This has been a great NBA season, one of the best in a long time. After last year’s lockout, Derrick Rose’s injury, and Miami’s (yawn) blowout of Oklahoma City in the finals, to name a few of the things contributing to last year’s fun dip, it was high time for the NBA to raise its value. And raise it it did. Entertainment soared in 2012-13, due in part to a pretty even spread throughout the league of young, mid-career, and veteran talent, but also because the games have just seemed more exciting. Why so? Two words: buzzer beaters. Game winning buzzer beaters. There’s been enough clutch shots that it’s hard to keep track of them all. While some of these shots were from the league’s best, and some were against the league’s best, the sum of them all is astounding. So what was everyone wearing as time expired? These are The Sneakers Worn for the 10 Best Buzzer Beaters This Season in the NBA.
No. 10 - Draymond Green, Nike Air Penny 2
Game: Golden State Warriors vs. Miami Heat
We usually think of a buzzer beater as a hail mary-type shot, but this pass from Jarrett Jack to Draymond Green and the resulting layup makes it in at number 10, mainly because Lebron James and Shane Battier, both among the league’s top defenders, get beat. Lebron is expecting Jarrett to jack up a three and doesn’t have time to react to the pass, and Battier follows Clay Thompson who pops out from Green’s screen, leaving Green a wide open backdoor. Pretty nifty playmaking.
No. 9 - Mo Williams, Nike Zoom Lebron Soldier VI
Game: Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs
While Golden State was hammering Miami’s coffin shut in the final seconds, Mo Williams and the Jazz were doing the same in San Antonio. This one’s more ice-in-the-blood heroics than frantic team execution. Williams, whom for a while people were saying might become a top tier point guard, saw his numbers drop off this season. On this night, he only had 8 points on 3-9 shooting, but after this game-winning pull-up jumper, those numbers, at least for the moment, didn’t matter.
No. 8 - Damian Lillard, Adidas Rose 773
Game: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Hornets
6’3 Damian Lillard has had an impressive rookie season in Portland, averaging 18.9 points and 6.4 assists per game. This fall-away clincher speaks not only to his insane spryness, but also to his ability to stay focused with 6’10 shot-blocker Ryan Anderson in his face. For someone as young as Lillard, a shot like this is a strong indication that we’re looking at a player with years of clutch shots ahead of him.
No. 7 - Tony Parker, Nike Zoom Brave IV PE
Game: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Parker’s reaction after this shot says it all. There’s nothing of the stone-faced cockiness some of these other shooters exhibit after sinking a game-winner, just raw, unchecked adrenaline spewing out. It’s not clear why Russell Westbrook looks so lost in this play, and why he didn’t follow Parker swinging out from under the basket. Of every Spurs player, Parker is the absolute last guy you want taking the final shot if you’re the other team. Big mistake, bigger bucket.
No. 6 - Jeff Green, Nike Hyperdisruptor
Game: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers
Technically not a buzzer beater, since there is still 0.5 seconds on the clock after this shot, but Green’s layup makes it in at number 6 nevertheless. Really, it should be all five Celtics players and Doc Rivers who get credit for this one. No one expected the ball would go to Green, not with Garnett and Pierce part of the play. How many times have we seen Pierce in isolation with the clock winding down? Or Garnett popping out for a midrange jumper? Not this time. The two veteran superstars were mere decoys, and Indiana fell for it. While this buzzer beater comes in at number 6, Pierce’s screen on David West ranks number 1 among picks set this season.
No. 5 - J.R. Smith, Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4
Game: New York Knicks vs. Charlotte Bobcats
One of two amazing J.R. Smith buzzer beaters from this past season, this one a beautiful step-back with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist defending him tightly and almost getting a finger on the ball. Meanwhile, sitting in the shadows of his box seat like a mastermind whose plan was foiled, Bobcats owner MJ looks like he wants to fire someone. His only consolation is that J.R. isn’t wearing Jordans.
No. 4 - Kyrie Irving, Nike Hyperdunk 2012
Game: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors
The beauty of this shot is its simplicity. Kyrie Irving had an open look at the basket and he took it, albeit from about three feet behind the arc. He could have run down the court to save a few seconds and get a closer look, but that would have activated Toronto’s defense and made getting a clean look more difficult. Instead, his approach to the problem of being down two points with seconds left was to just shoot from further out and avoid the defense altogether. This kind of problem-solving is so brilliantly simple it’s almost like cheating.
No. 3 - Joe Johnson, Air Jordan 2012
Game: Brooklyn Nets vs. Detroit Pistons
Joe Johnson, arguably Brooklyn’s number one asset this year, hit two buzzer beaters in December, both in double overtime. This one to close out Detroit gets the bronze for two reasons. First, the space he created between him and Tayshaun Prince with the sick behind-the-back/crossover/step-back was big enough to drive a car through. Second, Jerry Seinfeld looks like he wants to hug a stranger and cry.
No. 2 - J.R. Smith, Nike Zoom Kobe VII
Game: New York Knicks vs. Phoenix Suns
Now we are getting into the truly miraculous. Most of these game winning buzzer beaters so far have been elegant examples of a player finding his rhythm when it matters most. They have been the result of either good team execution, devastating isolation plays, or both. This J.R. Smith shot is neither. He almost falls coming off the screen, allowing P.J. Tucker to stay with him and contest the shot. His body when he shoots is twisted, his legs are all over the place, and his momentum is still taking him toward the crowd. I don’t know how this shot went in.
No. 1 - Monta Ellis, Jordan iD Spizikes
Game: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets
The ultimate miracle buzzer beater of the season, this shot was not only an answered prayer, but the culmination of a ridiculous overall performance that night by Ellis. His final stats were 27 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds, and 6 steals. Some might say that racking up these numbers against Houston, an offense-first team, isn’t worth getting excited about, but when you watch this buzzer beater, it’s quite clear that Ellis was in a very special place that night. Too bad this game was largely overlooked--while Milwaukee was stealing one from Houston, Ellis’ former teammate Steph Curry was dropping 54 against New York.