The greatest NBA playoff moments usually came from heated games where everything is on the line. Buzzer beaters, dunks, defensive stops, you name it—the playoffs have a plethora of legendary moments coming from NBA all-time greats.
Let’s look at seven best NBA playoff moments of all time:
Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater
The 2019 Eastern Conference Finals between the Raptors and 76ers featured one of the craziest postseason moments in NBA playoff history. And it was a game-winning buzzer beater.
With 4 seconds remaining in Game 7, Kawhi Leonard dribbled on the far right of the court with Joel Embiid guarding him. He launched a heavily contested jumper at the buzzer which bounced a couple of times before going in. Talk about a shooter’s touch!
The win propelled them to face the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Raptors ultimately won the title.
Kobe and Shaq’s alley-oop
Who could forget the legendary alley-oop of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal? In Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against the Blazers, Kobe threw a lob to Shaq for the one-handed throwdown.
You can see Shaq celebrating and pointing to his family after the dunk.
This is definitely one of the best moments in NBA playoff history coming from two all-time greats.
Michael Jordan’s 63 points against Celtics
In the first round of the 1986 playoffs, the Celtics played the Bulls. Michael Jordan just got back from his foot injury at that time.
However, he was not fazed at all with the Celtics, which is arguably the greatest team ever assembled. In Game 1, Jordan dropped an all-time record of 63 points. No one could guard him.
During the series, Larry Bird recognized Jordan’s game and said that “I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan”. This was the start of Michael Jordan’s dominance in the NBA. Until today, Jordan’s 63-point playoff record hasn’t been beaten.
Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 9 seconds
Reggie Miller was one of the best shooters to ever play the game. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pacers and Knicks, Miller hit quick two threes in the final 18 seconds of the game. The Knicks had a chance to tie it but John Starks missed both free throws. Miller then rebounded the ball and sunk both free throws to steal the game away from them.
We also know that Miller was one of the best trash talkers of all time. To add insult to injury, he explicitly said “John Starks choked” after the game.
LeBron James’ 45 points against Celtics
The scariest sight in basketball was prime LeBron James with his back against the wall. In Game 6 of the 2012 playoffs, the Celtics led the series 3-2 against the Heat.
It was at this game when LeBron’s legacy was on the line. He dropped an unreal 45 points and 15 rebounds in what seemed to be his greatest playoff game ever. Unstoppable.
Even before the game, you can see that he was locked in, unwilling to go down, with that scary “gaze”.
Larry Bird’s clutch steal
We all remember Larry Bird‘s clutch steal in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. It was one of the greatest NBA playoff moments, and it was a display from Bird outwitting his opponents—especially to a tough team like Detroit.
The Pistons led by 1 point and decided to quickly throw an inbound play instead of calling a timeout.
Bird stole an inbound pass and passed it to Johnson for the game-winning layup. The win gave the Celtics a 3-2 advantage in the series.
Michael Jordan’s “The Shot”
The Cavaliers were a great team back then in 1989—being the third seed in the East.
Reporters and analysts picked the Cavs to win the series against the sixth-seeded Bulls. And Michael Jordan took it personally.
In the series, Michael Jordan averaged 40 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals per game.
In Game 5, with 3 seconds remaining in the clock, Jordan hit a drifting foul-line jumper over Craig Ehlo to win the game.
“The Shot” was phenomenal but the celebration made it even better. It was one of the most iconic and greatest NBA moments fans will always remember.