Top 10 unforgettable hoops shots

10. Just Like Homer Drew It up
No. 13-seed Valparaiso trailed 4-seed Mississippi 69-67 with 2.5 seconds left and the ball under its own basket in the opening round of the 1998 NCAA Tourney when coach Homer Drew instructed his squad to run the last-gasp play "Pacer," named after the NBA team Drew had cribbed the play from. Jamie Sykes threw a perfect strike down the middle to Bill Jenkins who kicked it immediately to an open Bryce Drew, and the coach's son buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the thrilling upset victory. Part of the reason this shot is unforgettable is that it is etched forever into the March Madness highlight reel and we see it 500 times every spring. But what makes it so memorable for me was just how much teamwork Valpo squeezed into 2.5 seconds. One guy who would like to forget it altogether is Ansu Sesay who missed two free throws for Ole Miss with four seconds left that could have iced it.
9. Shot "Heard" Round the World
Garfield Heard was one of the worst shooting power forwards in league history. In his 11-season career he shot a woeful 41.4 percent from the floor. The year after he made the defining bucket of his career -- his first full season in Phoenix -- he shot a comical 37.9 percent from the field. But for one shining moment in Game 5 of the 1976 Finals, Heard was the greatest clutch shooter in Suns history. After Paul Westphal took a timeout Phoenix didn't have, earning a technical foul that would leave the Suns down two but allowing them to move the ball to halfcourt with one second left in double OT (and prompting a rule change), Heard collected the inbounds at the top of the key and launched a high-arcing turnaround that nestled into the basket at the buzzer. The Celtics would prevail 128-126 in triple OT, but Heard's bucket made this the most unforgettable game in NBA finals history.
8. Smart and Final
The three most important criteria in assessing a shot's immortality are 1) time winding down 2) winning and losing in the balance and 3) a championship at stake.
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Indiana guard Keith Smart's title-winning baseline 17-footer against Syracuse gets the hat trick. Let's review: 1) four seconds left when the shot fell through the net 2) the Hoosiers were down one to Syracuse when Smart let fly 3) the 1987 national championship was on the line.
Like Ansu Sesay watching replays of Bryce Drew's dagger, two guys that must wince when they see Smart's shot are Howard Triche and Derrick Coleman, both of whom missed late free throws to set up Smart's heroics.
7. Doc Throws it in Reverse
This is one for the what-sport-has-the-best-athletes evidentiary file. In the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 1980 Finals against the Lakers, Julius Erving drove baseline on beefy Mark Landsberger and lifted off as if to take the ball to the rim on the strong side. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was waiting to meet Doc on the near side of the rim so Erving -- having frozen Kareem by essentially pump-faking him while already in mid-air -- merely soared under the backboard, extended his long, rippling arm and deftly spun in a reverse layup as a stunned Abdul-Jabbar looked on, wondering if his goggles were deceiving him.
6. The Joy of Six
It won't be included on any highlight reels with the other shots on this list -- except perhaps Best Damn's comprehensive compilation -- but the most unforgettable shooting display of the 21st century has to be the incredible 3-point shooting streak Jason McElwain went on for Greece-Athena High School in the Rochester, N।Y. suburbs. McElwain, the autistic 17-year-old manager of the varsity team, was allowed to suit up for the first time for the final regular-season game and was inserted by coach Jim Johnson after it had built a big lead with four minutes left. That lead got bigger when McElwain drained six straight 3-pointers in a shooting display that would have been remarkable at any level by any player. "I was hotter than a pistol," McElwain astutely summarized after his astonishing feat.
5. Lefty Larry
The years between the last championship of the Dave Cowens/John Havlicek era and the arrival of Larry Bird were so lean it seemed a whole lot longer than five years between the 1976 championship and the 1981 title. But when Bird made a spectacular left-handed follow of his own miss in Game 1 of the '81 Finals, there was an immediate sense that not only was the title drought over -- remember when five years seemed like a title drought for the Celtics? -- but multiple championships were imminent.
Bird was being guarded by Rockets stopper Robert Reid when he took one dribble to his left and pulled up for a 20-footer. Bird knew he'd missed it right away and darted past Reid to the baseline, where he caught his own miss and scooped in a lefty five-footer as he fell out of bounds. The play -- one of the signature sequences of the Legend's career -- showcased Bird's instincts, surprising quickness and uncanny ambidexterity.
4. The Baby Sky Hook
On a shot chart, Magic Johnson's baby sky hook to win Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals wouldn't look like much. Just a filled-in circle in the middle of the lane about 10 feet from the basket. But when you fill out the rest of the picture it becomes one of the most unforgettable shots in hoop history. Larry Bird had given the Celtics a 106-104 lead with 12 seconds left by nailing a 3-pointer from the corner. On the ensuing Lakers' possession Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fouled and gone to the line with a chance to tie with eight seconds left. He made the first and missed the second, but Kevin McHale couldn't control the rebound and L.A. had the ball under its own basket with an opportunity to win it with seven ticks left. Magic took the inbounds in the left corner and drove on McHale. Robert Parish came to help. So did Bird. With the greatest front line of all time surrounding him, Magic calmly flipped up a hook shot over the outstretched arms of McHale and Parish as Bird charged in from his right. Nothing but net with two seconds left. Bird squeezed off a desperation heave at the buzzer, but when it bounced off the rim the baby sky hook's place in history was secure.
3. Mr. Clutch
After securing the Bulls a chance to win at the end of Game 6 of the 1998 Finals by stripping Utah's Karl Malone, there was little doubt that Michael Jordan would take the shot that decided the Bulls' season. Sure, Chicago would have had another chance in Game 7 had Jordan missed, but with Scottie Pippen nursing a debilitating low back injury and Game 7 also set in Utah, it sure seemed like now or never when M.J. went to work on Bryon Russell. After backing Russell off with an attacking dribble -- and some might say push-off, though can you seriously imagine a ref making that call? -- Jordan rose up for a 20-footer. Though only 14-for-34 to that point in the game, Jordan found his stroke when it mattered most, capping the greatest career in NBA history with the most glorious ending. (Only the artist himself could sully this canvas with his messy Wizards period.) Jordan finished Game 6 with 45 of the Bulls' 87 points.
2. Mr. Double Clutch
Pity the poor Cleveland Cavaliers. In the five years from 1989 to 1993 the Brad Daugherty-Mark Price-Larry Nance Cavs had two seasons of 57 wins and one of 54 and all three of those seasons ended with home playoff losses to the Bulls. The first was the worst. The Cavs led 100-99 with three seconds left in Game 5 of the teams' best-of-five playoff series. Bulls ball at midcourt. Michael Jordan made a frantic break toward the sideline, splitting Nance and Craig Ehlo, to collect the inbounds pass, then exploded toward the foul line with two lefty dribbles. As M.J. went airborne, the 6-7 Ehlo had recovered to get right on top of Jordan's shooting hand, forcing his Airness to double clutch. Michael hung in the air, waiting patiently for the nuisance of Ehlo to fly by, then buried a 17-footer at the buzzer, punctuating his game-winner with a violent series of fist pumps befitting the intensity of the series. It would take 16 years, a team of computer graphic artists and the marketing team at Gatorade to devise a defense against this incredible shot.
1. Better Laettner Than ... Anybody
If Grant Hill's 75-foot inbounds pass had been batted away and Kentucky had prevailed 103-102 in overtime in the 1992 East Regional Final, Duke fans would have been left wondering how the heck the Blue Devils had managed to get only nine shots for their superstar Christian Laettner. But as it turned out, Laettner caught Hill's bomb with his back to the basket, faked one direction, then spun in the other to free up his 10th and final shot. Like every other shot he took that day, Laettner's last field goal attempt went in, making him 10-for-10 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the line as Duke survived to defend its title. Not only had Laettner authored the most perfect game in NCAA tourney history, he had buried the most unforgettable shot in basketball history.
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