NBA basketball came back to us on July 30. For 2 ½ months we cheered for 3 pointers, marveled at dunks, ogled at sneakers and laughed at the shenanigans. In the end, the Lakers finally came out on top and were crowned champions. The journey to get there was fun, exciting and (despite the long break) surprisingly well-played. However, nothing was more exciting than the last second shots. We got to see several of these game-winning buzzer-beaters during the 2020 NBA restart.
For this post, I’m going to highlight four of the best game winners from the NBA’s restart. Some of these were so thrilling and unexpected that they broke the internet. A few were hit by generational talents rising to the moment for their young teams. Another was hit by a player who finally proved that he belonged on the highest stage. The game of basketball is full exhilaration and heartbreak and sometimes both of those emotions occur within a few seconds of each other. That’s what makes a buzzer-beating game-winner so great. When the result is in the balance, a player either folds or rises to the occasion. The following players came through when their team needed it most. Let’s take a look back…
Devin Booker over Paul George
Let’s kick it off with the first of the 2020 game-winning buzzer-beaters. Devin Booker’s winner occurred in the thick of the Suns surprising 8-0 run through the seeding games. Even though bigger moments would come in the playoffs, this one sticks out in a way that I think will have a lasting impact.
- Booker represents everything that is beautiful about the game of basketball. His movements are crisp and precise. His jumper is smooth and satisfying. Whether he creates a shot for himself or curls around a screen for an open jumper, he’s always in control. His buzzer beater over Paul George was emblematic of that in a number of ways. For one, it happened off a broken play in which Booker got a chance to reset the offense. For another, he hit the shot over two elite defenders in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Lastly, he made a gorgeous reverse pivot away from the defense and released the ball at the perfect moment just over the outstretched fingers of George. The photo of Booker laying on the ground as his teammates mob him could be the best shot of the entire restart.
Luka Dončić over Reggie Jackson
This one is special because it seems like a pivotal moment in the early stages of the Luka Dončić story. The playoffs are when players make their mark. Luka wasted no time carving a place for himself. The Mavericks ended up losing to the Clippers this round but shots and performances like the one Dončić put on are indicative of a future superstar. Just take a look at this shot if you don’t believe me.
- Luka fully embraced the moment on this possession. Reggie Jackson switched onto Luka and you gotta think Dončić was ecstatic about getting Leonard off of him. Dončić crossed left to right between his legs then again right to left in front of Jackson who overcommitted to the first move. That second crossover gave Luka just enough space to rise up with .4 seconds left and bury the 3 pointer right in Jackson’s face. Cue Mike Breen’s “BANG BANG” and chapter 1 of the legend of Luka Doncic ends right there. Even though this occurred in the first round, this was one of the loudest 2020 game-winning buzzer-beaters we would see.
OG Anunoby over Jaylen Brown
This shot falls under the “thrilling” and “unexpected” category. It’s also important for the situation more so than any of the others we’ve seen so far. The Raptors were on the brink of going down 0-3 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. This shot comes directly after an incredible play by Kemba Walker to get Daniel Theis a wide open dunk with .5 seconds left to seemingly seal the deal. To make things even more difficult for Toronto, the 7’6 Tacko Fall had just entered the game to guard the 6’ Kyle Lowry who was tasked with inbounding the ball…
- Lowry made an incredible cross court pass to the opposite corner over an outstretched Tacko Fall to a wide open OG Anunoby. Anunoby caught the ball in his shooting pocket and released it right as the buzzer went off. As the ball settled into the net, Anunoby casually walked towards his teammates as they mobbed him in a frenzy. OG just stood there like a stone cold killer. After the game Anunoby’s response to his incredible shot was simple: “I don’t shoot trying to miss. Every shot I shoot I try to make it. So, I wasn’t going to act surprised, because I wasn’t surprised.”
Anthony Davis over Nikola Jokic
It feels right that we are talking about this shot last. This post isn’t a ranking but I’ll concede that this shot feels the most important. For 7 years, Anthony Davis toiled away in New Orleans where he carried lackluster Pelicans teams to minimal success. For a player of his caliber, we had a small sample size in terms of playoff performance. We knew he had the skills but did he have the backbone to hit the shots that matter? Fast forward a few weeks and Anthony Davis is a champion and no moment truly solidified his postseason chops quite like this shot. Out of all the 2020 game-winning buzzer-beaters, this one meant the most.
- The Lakers made beating the Nuggets look easy but we almost forget that this series could have been very different. In another world, maybe AD misses this shot and the Nuggets tie it up. Who’s to say how this series goes if that were to happen? However, AD did hit it and he put his team up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals. With 2.1 seconds left, AD received the inbounds pass on the left wing, rose up over Nikola Jokic and calmly sank the 3 pointer. His teammates mobbed him in his Mamba jersey and the rest is history.
Written by Sean Curley