A close game is more exciting and entertaining in sports than a blowout. In basketball, the thrill of watching a player hit a game-winner is hard to match. Buzzer-beaters are one of the most indelible marks in the NBA. Those shots often end up being remembered for years.
Before going into the list of the top 5 buzzer-beaters, let’s talk about its meaning, statistics, and who among the players has the most clutch shots in the NBA.
Let’s get into it.
What Does a “Buzzer Beater” Mean in Basketball?
Basketball is a timed sport. It uses two clocks: the shot clock and the game clock. In the NBA, the game clock starts at twelve minutes for each quarter or twenty minutes for each half of college basketball. The shot clock starts at 24 seconds in the NBA and some other professional leagues worldwide and 30 seconds in college. The clock resets each time the ball hits the rim or the possession switches. The buzzer sounds at the end of every quarter and the five-minute overtime period.
“Buzzer-beater” refers to a shot released just before the buzzer sounds and goes through the basket after the buzzer has sounded. It could be a two-point or a three-point basket, but not a free throw. To ensure that the ball was released in time, all buzzer-beaters are reviewed by the game officials. It only counts when the ball leaves the player’s hand before the buzzer sounds. If not, it will be waived off.
Sometimes, people use the term to describe a shot made with less than five seconds left, although technically, those shots are not buzzer-beaters. If you look at this video of NBA’s All-Time Buzzer Beaters, some of the shots should not qualify because there are still a few tenths of a second left in the clock after they go through the basket.
Also, it is considered a buzzer-beater, a shot should not only go through the rim after the buzzer sounded, but it should also send the game into overtime or win the game.
How Many Buzzer Beaters Have There Been in the NBA?
NBA has been around for over 76 years now. You might wonder how many buzzer-beaters happened in a league with thousands of games played and hundreds of close games.
According to Basketball Reference, the NBA has seen 804 buzzer-beaters. This includes some of the most unforgettable moments like Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard game-winners, Michael Jordan’s “The Shot,” and Derek Fisher’s 0.4 shot.
Who Has the Most Clutch Shots in the NBA Playoffs?
It wouldn’t be surprising that some all-time great players also have the most clutch shots, especially in the playoffs. These legends accept the challenge of taking the last shot when the game or series is on the line and thrives in those situations.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe was a winner with a competitor mindset. He always wanted the ball in the clutch situations to take the game’s final shot.
Throughout his legendary career, Kobe had 26 game-winning shots with eight buzzer-beaters. A lot of it happened in the playoffs, including a game-winning buzzer-beater against the Phoenix Suns in 2006.
2. Michael Jordan
Jordan is a clutch player. If you ask people on whom they would bet to make a game-winning shot, they would say Jordan, and no one comes close.
Throughout his NBA career, the 6-time NBA champion had 25 game-winning shots with plenty of highlight dunks and buzzer-beaters to go along with. He made 9 out of his 18 shots in the final 24 seconds and went 5-11 in the final 10 seconds.
He also hit three buzzer-beaters in the playoffs and made five out of eleven shots in the last five seconds. Legendary.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James has been one of the league’s most dominant players. He is also one of the most clutch players in NBA history.
The four-time MVP has 19 game winners and buzzer-beaters. He shot 8-for-20 in the final 24 seconds and 6-for-11 in the final 10 seconds.
He also has five playoff buzzer-beaters, the most of all time. He made seven out of his fifteen shots in the finals five seconds in playoff games. Clutch.
Most of the stars have their share of Playoff clutch shots. Damian Lillard has two series-clinching buzzer-beaters across his name. Kevin Durant has many late-game highlights with seventeen clutch shots in the playoffs and several buzzer-beaters.
Top 5 Best Buzzer Beaters in NBA History
Champions remain in our memories forever, but game-winning shots aren’t easily forgotten either. That’s why buzzer-beaters belong to the most memorable moments in the NBA, especially in the playoffs.
Some shots altered the franchise’s course, ignited the team’s turnaround, or made the team clinch the series. Hence, this short list comprises shots that happened in the playoffs.
We could make a longer list of top buzzer-beaters, but we came down to the top five in terms of difficulty, relevance, circumstance, and the impact on the series and team itself. So please forgive us if your favorite buzzer-beater is not on this list and try to enjoy the ride through clutch time.
Here we go! The top 5 buzzer-beaters in NBA history.
5. John Stockton vs. Houston Rockets – Game 6 – 1997 Conference Finals
After losing their last three conference finals appearances, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz finally advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
With 2.8 seconds remaining on the clock in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and the score tied at 100, Stockton found himself open on a sideline inbound play. He stepped into the three and hit the shot over the late contest of Rockets forward Charles Barkley.
Utah advanced to the NBA Finals but lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 6 games.
4. Derik Fisher vs. San Antonio Spurs – Game 5 – 2004 Second Round
You’ll find lists with many close calls when you search for the best-ever buzzer-beaters in the history of the NBA. But it’s hard to find a shot made with 0.4 seconds to get that shot off.
With the series tied at two games apiece, Fisher and the Lakers find themselves trailing by a point, 72-73, after Tim Duncan knocked down an off-balance 18-footer with 0.4 seconds left in the clock.
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson called multiple timeouts and drew up a perfect winning play. Gary Payton inbounded the ball to Fisher, who turned, shoot, and made the fadeaway basket. The Lakers finished the series in their next game and went to the NBA Finals.
3. Damian Lillard vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 2019 – First Round – Game 5
Paul George kept insisting that this was a bad shot, but this is one of the greatest in the history of the NBA.
Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers held a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. With the game tied at 115 and an opportunity to take the last shot, Lillard cleared everyone out and went one-on-one with Paul George. As the game clock waned down, Lillard, 37 feet away from the basket, launched a shot in the face of Paul George, and it went in. Lillard scored 50 points with ten threes.
That shot ended the Thunder’s playoff hopes, sent them home, and made a meme template for Paul George.
2. Michael Jordan vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 1989 – First Round – Game 5
One of the most incredible shots of Michael Jordan’s iconic career happened in a win-or-go-home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989.
Unlike today, the 1989 first-round series was a best of five. In a winner-take-all game five, Jordan and the Bulls found themselves trailing by a point with three seconds remaining. The Cavaliers tried everything to deny Jordan from getting the ball, but that wouldn’t be possible.
Jordan got the ball from the inbound, double-clutched a jumped shot, and sent the Bulls to the second round. “The Shot” became his first game-winner and the first buzzer-beater in the history of the NBA to decide a winner-take-all game.
1. Kawhi Leonard vs. 76ers 2019 – Second Round – Game 7
This is one of the most unforgettable shots in recent years. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors had an exciting playoff series in 2019 that went to Game 7.
It was a back-and-forth game. Sixers’ Jimmy Butler hit a fastbreak layup and tied the game with 4 seconds left. Leonard caught the inbound pass, dribbled to the right corner, and fired the game-winner in the face of Joel Embiid.
The ball bounced off the rim four times before it eventually went it. The Toronto home crowd went crazy as the shot sent the Raptors to the Conference Finals.
The rest of the shots on the list have ended in a playoff disappointment. Leonard’s shot made it to the top spot because the Raptors went on to win their first NBA Championship in franchise history.
Wrapping Things Up: Top 5 Most Famous Buzzer Beaters in NBA History
Buzzer-beaters are one of the most exciting moments in the NBA. These shots are remembered more often than regular shots.
Players with most buzzer-beaters and game-winners belong to the all-time greats because they thrived in those situations and did not fold under pressure when it mattered the most.
As the NBA continues, we will see more buzzer-beaters in the future. And with many talented young players around the league, one of them might join the list of the most clutch players.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.