The greatest playoff game-winners (cont.)
4. Derek Fisher, Lakers, Game 5 of 2004 West semifinals
It wasn't just Fisher's shot from the left side or the fact that it came on a play run with 0.4 seconds left. It's that his improbable game-winner came on the defending champion Spurs' home court, just moments after -- actually, three straight timeouts after -- Tim Duncan had hit a stunning 20-foot fadeaway over Shaquille O'Neal for a 73-72 lead. Instead of taking a 3-2 lead to L.A. for Game 6, the Spurs fell behind and were as deflated as their fans, getting eliminated by 12 points in what became the finale two days later.
3. Michael Jordan, Bulls, Game 5 of 1989 East first round
This was Godzilla's foot stomping down on Bambi in the famous shocking mini-cartoon. The Bulls weren't yet the Bulls when Jordan got the ball near the right sideline and raced to the middle of the attack zone, with what seemed like Cleveland's entire defense chasing him at Richfield Coliseum. Poor Craig Ehlo just happened to be the one assigned and closest to him as Jordan elevated and shot, his game-winner giving Chicago its series-clinching 101-100 victory. It was the second of what would become the Cavaliers' five playoff failures against the Bulls.
2. Magic Johnson, Lakers, Game 4 of 1987 NBA Finals
Johnson called it his "junior, junior sky hook,'' but it is remembered in NBA lore as the "baby hook,'' that running attempt over Boston's Big Three -- Kevin McHale tracking, Robert Parish and Larry Bird helping -- for a 107-106 victory on the Celtics' parquet floor. That gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead and they won it six games, ending what seemed like a decade's worth of June showdowns between the NBA's two most famous franchises but was, in fact, their third and last.
1. Michael Jordan, Bulls, Game 6 of 1998 NBA Finals
If we squint, cover our ears and babble "la-la-la-la-la!'' loud enough to block the outside world, maybe we can forget about Jordan's two overripe seasons with Washington and see this for the perfect career capper that it should have been.
There was the situation: Chicago down by three points in the final minute, Jordan scoring on a drive to the hoop, then setting up this final drama by swiping the ball from Karl Malone. There was the shove: Jordan, always the gamer, pushing Utah's Bryon Russell just enough to create space. There, of course, was the basket: a 20-footer with 5.2 seconds left for the 87-86 victory, good for the Bulls' sixth NBA title in eight years -- no Game 7 ever required. And there was the pose: his right arm held high, his wrist flexed, thousands of anguishing Salt Lake City fans frozen as backdrop like Edvard Munch's masterpiece. Jordan's Hall of Fame stay with the Bulls and his playoff career ended in that moment, the perfect wiser, more efficient and mature bookend to his post-Ehlo frenzy.
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Got a memorable game-winner not on the list? Before you write, call or tweet, know that a second unit, 10 deep, drew equally heavy consideration:
Sean Elliott, Spurs, Game 2 of 1999 West finals: The Memorial Day miracle, with Elliott's heels dangling over the sideline as he launched his three-pointer to beat Portland.
Allan Houston, Knicks, Game 5 of 1999 East first round: Houston ducked in for a jumper and got a favorable bounce off the rim with 0.8 seconds left to push the No. 8 Knicks past top-seeded Miami in the best-of-five era.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bucks, Game 6 of 1974 NBA Finals: Sky hook over Henry Finkel from the right side at the end of the second overtime gave the Bucks a 102-101 victory and forced Game 7 in Milwaukee. (The Celtics won the deciding game 102-87.)
Larry Johnson, Knicks, Game 3 of 1999 East finals: Four-point play, the free throw that followed Johnson's three-pointer just as clutch in New York's 92-91 victory, en route to winning the series in six.
Reggie Miller, Pacers, Game 4 of 1998 East finals: Miller shoved Jordan worse than Jordan later shoved Russell to get open for his three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left, evening Indiana's series vs. Chicago at 2-2.
Vinnie Johnson, Pistons, Game 5 of 1990 NBA Finals: Fourteen feet, right side, 0.7 seconds left, the Microwave clinches Detroit's second NBA title in a row.
Mario Elie, Rockets, Game 7 of 1995 West second round: Tiebreaking three-pointer from the left corner, punctuated with a kiss blown to Phoenix fans, that wins a series Houston had trailed 3-1.
Rik Smits, Pacers, Game 4 of 1995 East finals: Brian Shaw's three-pointer with 13.3 seconds left for a 90-89 Orlando lead, begat Miller's three to make it 92-90 with 5.2 seconds left, begat Penny Hardaway's three that made it 93-92 with 1.3 seconds left, begat Smits' inbounds catch-and-shoot at the buzzer.
Manu Ginobili, Spurs, Game 1 of 2008 West first round: Tim Duncan's three-pointer to knot the first OT against Phoenix was more startling; Ginobili's driving layup with 1.8 seconds left at the end of double OT looked almost easy.
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