who hit the game-tying layup to send it to overtime. Then, down one with 6.1 seconds remaining, Bryant again broke the Suns’ hearts by knocking down the game-winner at the buzzer. That put the Lakers up 3-1 in the series, but they blew the next three games and lost the series to the superior Phoenix team.
21. Jeff Malone’s off-balance three
In a game between the Washington Bullets and Detroit Pistons in 1984, Bill Laimbeer missed a free throw that could’ve put Detroit up by three with just seconds remaining in the game. Darren Daye grabbed the rebound and threw it all the way down the court, with guard Jeff Malone chasing it down in the far left corner. Falling out of bounds, Malone put up a tough three-pointer from behind the backboard and knocked it down, winning the game in miraculous fashion for Washington.
20. OJ Mayo upstaged by Tyreke Evans
With the Memphis Grizzlies visiting the Sacramento Kings in December 2010, a flurry of great plays occurred at the end of the game. Down one with 22.2 seconds left, Kings guard Tyreke Evans stole the ball and drove down the court for the dunk to put Sacramento up, 97-96. OJ Mayo, not to be outdone, got the ball on the next play and hit an off-balance jumper with 1.5 seconds left to put Memphis on top, 98-97. Without a timeout, the Kings threw it in from under the basket to Evans, who took a few dribbles, jumped, double-clutched, and threw up a Hail Mary from beyond half-court. Somehow, some way, it went in and the Kings won 100-98.
19. Milt Palacio steals the ball and the game
All the way back in 2000, the Boston Celtics trailed the New Jersey Nets, 111-109, with just 1.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. New Jersey had the ball, and it looked like they simply needed to get the ball in and they’d seal the game. But little-known guard Milt Palacio stole the inbounds pass, took a dribble, and simply threw it up toward the basket as he fell down. The three-pointer went in, and his teammates tackled him in celebration of one of the most unlikely endings in NBA history.
18. Dwyane Wade steal and runner
In March 2009, the Chicago Bulls finished out a .500 season in which Derrick Rose won the Rookie of the Year award. In a road contest with the Miami Heat, the two teams battled into double-overtime as Heat guard Dwyane Wade dropped 48 points and 12 assists on Chicago. With the ball and the clock ticking down, tied at 127, Chicago forward John Salmons lost the ball to Wade, who dribbled down the court and threw up a running three-pointer, knocking it down and creating one of the most memorable moments of his career.
17. David Lee with 0.1 on the clock
Late in 2006, the New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats looked destined to take their game to overtime. Tied at 109 with just 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock, New York inbounded the ball from the sideline. Jamal Crawford threw in a lob as power forward David Lee spun and rolled to basket. Lee jumped up, tapped the ball, and it fell into the cylinder and spun down as the horn went off. The Knicks took the game, 111-109, over the stunned Bobcats.
16. Morris Peterson ties it on Ruffin’s blunder
In a matchup between the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, Gilbert Arenas hit a pair of free throws to put the Wizards up 109-106 with just 3.8 seconds remaining. The Raptors ran out of timeouts so they threw the ball down court, only to see it get intercepted by forward Michael Ruffin. Thinking he was doing the right thing, Ruffin tried to throw the ball straight up in the air to run out the clock. But he didn’t get it high enough, as it came down right to Raptors guard Morris Peterson — and of course, Peterson drilled a long three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game.
15. Rasheed Wallace from full court
Back in 2007, the Detroit Pistons were down 98-95 to the Denver Nuggets on their home court. Many of the fans had already headed toward the exits, because the Pistons didn’t have the ball and just 1.3 seconds remained. But Rasheed Wallace intercepted the inbounds pass and threw up a prayer from way beyond half-court, and banking it in to send the game to overtime. The Pistons ended up winning the game, 113-109.
14. Devin Harris runner from half court
The Philadelphia 76ers took a one-point lead with 1.8 seconds remaining in a game against the New Jersey Nets. Without a timeout, the Nets threw the ball in to point guard Devin Harris who tried to get a long shot off. Sixers forward Andre Iguodala knocked the ball loose, but Harris still managed to launch the half-courter just barely in time. The ball hit nothing but net, and after an official review, the Nets stole the game on a ridiculously improbable shot from beyond half-court.
13. Gary Neal saves the Spurs
The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs played in the first round of the playoffs back in 2011, with the Grizzlies looking to upset the top-seeded Spurs and become just the third eighth-seed to advance. Memphis was up, 97-94, with 1.7 seconds remaining and San Antonio with the ball. Manu Ginobili inbounded the ball to backup point guard Gary Neal, who took one dribble and knocked down the three-pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Spurs won the game, but they lost the series in six .
12. Baron Davis throws it at the buzzer
This one isn’t a game-winner, or even in the fourth quarter, but it still counts as a great buzzer beater. With just 0.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Hornets guard Baron Davis threw up a one-handed, full-court heave as the clock expired. It went in, of course, which is pretty impressive. But almost as impressive is Hornets forward Eddie Robinson, who can be seen holding his arms up as if he could tell that it was going in well before the ball even arrived at the rim.
11. Brandon Roy beats the Houston Rockets
For a regular-season matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets, this one became an instant classic. With the game tied at 96, Brandon Roy hit a turnaround jumper to give the Blazers a 98-96 lead with 1.9 seconds remaining. The Rockets inbounded to Yao Ming, who hit a fadeaway jumper on the baseline to tie it up yet again, this time with a foul and a chance to go ahead with just 0.8 seconds on the clock. Ming hit the free throw, giving Houston the 99-98 lead, but that was enough time for a little more magic from Roy. Steve Blake got the ball to the Blazers guard, who immediately launched a 30-footer and hit nothing but net as the clock expired.
10. Damian Lillard eliminates the Houston Rockets
With nightmares of that Roy game-winner behind them, the Rockets took on the Trail Blazers in the playoffs in 2014. Houston trailed in the series, 3-2, but led Game 6 by the score of 98-96 with just 0.9 seconds remaining from forcing a Game 7. Damian Lillard got the ball in almost the exact same spot on the court as Roy a few years prior, raising up and knocking down the game-winning three. The Blazers won the series and made their first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 1999–2000.
9. Toni Kukoc beats the Knicks in the playoffs 1994
With Michael Jordan retired and Scottie Pippen sitting on the bench in one of the ugliest and selfish moments of his career, the Chicago Bulls needed a hero to rescue them in Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The New York Knicks just tied the game on a shot by Patrick Ewing, and the Bulls had the ball with 1.8 seconds remaining. Head coach Phil Jackson designed a play for rookie sensation Toni Kukoc, prompting Pippen to take a seat on the bench in anger. Compounding the embarrassment for Pippen was Kukoc actually knocking down the game-winning shot at the buzzer, but all was forgiven when the Bulls won three more championships later in the decade.
8. Reggie Miller wins Game 4 over the Bulls in 1998
In a classic battle between Michael Jordan of the Bulls and Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers, Chicago entered the final seconds leading by just one point in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998. The Bulls were trying to hang on and take a 3-1 series lead, while the Pacers were trying to tie it up and return to Chicago. On the inbounds, Miller shoved Jordan out of his way (no call), grabbed the ball, and hit a three to take a two-point lead with 0.7 seconds remaining. Jordan got the ball and got off a double-clutch three-pointer with the potential to win it, but the ball spun out of the basket for a Pacers victory.
7. Michael Jordan against the Jazz in Game 1
The Utah Jazz met up with the Bulls in the 1997 NBA Finals, with Utah looking for their first ever NBA championship while Chicago was trying to collect their fifth in the last seven years. Game 1 was tied at 82 with 7.5 seconds remaining after Jazz forward Karl Malone had missed two free throws that could’ve put Utah ahead. The Bulls got the ball into Michael Jordan’s hands, and he did what Michael Jordan does: he drilled the game winner at the buzzer, taking a 1-0 series lead.
6. Jordan hits “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo
Another Michael Jordan classic comes from the 1989 playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls trailed the Cavaliers, 100-99, with only seconds remaining in the deciding fifth game of the first round. Jordan received the inbounds pass and drove to the free-throw line with Cavs guard Craig Ehlo following him. Jordan rose up over Ehlo, hitting the jumper as the buzzer sounded and gave the Bulls a 101-100 victory. Chicago didn’t win a championship that year, but bonus points for knocking out a higher-seeded opponent.
5. Robert Horry vs. the Kings in 2002
They don’t call him “Big Shot Bob” for nothing. The Lakers trailed the Sacramento Kings in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, 99-97, when Kobe Bryant drove into the lane to try to tie things up. A put-back attempt by Shaquille O’Neal didn’t go either, and the ball got batted out to Robert Horry at the three-point line. Horry got the ball out of his hands in time, with the ball swishing through the net as the horn sounded. The Lakers stole a 100-99 victory and went on to win the series in seven games.
4. John Stockton eliminates the Houston Rockets
In Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets were trying to push the Utah Jazz to overtime and keep their season alive. The game was tied at 100 with 2.6 seconds remaining and the Jazz had the ball, looking to hit a shot to send them to the NBA finals. The pass went to legendary point guard John Stockton, who for some reason was left all alone. He dribbled up to the three-point line and put one up, knocking in the game-winner to eliminate the Rockets, 103-100.
3. Derek Fisher vs. Spurs 0.4 left
In the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs had a classic Game 5 duel. With 5.4 seconds left and the Spurs down one, Tim Duncan hit a flailing, falling, fadeaway jumper that put San Antonio up, 73-72, with 0.4 seconds remaining in the game. With Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant on the roster, the Lakers went to point guard Derrick Fisher, who hit the quick, fall-away jumper to win the game and stun the Spurs.
2. LeBron Game 2 2009 vs. Magic
The Orlando Magic went into Cleveland and took Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, making the second game incredibly important to the Cavs’ title hopes. But after an amazing shot by Hedo Turkoglu that left the Cavs trailing 95-93 with just one second remaining, things looked grim in Cleveland. The ball was inbounded to LeBron James, with Turkoglu all over him, and he stepped back and hit a fading three-pointer to win the game. That was as exciting as it got for Cleveland, who eventually lost the series to Orlando.
1. Tracy McGrady goes nuts on the Spurs
Trailing 76-68 with less than a minute to go, Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets drained what looked like it might be a meaningless three-pointer. That put the score at 76-71 in favor of the San Antonio Spurs with just 35 seconds left in the game. But then McGrady hit a three with a foul for a four-point play with 24.3 seconds left, and then another three with 11.2 seconds remaining.
With the Spurs clinging to just a two-point lead, they turned it over under their own basket and gave the ball back to McGrady. The Rockets forward dribbled the ball down the court, rose up at the three-point line, and knocked down the game-winner with 1.7 seconds remaining. Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in the final minute to steal a game away from the Spurs, 81-80.
Statistics and information courtesy of Basketball-Reference and YouTube.