The 15 Most Clutch Shots In NBA Finals History

  • Dwyane Wade
    15. Dwyane Wade

    Game 5, 2006 NBA Finals

    We all remember the free throws. How could we not? He shot 97 of them in six games. With 1.9 seconds remaining in overtime, Wade got “fouled” on a drive to the rim and cashed in both freebies. Was it rigged? I don’t know. Was it a bad call? Undoubtedly. Should those free throws be on this list? You could definitely make the case, yet that opens up a whole new can of worms.

    Here, we’ll stick with the shot Wade made off the glass on a drive against Adrian Griffin that sent the game to overtime. If he misses this shot, the Mavericks most likely win the championship and years later no one is still complaining about that bogus OT call. Dallas was up two and needed only one stop, and they most likely would’ve gone home to close the Heat out in Game 6. They were thisclose to winning the 2006 title.

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  • Jerry West
    14. Jerry West

    Game 3, 1970 NBA Finals

    One of the single greatest shots you’ll ever see at this level, this 60-foot buzzer-beater from Mr. Clutch got pushed down this list for a couple of reasons. First, this didn’t win the game. It merely tied it, and from there the Knicks would go on to win 111-108. Second, the Lakers didn’t win the series, either, so it’s hard to call this one of the best shots ever. But more than anything else, here’s the thing about making a 60-foot shot: it’s not clutch. It’s luck.

    West might be known for hitting big shots but seriously, I can’t call this one skill. It was an unbelievably play, something you might not see again for the rest of your life—and he got only two points for it!—but ask someone to do this again and I doubt they can…and definitely not in that situation. West did know how to drop a highlight, though.

    He also finished this game with 34 points.

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  • 13. Larry Bird

    Game 4, 1984 NBA Finals

    Going into this series, the Lakers were considered the better team. They were far more talented, so talented that even Boston coach K.C. Jones admitted his squad couldn’t match them. L.A. had also won 41 of 56 games, waltzing through the Western Conference Playoffs. Then in the Finals, they landed the first punch in Game 1 before obliterating Boston in Game 3, 137-104.

    After that performance, Bird called his teammates sissies, Kevin McHale responded by clotheslining Kurt Rambis, and the Celtics survived Game 4 in overtime after a huge Bird jumper… right in Magic’s mug.

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  • 12. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    Game 6, 1974 NBA Finals

    The Bucks had the home-court advantage in this one, and were even favored to beat the legendary Celtics. But after Abdul-Jabbar hit the game-winning skyhook in double-overtime of Game 6 (he had 34 points in the do-or-die game), you had to be a fool to pick against the Bucks. Luckily, for Boston fans, their squad had a little bit of the shamrock on their side, and they somehow muzzled the Bucks in the season’s final game.

    It was a bitter way to end a great season for Milwaukee, who won 59 games and had the league’s MVP (Kareem) on their side.

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  • Gar Heard
    11. Gar Heard

    Game 5, 1976 NBA Finals

    Heard’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” will forever be one of the NBA’s most memorable plays. The awkward, high-arcing runner at the buzzer sent the game into a third overtime, which was the first time that happened in the NBA Finals. Traded from Buffalo to Phoenix halfway through the season—he actually played 86 games for the two teams that season—Heard played a big role for the Suns, averaging a team-high 40 minutes per game in this series while averaging 13.5 points and 9.3 rebounds.

    Alas, Boston won this game in the third overtime, 128-126, and then finished the Suns off in Game 6.

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  • 10. Sam Jones

    Game 4, 1969 NBA Finals

    The ’69 Finals were weird. There’s no other way to put it. Boston was aging and the Lakers had three megastars in Wilt, West, and Elgin Baylor. West was so good in this series, averaging 38 points per game, that the even gave him the MVP despite the loss. The Celtics, just a fourth-place team, even won a Game 7 in Los Angeles, spoiling the party. All in all, this was a major, major upset.

    As for Sam Jones, he was so bad during the season that he lost his starting spot. Then West lit him up for 94 points in the first two games of the Finals. But Game 4 changed everything. Down 88-87 with seven seconds left, the Celtics ran “Ohio,” which called for Jones to come off three screens. He jumped off the wrong foot, got the shot off, and received a friendly role for the game-winner.

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  • Michael Jordan
    9. Michael Jordan

    Game 1, 1997 NBA Finals

    The buzzer-beater everyone forgets about. Between the Flu Game later in the series, and his Game 6 clincher the following season, we always overlook Jordan’s pull-up in Bryon Russell’s mug to set the tone in ’97.

    On the previous possession, Jordan actually missed the second of two free throws, keeping the score locked at 82. After Karl Malone’s infamous choke job (Scottie Pippen with one of the all-time great trash-talk lines: “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sunday.”), missing two free throws of his own, MJ got the rebound. Then, he cut Utah’s heart out.

    Mike finished with 31 points and eight assists, and one loud proclamation of war. Malone was coming off his first MVP season, and some said he had stolen the award from Jordan. With the way Game 1 finished, it was apparent the NBA needed a do-over on that one.

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  • 8. Avery Johnson

    Game 5, 1999 NBA Finals

    Before he was a championship-winning point guard, Johnson was ridiculed as a point guard who couldn’t shoot or lead his team to a title.

    Throughout the 1990s, the Spurs consistently flamed out in the playoffs. They made the playoffs eight out of nine seasons since David Robinson’s rookie year, but it wasn’t until Tim Duncan matured that the team finally won it all in 1999.

    That ring also changed Johnson’s legacy, and fittingly, he was the won to secure the title by making a wide-open midrange jumper—the shot he was criticized for missing his entire career. That shot put San Antonio up in the closing seconds, and it amounted to the season’s final two points.

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  • Steve Kerr
    7. Steve Kerr

    Game 6, 1997 NBA Finals

    GIF: 4:24-4:36 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7XCwLHIPLY)

    The ’97 Finals began with a game-winning jumper, and ended with one too. Ironically, the situations were eerily similar. Michael Jordan sensed that, and after Utah’s coaching staff was mocked into the ground for not double-teaming him at the end of Game 1, he knew exactly what was coming.

    During the timeout, Jordan told Kerr to be ready. Up until that point, Kerr had a total of 24 points in six games. If Utah was going to double, it was going to come with Kerr’s man. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, so Kerr stepped up to the plate and drilled it.

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  • Vinnie Johnson
    6. Vinnie Johnson

    Game 5, 1990 NBA Finals

    The Microwave wasn’t a great player. He was mostly a bench player with Detroit, a 6-2 guard who made his killing feasting on second-stringers. But in the 1990 NBA Finals versus Portland, Johnson did something extremely rare for anybody, let alone an undersized guard who averaged 12 points per game for his career: he ended a season on a jumper.

    Johnson’s pull-up with less than a second remaining won it for Detroit, and also staked his status as a big-money player. Coming into Game 3 of the 1990 NBA Finals, Johnson hadn’t scored in double-figures in eight games. He ended up dropping 57 over the final three. That’s clutch.

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  • 5. John Paxson

    Game 6, 1993 NBA Finals

    As good as Jordan was in this series, averaging an NBA record 41 points per game, he didn’t beat the “Team of Destiny” in Game 6. That came down to Paxson, who was on his final legs as a player. Pax scored in double-figures only four times that postseason yet when the season came down to a final possession, Chicago had no qualms about letting Paxson decide their fate.

    Even Jordan had no doubts, saying, “Once Paxson got the ball, I knew it was over.”

    If he misses this shot, we’re going to a Game 7, which would’ve been played in the desert. Who knows which team wins that one?

    “There was no one around me,” Paxson said later, “and it felt good when it left. I just caught the ball and shot it, as I have my whole life. I’ve been playing basketball since I was 8 years old, and I’ve shot like that in my driveway hundreds of thousands of times. It was just reaction.”

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  • Magic Johnson
    4. Magic Johnson

    Game 4, 1987 NBA Finals

    In what might’ve been Boston’s last hurrah—they never again got closer to a championship in the Bird/McHale/Parish era—Magic Johnson made a game-winning hook shot to help the Lakers complete a 16-point comeback in Game 4 in Boston. Bird, who had made a triple just before to put the Celtics up and push them to the edge of a 2-2 series tie, ended up missing at the buzzer. L.A. would go on to win the series in six.

    “You expect to lose to the Lakers on a skyhook,” Bird said afterward. “You don’t expect it to be from Magic.”

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  • 3. Robert Horry

    Game 5, 2005 NBA Finals

    It’s hard to explain to the younger generation what it was like watching Horry play. They don’t understand this dude was super, super average… and yet you could NEVER leave him open with the game on the line.

    During Game 5 of the 2005 Finals, Horry had zero points at halftime of a close game before scoring 21 in the second half, literally keeping San Antonio in the game by himself. Eventually, in overtime, Rasheed Wallace had a brain fart, leaving the sizzling Horry wide open for a triple. He made it, of course, and from there the Spurs went on to win the title.

    Big Shot Bob.

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  • 2. Michael Jordan

    Game 6, 1998 NBA Finals

    In what is the most famous shot in basketball history, the greatest player ever put forth a fitting capper on a nearly flawless Chicago career.

    After John Stockton hit a three-pointer to put Utah up three with less than a minute to play, Jordan answered the bell as only he could. First, he scored on a drive off an inbounds play. Then, he stripped Karl Malone on the other end. Finally, he drove on Bryon Russell, pushed off, and scored the most clutch bucket of his career in the closing seconds.

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  • Ray Allen
    1. Ray Allen

    Game 6, 2013 NBA Finals

    Sugar Ray saved a potential dynasty. He also crushed the hearts of a lot more than just San Antonio fans. It wasn’t Spurs fans leaving the building early that night. It was Heat fans. They’ll never get over that again, knowing they missed what might go down as the greatest shot ever.

    Off an offensive rebound, Allen stepped behind the arc and drilled a triple to tie Game 6 up. The Heat would go on to complete a remarkable comeback before taking the series in Game 7.

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  • Dwyane Wade
  • Jerry West
  • Gar Heard
  • Michael Jordan
  • Steve Kerr
  • Vinnie Johnson
  • Magic Johnson
  • Ray Allen

It’s too bad these NBA Finals have been so unexciting. (These playoffs peaked in the first round. Seriously. Blowout after blowout, we’ve had one game decided by less than 15. That means a lot of bathroom breaks and a lot of channel flipping. In the NBA Finals, it shouldn’t be that way.

Over the years, we had some incredible finishes on the game’s biggest stage. Just last June, Ray Allen knocked down a triple in the closing seconds of Game 6 that basically stole a championship from the Spurs. As Jason Terry told me recently, the Finals are basketball’s Super Bowl and to win you must meet the pressure.

Over the years, these 15 players did just that. With the Finals coming to a close, let’s run down the most clutch shots in NBA Finals history.

Follow me on Twitter at @seanesweeney