Any way you analyze it, OG Anunoby’s buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer was historic.
In his second career playoff appearance, the 23-year-old forward made one of the most clutch baskets you will ever see on Thursday night, a triple that turned a two-point deficit into a 104-103 victory that saved the Toronto Raptors from a 3-0 deficit in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Boston Celtics.
So, where does Anunoby’s thriller rank among do-or-die playoff buzzer-beating three-pointers?
First, some context: Only eight times in NBA history has someone made a three-pointer at the buzzer with his team trailing in a playoff game. Five others have come in tied games. As great as Derrick Rose’s buzzer beater in Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals was, there is a different level of pressure when the score is not in your favor. The Raptors lose the game — and likely the series — if Anunoby misses.
Nine more times a player has made a two-point buzzer beater with his team trailing in a playoff game. Derek Fisher’s turnaround with 0.4 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals is the best of them, followed closely by Michael Jordan’s series-winning double-clutch jumper over Craig Ehlo to win the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs. Most others are clean looks at layups or jumpers.
That is not to say a 15-footer cannot be remarkably clutch, but there is something about having the stones to take a three-pointer with the game in the balance at the horn. It is the basketball equivalent of an ultimate grand slam — a walk-off down three in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings — an event that has never occurred in Major League Baseball playoff history. In fact, we should call them Ultimate Three-Pointers.
Without further ado, do-or-die playoff buzzer-beating three-pointers, ranked ...
8. Dudley Bradley, unlikeliest of heroes
Washington Bullets guard Dudley Bradley, a.k.a. the Secretary of Defense, made just 17 threes during the 1985-86 regular season. He was a sub-30 percent shooter from distance for his career. So, he is easily the most unlikely of the eight players to make an Ultimate Three-Pointer in the playoffs, which he did in Game 1 of Washington’s 1986 first-round set against the Philadelphia 76ers. His Bullets ultimately lost in five games.
Bradley definitely loses points for the bank shot.
7. Luka Legend
A pair of the eighth do-or-die playoff buzzer-beating three-pointers have come in these 2020 playoffs, the only time in NBA history two of them have happened in the same year. Dallas Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic had 3.7 seconds to work his way into a step-back three-pointer over Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson. It is the only time anyone has made a buzzer-beating playoff three when trailing by one. Doncic’s triple tied the series at two games apiece, but the undermanned Mavericks lost the next two.
6. OG, original gamer
You cannot get a cleaner look from three with 0.5 seconds left than Anunoby got in the corner. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry should get equal credit for throwing the crosscourt pass over 7-foot-5 Celtics fourth-string center Tacko Fall. Why Jaylen Brown felt the need to help onto Marc Gasol for so long is beyond even him. We will see if Anunoby’s clutch shot saved Toronto’s season, but the Raptors are riding high.
Fading left into the corner is an incredibly difficult shot for a right-hander, and Vince Carter did it over the outstretched arms of San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili to give his Dallas Mavericks a 2-1 first-round series lead. The wherewithal to pump fake Ginobili and get the off-balance shot off in 1.7 seconds is a testament to Carter. The Mavs lost the series in seven games, and the Spurs went on to win the 2014 title.
4. Yes, LeBron James is clutch
Honestly, imagine thinking LeBron James is not clutch. He has five of the NBA’s 24 game-winning playoff buzzer beaters in the post-Jordan era, according to Basketball Reference’s database. This one evened the 2009 Eastern Conference finals after two games. His Cleveland Cavaliers eventually lost in six games.
The Spurs also won the 2003 championship, but not before Phoenix Suns guard Stephon Marbury banked a runner at the buzzer in Game 1 of their first-round series. The final 5.1 seconds were a whirlwind, with Tim Duncan missing a free throw that would have put the Spurs up three, Marbury scrambling for the rebound and weaving through four defenders to make the most difficult of all the playoff Ultimate Three-Pointers.
2. Big Shot Bob
Robert Horry is the last person you want waiting at the three-point line if you bat the ball out of the paint with a second left, but unfortunately for Vlade Divac, Big Shot Bob was ready and able. This Ultimate Three-Pointer likely decided the 2002 NBA championship, tying a series the Sacramento Kings otherwise would have led 3-1. The Lakers won the controversial Western Conference finals in seven games.
1. Dame Time
Damian Lillard’s Ultimate Three-Pointer is the only one to end a playoff series, and for that he gets all the bonus points. He too was fading to his left, flashing to the ball and firing a 27-footer in 0.9 seconds to give his Portland Trail Blazers a close-out Game 6 victory against the Houston Rockets. Just massive stones.
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