Vince Carter: 2014 First Round, Game 3
Carter clearly doesn’t age on the same curve as the rest of us, and this miracle make as a 37-year-old reserve was one of a million pieces of evidence.
In just 1.7 seconds, Carter wrestled away from Manu Ginobili, pump-faked to buy a sliver of breathing room and launched a corner three while nearly bouncing into the stands. The shot found nothing but net, turning the Dallas Mavericks’ two-point deficit into a one-point win. But the eighth-seeded Mavs would eventually fall to the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in seven games.
Derrick Rose and LeBron James: 2015 Conference Semifinals, Games 3 and 4
When a pair of MVPs lock horns in a playoff series, this is exactly what hoop heads want to see.
Rose helped the third-seeded Chicago Bulls snag a 2-1 lead on a buzzer-beating bank shot over the outstretched arms of 6’9″ Tristan Thompson. The very next game, James returned the favor by drilling a corner triple over Jimmy Butler as the final horn sounded to knot the series back up at two wins apiece.
“I was supposed to take the ball out, and I told [then-Cavaliers coach David Blatt] there’s no way I’m taking the ball out unless I can shoot it over the backboard and it goes in,” James said, per Andrew Keh of the New York Times. “I told him, Have somebody take the ball out, give me the ball and everybody get out of the way.”
The Cavs would go on to win this series in six games and then advance to the NBA Finals in James’ first season back in Ohio.
LeBron James: 2018 First Round, Game 5
James’ last stand in Cleveland nearly went awry in the opening round. He was almost a one-man army by this point, and he had trouble separating from the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers in the opening round. Indiana won Games 1 and 3, meaning Cleveland hadn’t held a series lead entering a critical Game 5.
The Cavs held a six-point lead with 4:38 remaining and immediately went ice-cold, allowing Domantas Sabonis’ jumper to tie the score with 33 seconds left. James turned the ball over but blocked Victor Oladipo on Indiana’s possession, giving Cleveland the ball in a tie game with three seconds remaining.
The Cavs inbounded to James, who dribbled twice to his left, planted and fired from the top of the key over 6’8″ Thaddeus Young. James hit nothing but net, giving Cleveland the win and control of the series, which it won in seven games. The Cavs would make their fourth Finals appearance in four seasons since James’ return, and he exited for the Los Angeles Lakers shortly thereafter.
Damian Lillard: 2014 First Round, Game 6
This was the moment the entire populace of the Pacific Northwest set their watches to Lillard Time. It was only his second season in the Association, and he hadn’t even claimed control of the Blazers offense yet as it still ran through LaMarcus Aldridge.
But with Portland trailing by two points and less than a second remaining in Game 6, the Blazers called upon their sophomore star and tasked him with launching them past the Houston Rockets and into the second round. Lillard wasn’t fazed by the moment or the outstretched arms of 6’9″ Chandler Parsons and coolly swished a series-clinching 25-footer.