With the 2015 NBA Finals set to start, it’s a good time to remember the most memorable shots in Finals history, including Michael Jordan and two other Chicago Bulls players winning championships at the last second, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with clutch hook shots and Garfield Heard with “the shot heard ’round the world”.
10. Dennis Johnson, 1985 (Celtics vs Lakers, Game 4)
Some game winners are forgotten because they didn’t end up helping win a championship. Dennis Johnson made one of those (although as you can see, it remembered) to tie the ’85 finals between the Celtics and Lakers at 2-2. Larry Bird was double teamed and didn’t think twice about dumping the ball to DJ for the jumper, beating the buzzer to win the game 107-105.
9. Robert Horry, 2005 (Spurs vs Pistons, Game 5)
One of the most unlikely heroes in an NBA Finals game, Robert Horry, not scoring a single point until the end of the third quarter, saved the San Antonio Spurs with 21 points off the bench and the game winner to beat the Pistons 96-95 in overtime. The Spurs were down by two points when the final play began, as Manu Ginobili went to the corner and passed it to a wide open Horry after Rasheed Wallace left him to help on Ginobili.
8. John Paxson, 1993 (Bulls vs Suns, Game 6)
The Bulls were down by two points with 12 seconds to go, on the road in Phoenix, not really relishing the thought of a game 7 on the road. Michael Jordan took the ball from the inbound play, found Scottie Pippen driving to the lane but he gave up on the shot, instead taking it outside to Horace Grant who found a wide open Paxson, winning the game with a wide open 3 pointer. The Suns had time for a botched up play, as the Bulls completed their first three-peat.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1974 (Bucks vs Celtics, Game 6)
Kareem’s hook shot that won the game in a double overtime encounter with the Boston Celtics, taking us to a game 7 (which the Celtics won), wouldn’t have been famous without John Havlicek hitting a rainbow shot over Kareem a few seconds earlier to give the Celtics a 101-100 lead. The Bucks actually tried to run a play for a different player, but that didn’t work out, so Abdul-Jabbar took the ball to the baseline and hit a 17-foot sky hook.
6. Garfield Heard, 1976 (Suns vs Celtics, Game 5)
The Boston Celtics won that game 128-126 in triple overtime, on their way to a second NBA title in three years. However, the moment of that game and maybe the series was Gar Heard’s shot, nicknamed the “shot heard ’round the world”, sending the game into a third overtime. Seconds earlier John Havlicek put the Celtics up 111-110. The clock (2 seconds left) wasn’t stopped, so Celtics players, fans and pretty much everyone thought the game was clinched. Fans stormed the court, the Celtics ran into the locker room to celebrate, but they were brought back after officials were made aware of what happened. With 2 seconds left, the Suns took a timeout (which they didn’t have, resulting in a technical foul) and let the Celtics take a 112-110 lead, but giving them the ball at midcourt. Inbound pass, Heard with the looping jumper, and history was made.
5. Steve Kerr, 1997 (Jazz vs Bulls, Game 6)
The Bulls won five of their six titles in six games. The last two titles came with now almost legendary game winners. The first came from Steve Kerr, who was told by Michael Jordan on the bench to wait for the double up to come and anticipate a pass from Jordan. Kerr waited, Jordan got double teamed, and the rest is history.
4. Jerry West, 1970 (Knicks vs Lakers, Game 3)
Unlike most of the shots on this list, this won came on a losing effort. The Lakers lost the 1970 finals in 7 games to the Knicks, and while there’s another famous moment in this game which includes Willis Reed at Madison Square Garden, West’s 60-foot miracle to send the game into overtime just might be the most amazing shot anyone has ever made in a Finals game. The Lakers actually lost that game in overtime.
3. Magic Johnson, 1987 (Lakers vs Celtics, Game 4)
The interesting thing about Magic’s shot, now known as the ‘baby hook’ or ‘Junior sky hook’, is that seconds earlier, Larry Bird send the Boston Garden into a frenzy with a go-ahead 3-pointer that could have given the Celtics a 3-1 lead in the Finals series. But Magic waived off a play designed for Kareem, took Kevin McHale to the basket and made the shot above him and Robert Parish in one of the defining moments of the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 80’s.
2. Ray Allen, 2013 (Spurs vs Heat, Game 6)
Unlike a lot of other shots on this list, this wasn’t a game winner. Ray Allen’s 3-pointer from the corner sent the game to overtime, which the Heat won. It saved their season, and denied the Spurs, who were having a meltdown (more like Ginobili on his own actually) in the finish to what should have been their fifth NBA title.
1. Michael Jordan, 1998 (Bulls vs Jazz, Game 6)
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their sixth NBA championship in eight seasons because of this shot. Taking Bryon Russell to the line, giving him a little shove and then taking off for one of the most memorable moments in the league’s history. Jordan did play two more seasons (after retiring, again) with the Wizards, but a lot of fans think of this as his one true goodbye from the game.