Top 10 clutch plays in NBA history

Is Ray Allen's dagger the most clutch shot in NBA history?
Is Ray Allen's dagger the most clutch shot in NBA history? (Image courtesy:

The NBA is well known for games that turn around in the last few seconds. A team can never be counted out, even with less than ten seconds left since there are so many chances presented to score the game-winning basket.That being said, the pressure on the shooter is at such a level that the general public sometimes might not be able to comprehend what a player is going through at that point.

It not only requires the supreme skill to be able to get the shot away, with the opposition all over the shooter and the concept of an open shot is almost lost, but also extreme mental fortitude and presence of mind to take external factors into consideration such as the clock and in some cases the three-point line as well.

Here is a look at the top ten clutch plays in the history of the NBA along with a few honorable mentions, which deserve to be put in the top ten but for the fact that either the team didn’t go on to win the game, or it was during the regular season.

Honorable Mentions: Tracy Mcgrady Vs Spurs (2004), Jerry West Vs Knicks (1970), Gar Heard Vs Celtics (1976), Kenny Smith Vs Magic (1995), Steve Kerr Vs Jazz (1997), Robert Horry Vs Pistons (2005), Michael Jordan Vs Cavaliers (1989)

#10 Vinnie Johnson Vs The Portland Trailblazers - NBA Finals, Game 5 (1990)

Vinnie Johnson
Vinnie Johnson

Vinnie Johnson was a crucial piece to the Detroit Pistons winning their back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.

Detroit held a 3-1 lead and looked well on their way to winning their second title in as many years. But, things weren't going as to plan for them in much of game five at home. After halftime, Portland came into their own and led by eight points (76-68) going into the final ten minutes of the game.

Detroit eventually found themselves down 90-83 with a little over two minutes of the game left. A pivotal point in the match was when Clyde Drexler fouled out in the penultimate minute and Portland ended up being unable to score for the rest of the game. They found themselves tied at ninety and with Detroit having possession, they had the chance to clinch the game and the series with twenty seconds remaining.

Dennis Rodman inbounded the ball to Isiah Thomas who kicked it out to Johnson on the right baseline. With an elite defender in Jerome Kersey draped all over him, he was able to sink an incredible shot with 0.7 seconds remaining to give Detroit their second consecutive title.


#9 John Paxson Vs The Pheonix Suns - NBA Final, Game 6 (1993)

John Paxson's game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 Finals.
John Paxson's game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 Finals. (Image courtesy:

The Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan won their second title and were heavily favored to win their third in as many years. In the 1993 Finals, they faced The Pheonix Suns who had league MVP Charles Barkley along with Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle. They led Pheonix to the best record in the NBA.

The score was 3-2 in Chicago's favor going into game six. Chicago having struggled throughout the game despite a bright start found themselves down 94-98 in the dying minutes of the game. Jordan made a quick layup and cut the lead to two. Dan Majerle's long three-pointer missed and Chicago had one last attempt to win the game.

The instruction given by Paul Westphal to his players was to not double-team anyone including Jordan, John Paxson still found himself wide open at the three-point line and was found by Horace Grant to give Chicago the lead with three seconds remaining. Grant then went on to make a last-second block to give The Bulls their three-peat.

This was Paxson's first points of the fourth quarter. He also happened to be the only other player from The Bulls to score any points in the quarter other than Michael Jordan who had nine.


#8 Ray Allen Vs The San Antonio Spurs - NBA Final, Game 6 (2013)

Ray Allen series saving shot against the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.
Ray Allen series-saving shot against the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

The 2013 NBA finals saw the Miami Heat, taking on the San Antonio Spurs, trying to win their second successive title and cement the era of the Big Three - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The Spurs were looking for their fifth NBA title and had a less glamorous but just as effective big three of their own.

Going into game 6, the Spurs lead 3-2 and were playing some of the most captivating basketball. It was an intense game throughout but the atmosphere reached its melting point when the Spurs looked in firm control holding a 94-89 lead with 28 seconds remaining. James' three-pointer cut the five-point lead to two with 20.1 seconds remaining.

Kawhi Leonard on the other end split his free throws to give the Heat a chance. James missed a long three. Bosh collected the most important rebound of his career and passed to Allen, who made one of the most historic shots to send the game into overtime.

The Heat went on to win the game, and eventually the series. With James already having a shaky record in the finals, it is safe to say that he was most grateful for Allen's moment of genius.


#7 Robert Horry Vs The Sacramento Kings - Western Conference Final, Game 4 (2002)

Robert Horry with his game-winning shot over the Chris Webber.
Robert Horry with his game-winning shot over the Chris Webber. (Image courtesy:

Throughout Robert Horry's illustrious career, he was a constant threat in the dying moments of the game and has amassed a great deal of highlight reel moments. This one might have been the best of the lot.

Game four of the 2002 Conference Finals was arguably the best game of the great but controversial series. The Kings were leading the series 2-1 and made a fast start in game four. The Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal rallied to make a memorable comeback and cut the lead to just two points with ten seconds remaining. Kobe Bryant with the ball in his hand drove to the basket but missed the running layup.

O'Neal got the rebound but missed the put-back. Unfortunately for the Kings, the ball landed in Horry's hands with just over a second remaining. A desperate Chris Webber tried to block the shot but to no avail. Horry drained the three and tied the series at 2-2.

If Horry's shot hadn't gone in and the Kings were able to extend their lead to 3-1, not only would the Lakers have not accomplished their historic three-peat, but there may have never been the infamous game six of the controversial series.


#6 Sam Jones Vs The Los Angeles Lakers - NBA Final, Game 4 (1969)

#24 Sam Jones
#24 Sam Jones

1969 marked the end of an era for The Boston Celtics. It was the last season of both Bill Russell and Sam Jones' career. They had won ten and nine titles respectively going into the 1969 regular season. Boston had an aging team and was not favored to make the NBA Finals.

Although Boston defied the odds to make it to the finals, they were heavily unfavoured against the opposing Lakers with their talismanic trio of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, who was acquired prior to the start of the season.

The Lakers held a 2-1 lead going into game four and had the ball after securing a one-point lead with the scores at 87-88. Elgin Baylor was controversially ruled to have stepped out of bounds while collecting a pass.

The final play was drawn up for Sam Jones who took off on his wrong foot but somehow got the ball high enough to avoid Chamberlain's block attempt. The ball hit the front of the rim, bounced off the back rim and astonishingly went in to tie the series at 2-2.

Boston went on to win the series.


#5 Derek Fisher Vs San Antonio Spurs - Western Conference Semifinal, Game 5 (2004)

Derrick Fisher's 0.4 shot
Derrick Fisher's 0.4 shot

This was probably the most outrageous ending to an NBA game ever. The Spurs who were the reigning NBA champions took on the Lakers.

The series was tied at 2-2 going into the fifth game in San Antonio. It was a cagey affair with the score 70-71 in San Antonio's favor. The Lakers executed a "pick and roll" play to perfection, Bryant gave them a one-point lead with ten seconds remaining. Tim Duncan had the ball in his hands with five seconds remaining, made quite possibly the greatest fadeaway jumper ever despite Shaquille O'Neal all over him and gave the Spurs a one-point lead with 0.4 seconds on the clock.

Derek Fisher, who was never an All-Star, was the beneficiary of Kobe sucking in most of Spurs' defense for the final play. He miraculously made a turnaround jumper that can only be described as a prayer to give the Lakers the win and a crucial 3-2 lead.

This will go down as one of the best cases of how a basketball game can change with the matter of less than half a second. The Lakers went on to win the series and eventually lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.


#4 Reggie Miller Vs The New York Knicks - Eastern Conference Semifinal, Game 1 (1995)

Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller

The Indiana Pacers against the New York Knicks was arguably the most entertaining rivalry of the 90s. In 1995 they faced off in the second round of the Eastern Conference. Game One was played at Madison Square Garden.

With eighteen seconds remaining Indiana was down 99-105. Reggie Miller hit a quick three-pointer to cut the lead down to three. As the Knicks tried to inbound the ball, Knicks guard Greg Anthony fell to the ground thus leading to the pass being intercepted by none other than Miller.

Amazingly, he then had the presence of mind to take a dribble towards the three-point line and bury another three to tie the game at 105. The Garden was in stunned silence. The nightmare continued though for the Knicks when star shooting guard John Starks missed two go-ahead free throws in front of the home crowd. The Knicks yet again made a blunder by intentionally fouling Miller who calmly drained both free-throws to give Indiana a two-point lead and the greatest comeback in playoff history.

The Pacers went on to win the series and advance to the Conference Finals. They would again face the Knicks in the 1999 conference final. They lost in six games on that occasion.


#3 Earvin "Magic" Johnson Vs The Boston Celtics - NBA Final, Game 4 (1987)

Magic Johnson's baby hook against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals.
Magic Johnson's baby hook against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals. (Image courtesy:

The 80s was known as the "Golden Era" of basketball mainly because of Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson and their teams dominated in the 80s.

Los Angeles, leading the series 2-1, knowing one win in Boston would make them firm favorites to win the title. Boston led by as many as sixteen points but the Lakers rallied to fight back into the game in the fourth quarter. In the dying moments of the game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sent to the line for two free-throws. He made the first and when he missed the second, there was a scramble for possession between Mchale (Celtic) and Thompson (Laker). The ball went out of bounds. The referee ruled that it last touched Mchale. Replays showed that it in fact last touched by Thompson.

With the last ten seconds of the game and a chance to win it, the ball was given to the Lakers' talismanic point guard "Magic" Johnson. He drove to the basket and made one of the most iconic shots in NBA history with two seconds left on the clock. It was called the "Baby Hook". Bird missed the shot on the other end that gave the Lakers the match, and eventually, the championship as well.


#2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Vs The Boston Celtics - NBA Final, 1974 (Game 6)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1974 Finals
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1974 Finals

The 1974 season of the NBA will be known as one of the most competitive ever. The final matchup was the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

Milwaukee traveled to Boston for game six facing elimination. The Bucks held a six-point lead going into the final knockings of the game. The Celtics led by Havlicek forced a comeback and Havlicek hit a tough long jumper to send the game to overtime.

The first period of overtime was a cagey affair and Milwaukee led 88-90 in the final seconds, but a steal resulted in Havlicek being able to make another last-second basket and send it to a second overtime with the scores at 90.

The second overtime proved to be the greatest five minutes of basketball ever played with there being a total of eleven lead changes in the period. Havlicek hit a rainbow shot from the baseline over Abdul-Jabbar to put Boston up 101-100. Milwaukee's final play saw them give the ball to Kareem who hit an impossible seventeen-foot skyhook from the baseline to give Milwaukee the lead with two seconds left. The last-second heave was no good from the Celtics and the Bucks had won the greatest game of basketball ever seen.


#1 Michael Jordan Vs The Utah Jazz - NBA Final, Game 6 (1998)

Michael Jordan with the multiple clutch plays in the dying moments of Game 6 in the 1998 Finals.
Michael Jordan with the multiple clutch plays in the dying moments of Game 6 in the 1998 Finals. (Image courtesy:

Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player to ever play basketball. By the 1998 season, he had already won five titles in the span of seven years. Although it was not known at the time, Jordan was set to play his final season for the Bulls and was looking for his sixth title before he left.

The Bulls faced the Utah Jazz in a rematch of the previous year's final. They held a 3-2 lead going into game six in Utah. Scottie Pippen had an injured back and only eight points for the entire game. Chicago was forced to rely almost entirely on Jordan who himself was struggling physically.

Jordan made a lay-up to make it 85-86. Jordan the stole the ball from Malone and brought the ball up the court. With ten seconds left Jordan drove right and crossed over to the left with a slight nudge on Byron Russell with his hidden hand he drained the twenty-foot shot to put his team up 87-86. Utah missed the final shot to give Jordan and the Bulls their sixth title.

Jordan scored 45 points in game six. His 1998 finals performance is known as the greatest of finals history.

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Edited by Yash Matange