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Damian Lillard and Top 5 Playoff Buzzer Beating Game Winners
If you've been living under a rock then you somehow missed Damian Lillard's 40 foot rocket to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder from the 2019 NBA Playoffs. It's not new territory for Lillard, it's the second time he's hit a buzzer beater to win a playoff series. Where do these two shots rank in the 5 greatest buzzer beating playoff game winners of all time?
For the sake of avoiding recency bias, Damian Lillard's shot against the Thunder will be exempt from consideration. It remains to be seen how the shot will hold over and if the Trail Blazers can turn this into a deep playoff run. For now, I think the shot would go down as the greatest of all time because it'll go down as the most difficult buzzer beating game winner we have seen, it gave Lillard his 50th point of the game and also clinched the series.
The Criteria used will be four fold:
1. Only shots after the NBA-ABA merger of 1976 will be considered
2. Context matters, the more significant a game winner the better
3. Series clinching game winners are given first priority
4. Difficulty of the shot matters
Robert Horry vs Kings 2002
Big Shot Bob. If we're going by ring count, Robert Horry would be one of the greatest of all time as this show helped in a playoff run that resulted in one of Horry's seven championship rings. This would have made the list had it not been in a game 4. This shot evened up the series at 2-2.
Derek Fisher vs Spurs 2004
Something about the Lakers and the Spurs. This would have cracked the list had the Lakers not eventually lost the NBA finals to the underdog, Detroit Pistons.
5. LeBron James vs. Toronto Raptors 2018 Conference Semi Finals
LeBron slides in at number 5. On face value, the shot may not have been as important as some of the other shots on this list but this comes in at number five because it was the second game winning buzzer beater LeBron had hit in the 2018 playoffs alone. The first was to put the Cavs up 3-2 against the Pacers in a tough series that would eventually go to a game 7. These shots came in the midst of the greatest playoff run the NBA had seen in quite some time and led to an eight consecutive NBA Finals trip.
4. Damian Lillard vs. Houston Rockets 2014 First Round
With this shot, Damian Lillard announced himself to the basketball world. Portland was up 3-2 on the series but down by 2 with .9 seconds left. A loss would mean Portland missed a golden opportunity to close out the series at home and would instead have to play a game 7 in Houston. Dame said cancel your flight plans and hit the first series clinching game winner the NBA had seen in 17 years.
3. Michael Jordan vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 1989 First Round
This ranks slightly higher than Damian Lillard's because the Bulls were the 6 seed in the series going against the 3rd seeded Cavaliers. This series was only 5 games but down 1, Jordan needed to hit the shot or the Cavs would win the series. As they say, the rest is history. This would have ranked higher had it not been the first round of the playoffs.
2. Ralph Sampson vs Lakers 1986 Conference Finals
The Rockets were up 3-1 against a Laker team with Kareem. This was a golden opportunity to seal the series and advance to the NBA Finals. Tied up, little time on the clock the ball went to Ralph Sampson and his quick turn around jumper sealed the series and a finals appearance for the Rockets.
1. John Stockton vs. Houston Rockets 1997 Conference Finals
This shot sent the Utah Jazz to the 97 NBA Finals. Up 3-2 with a tied ballgame, the Jazz called John Stockton's number and he delivered. Damian Lillard's shot may end up occupying this slot but for now this is the greatest playoff game winning buzzer beater in NBA history.
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