With 17 championships, 32 NBA Finals appearances, and more than 700 playoff games, the Los Angeles Lakers have one of the richest playoff histories in the NBA. Among these postseason moments are game-winners made by some of the team’s greatest players and heroes who came up in big moments for the franchise. Anthony Davis added another one to the Lakers’ list of memorable playoff moments by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the 2020 Western Conference Finals.
In doing so, Davis joined an exclusive list of players who have made game-winning playoff buzzer-beaters for the Lakers. This list includes Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Metta World Peace, Robert Horry, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. Where does Davis’ game-winner rank among the Lakers’ greatest playoff buzzer-beaters?
5. Jerry West — Game 3 of NBA Finals vs. Boston Celtics (1962)
They say that great ones make things look easy, and Lakers legend Jerry West definitely did in his game-winner in the 1962 NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics had a chance to take a 2-1 lead over the Lakers. Sam Jones was inbounding the ball and was looking to get it to Bob Cousy, but threw a sloppy pass that was intercepted by West, who ran the other way and scored a layup as time expired, giving the Lakers a 117-115 win over the Celtics. Before the game-winning layup, The Logo also scored four straight points down the stretch to help Los Angeles tie the game at 115.
Celtics coach Red Auerbach was apparently irate and didn’t believe West had enough time to make the layup, but the basket stood. The Lakers would take a 3-2 lead and were a Frank Selvy jump shot away from winning the title in Game 7, but Bill Russell and the Celtics forced overtime and won the series. It was the first of six Finals meetings between the rivals during the 1960s, with the Celtics winning all their matchups.
The game-winner, however, remains one of West’s finest moments and proves why he was called Mr. Clutch. West is also known for another buzzer-beater against the New York Knicks in the Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals, but it ultimately came in a losing effort.
4. Kobe Bryant — Game 4 of first round vs. Phoenix Suns (2006)
Metta World Peace’s game-winner in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns had higher stakes, as it happened in Game 5 with the series tied at two games apiece. But another Lakers buzzer-beater against Phoenix courtesy of Kobe Bryant gets the nod because he made two clutch baskets: one to force overtime and another to win the game.
The game-winner in the extra session began with Luke Walton winning a jump ball against Steve Nash and Bryant draining a jumper over Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to give the Lakers a 99-98 win and a 3-1 series lead over the second-seeded Suns.
The game-winner itself is an iconic Black Mamba shot. The shot to force overtime, which involved Smush Parker tapping the ball away from Nash and Bryant attacking and scoring on a tough floater over Diaw with 0.7 seconds left, was just as breathtaking and had a level of difficulty that surpasses even the game-winning basket.
The seventh-seeded Lakers, however, ended up losing three straight to the Suns to become the eighth team in NBA history to lose a 3-1 series lead. Despite that outcome, Bryant’s clutch baskets and the image of him basking in victory with his teammates and the Staples Center crowd after the game remains an indelible one both in his career and in Lakers lore.
3. Anthony Davis — Game 2 of Western Conference Finals vs. Denver Nuggets (2020)
Not to be a prisoner of recent history from last year, but Davis’ game-winner already ranks among the best in franchise history. Los Angeles had 20.8 seconds to try to erase a 103-102 Denver lead, but Alex Caruso missed a 3-pointer and a Danny Green shot attempt was blocked by Jamal Murray, leaving them with just 2.1 seconds remaining.
That was more than enough for Davis, who caught a bounce pass from Rajon Rondo from the baseline and drained a triple at the horn, giving the Lakers a 105-103 win and a 2-0 series lead against the Nuggets. Davis called the shot the biggest of his career, and he absolutely delivered, finishing with 31 points, with 22 coming in the second half.
The game-winner capped an entertaining showdown in the final minutes between Davis, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, and Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, who led a furious Denver comeback and had 12 points in the period. It was a playoff moment that Davis was seemingly destined to have since joining the Lakers, and everything, from the shot to the celebration with his teammates to Davis shouting “Kobe” after making the basket, made it a game-winner to remember.
LeBron James was right: the only thing that could have made it better was if it happened inside Staples Center, which would have erupted in celebration. Nevertheless, it is a moment that will in live on in Lakers history.
2. Derek Fisher — Game 5 of Western Conference Semifinals vs. San Antonio Spurs (2004)
In a lineup that included four Hall of Famers in Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone, it was Derek Fisher who came up big and made one of the most improbable game-winners in NBA playoff history.
Fisher’s basket was preceded by a couple of clutch baskets: one by Bryant to put the Lakers up with 11.9 seconds left before Tim Duncan sank an off-balance, fadeaway jumper over O’Neal that gave the Spurs a 73-72 lead with 0.4 seconds left. Not a lot of time, but it was enough for a catch, turn, and shoot, which was all that Fisher needed.
With Bryant being doubled off the inbound, Payton handed the ball to Fisher, who turned and flung the ball over the hands of Manu Ginobili and somehow found the bottom of the net. The shot gave the Lakers a 74-73 victory and a 3-2 series lead against San Antonio.
The Purple and Gold went on to beat the Spurs and advance to the Finals, but they were upset in five games by the Detroit Pistons. Still, the image of stunned Spurs players with Fisher and his teammates celebrating and running off the court after the shot remains an iconic one.
Shaq perfectly summarized the sequence of events in a postgame interview: “One lucky shot deserves another.”
1. Robert Horry — Game 4 of Western Conference Finals vs. Sacramento Kings (2002)
It’s only fitting that after memorable game-winners against the Celtics and Spurs, the Lakers would also have one against another rival in the Sacramento Kings.
The battle in the 2002 Western Conference Finals was the peak of that rivalry, and the Lakers were about to go down 3-1. Down 99-97 with 11 seconds left, the Lakers gave the ball to Bryant, who attacked the basket but was forced into a difficult shot by Vlade Divac. O’Neal got the rebound but missed a put-back at point-blank range, and Divac tapped the ball away from the basket to try to run out the clock.
Instead, the ball found its way into the hands of Robert Horry, who calmly knocked down a triple as the buzzer sounded, giving the Lakers a 100-99 victory.
More importantly, the win allowed the Lakers to tie the series at two games apiece instead of being down 3-1. The Kings won Game 5 at home, but Los Angeles won the next two games, including Game 7 on the road in an overtime thriller, to advance to the Finals, where they swept an overmatched New Jersey Nets squad to cap off three consecutive titles.
None of that would have been possible without Horry’s triple in Game 4, which was more proof why he was worthy of being called Big Shot Bob. The image of a smug Horry being mobbed by his teammates as he skipped to the bench while the Staples Center crowd celebrated with them is an unforgettable one.