Few sporting events can match the adrenaline rush of a game-winning buzzer-beater in the NBA. It requires impeccable timing, intense pressure, and, sometimes, a little luck.
The anticipation as time runs out, the fear as the ball is released, the collective gasp as it arcs through the air, and the relief (or despair) as the shot is made or missed present an emotional roller coaster.
They are the stuff of which legends are made, of which careers are made, of which the very nature of the sport is defined. In this article, we will discuss the top three game-winning buzzer-beaters in NBA history.
3. Derek Fisher: 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5
The incredible jumper that Derek Fisher made with 0.4 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals will live forever in the record books of the National Basketball Association. Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be out of time as they trailed the San Antonio Spurs 73-72.
Fisher, in a split second that defied belief, caught the incoming pass, swiveled, and fired. After a spectacular flight through the air, the ball swished into the goal as the horn sounded. The accuracy necessary to make Fisher’s jumper, plus the sheer improbability at the moment, have made it legendary in NBA history, helping the Lakers to a 74-73 victory.
These game-winning shots at the buzzer are among the most iconic in NBA history. These plays will live on in the memories of basketball fans throughout the world because of the special combination of tension, talent, and luck they represent. There will always be exhilarating new moments in basketball’s lengthy and storied past thanks to buzzer beaters.
2. Kawhi Leonard: 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7
The game-winning buzzer-beater by Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals is one of the most exciting shots in recent NBA history. The Toronto Raptors held possession of the ball with 4.2 seconds remaining and the score knotted at 90.
While dribbling to the right corner of the floor, Leonard was pursued by Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. Leonard, feeling the heat of the moment, let go with a long jumper that clanged against the hoop four times before finally falling in.
His basket helped the Raptors advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Because of the enormous pressure of the situation and the subsequent relief felt after the ball fell, this is undoubtedly one of the greatest buzzer-beaters in history.
1. Michael Jordan: 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 5
Without Michael Jordan, who has become associated with game-winning baskets, this list would be without a key component. Jordan’s “The Shot” is a legendary play that heralded his debut as an NBA legend. It was Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, and the Chicago Bulls were behind the Cleveland Cavaliers by two points with three seconds remaining.
Jordan took the inbound ball, drove to the free throw line, and swished a jumper over Craig Ehlo’s extended arm. As time expired, the ball went in, giving the Bulls a 101-100 win. This wasn’t simply the game-winning shot; it was a watershed moment in Jordan’s legendary career, emblematic of his ability to perform under pressure.