What’s the deal with an all-time countdown having a 25-year age limit? Well, blame technology. As someone with a close-to-becoming-a-real-problem type of interest in historic basketball media, I’d love nothing more than to get my hands on some Lightning-bolt era buzzer beaters and highlights. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much demand for any Pistons footage prior to 1987.
As such, we’re sticking with what we know today. Cold-blooded pull-ups, half-court bombs, Jerome Williams excitedly high-stepping to nowhere – from 1990 on forward, it’s all here. Without further ado, our top 10 Pistons buzzer beaters of the past quarter century:
10. Bill Laimbeer Closes Out the Blazers
January 11, 1991 – It’s tough to argue with success, but there’s the slightest tinge of amusement to be found in watching a 32-year-old Bill Laimbeer running the baseline like a pre-historic Richard Hamilton, mask and all. Of course, Chuck Daly knew what he was doing. While Danny Ainge squared off against Isiah Thomas, anticipating a clear out, Laimbeer found the daylight necessary to drill an overtime game-winner with 1.3 seconds left.
Bonus points awarded for a PASS Sports’ promo soundtrack playing throughout the clip that appears to have been created with a Sega Genesis.
9. Lindsey Hunter Downs the Pacers Off the Window
April 9, 1999 – Holy last millennium, there’s so much going on in this clip.
- Those teal unis
- The flashback to a time when UPN 50 used to broadcast Pistons games (pre-CW 50)
- The on-screen tracking display and grainy picture giving everything a vague Blair Witch Project feel (appropriately dated pop culture reference FTW)
- Jerome Williams wildly frolicking across the bottom of the screen after the buzzer sounds, mysteriously disappearing into the front row of the Market Square Arena crowd
- That awkward Jud Buechler-led “everybody, let’s jump in unison while hugging a lot” celebration along the sideline
- That hidden frame at the end of the clip showing a woman inexplicably talking to a parrot on a giant mobile phone
Oh, and Lindsey Hunter’s game-winner was pretty sweet too.
8. Terry Mills Drills Game-Winner Over Dikembe Mutombo
November 17, 1994 – Chalk one up for false hope. Terry Mills’ corner winner moved the Pistons to 5-2 in the early goings of the 1994-95 campaign and for a brief moment, it appeared as though rookie Grant Hill may actually be the miracle worker everyone envisioned. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The Pistons lost 52 of their last 75 games.
P.S. Watch Jalen Rose’s reaction and his “I told you so!” finger point toward a teammate along the Nuggets bench. I’m going to venture to say Rose (Detroit Southwestern) & Mills (Romulus) had crossed paths a time or two before Rose hit the league. Jalen appeared to be the only guy in the building who knew what Terry had in store.
P.P.S. While we admire former Pistons’ play-by-play man Fred McLeod’s enthusiasm, “Mr. Blood knocks it home” is never an acceptable game-winner tagline, finger cut notwithstanding.
7. Richard Hamilton Does Richard Hamilton Things
November 4, 2005 – Richard Hamilton’s 00.8 game-winner against the Celtics in his team’s second game of the season kicked the Flip Saunders era off with a bang. The Pistons won their first eight games and went on to reel off a franchise-record 64 wins before it was all said and done.
This clip also qualifies as one of the first Pistons highlights from the modern streaming era. A special thanks goes out to my old college friend out in Holland, MI who let me catch every Pistons highlights in glorious 240p on her high-speed internet connection that year (so it took me a while to move on from dial-up, so what?)
6. The Origin of Mr. Big Shot
March 26, 2003 – It wasn’t one of my prouder moments, but when Joe Dumars lured Chauncey Billups from Minnesota with a six-year $35 million deal in the summer of 2002, I admit my initial frame of thought was something along the lines of, “But wait, don’t we already have Chucky Atkins?”
Coming off a season in which he averaged 12 points and 6 assists alongside Kevin Garnett, I wasn’t convinced Billups was the answer. By the time he dropped his second game-winning triple in two weeks in late March, I’d quickly learned the error of my ways. By the time his career came to a close, the future NBA Finals MVP would have too many clutch moments to count (more on that later). It’s common to attribute Billups’ clutch reputation to his Finals performance and beyond, but Mr. Big Shot was officially born in March 2003.
5. Brandon Jennings Keeps the Streak Alive
January 6, 2015 – A modern day masterpiece, Jennings’ floating regular season winner may have marked the most exciting moment in Pistons basketball since 2009. And while the mere notion of a mid-January regular season game being a franchise’s recent high point is just as depressing as it sounds, it was still fun while it lasted.
The Pistons lost 18 of their first 23 games in 2015. Then, following the release of Josh Smith, they immediately broke out, winning five in a row, including a 23-point beat down of the eventual NBA finalist Cleveland Cavaliers. The fun appeared to be coming to an anti-climatic conclusion against the Spurs, trailing San Antonio by a point with 8.0 seconds left and without possession.
Alas, thanks to an ill-advised Tim Duncan pass, a gutsy Brandon Jennings floater, and an internet-famous NSFW Stan Van Gundy defensive gameplan, the Pistons’ best stretch of basketball since last decade carried onward.
4. Grant Hill Does It All
January 18, 1997 – Ah yes, peak Grant Hill, a force to be reckoned with. Trailing 80-77 at the old Forum in L.A., Hill’s banking triple as time expired forced overtime, where the Pistons would eventually emerge 100-97 victors. Hill’s statline? Oh, no biggie, just 34 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists. All in a day’s work.
Sidenote, how great was Chick Hearn? “The crowd’s going crazy. And the people are out in their cars leaving saying, ‘Why’d we leave?’ and the old man says, ‘Shut up, I’ll drive.'”
3. Rasheed Wallace Shocks the Nuggets
March 26, 2007 – In the interest of full disclosure, I turned this game off with 1.5 seconds left. I never saw the shot. That decision remains one of my life’s biggest regrets, wedged right between that time I decided to bike to Grand Haven without a spare tire (hello, 14-mile walk) and the time I decided seeing Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in the theater was a solid life choice.
You know what would have been worse though? If I’d been one of those fans filing out of the Palace that night with their back turned to the play. Sure, I opted to watch a Cheap Seats re-run on ESPN Classic and, in turn, missed one of the greatest shots of all-time, but at least I wasn’t literally walking out of the building when it happened.
Meanwhile, who knew Greg Kelser could hit such an epic high note? He’s right though, Wallace did practice those shots.
2. Chauncey Billups’ Half-Court Miracle
May 14, 2004 – Everyone knows the shot, but the surrounding circumstances sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Consider this:
- With the Nets leading by two, 81% free throw shooter Jason Kidd (7/7 from the line up to that point) missed two free throws with 12 seconds remaining, leaving the door open for a Pistons comeback.
- Chauncey Billups was nearly the game’s goat, and Richard Jefferson was nearly Tayshaun Prince before Tayshaun Prince was Tayshaun Prince, tracking down Billups’ potential game-tying layup and swatting it off the glass with 2.9 seconds remaining.
- The Pistons lost this game (Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals) in triple overtime, largely on the heels of a nearly flawless performance from rarely used Nets reserve Brian Scalabrine, who hit all four of his 3-pt. attempts and eclipsed his playoff scoring total in that game alone.
But of course, the Pistons would battle back to win Game 6 on the road before dismantling the Nets back at the Palace in Game 7, so we get to enjoy this Chauncey Billups half-court miracle with zero sense of guilt or wonder as to what could have been. As it stands, it remains one of the greatest and most spectacular shots in NBA history.
1. Vinnie Johnson’s 00.7
June 14, 1990 – Alright, yeah, technically, this shot was just slightly over 25 years ago. And technically, Rasheed Wallace’s 60-foot bomb and Chauncey Billups’ half-court miracle might rank comfortably higher in a number of crucial buzzer-beating attributes (surprise factor, home crowd response, distance, dropping with 00.0 on the clock). But when your mid-range J clinches back-to-back NBA championships, you’re afforded certain perks.
For Johnson, the game-clinching jumper was just the cherry on top. His 15 fourth quarter points were what put the Pistons in the driver’s seat in the first place. And you know what’s underrated? The fact that Johnson just casually watched the clock, took two dribbles to his left, created no separation whatsoever, and rose up anyway, even with 6’7” high-riser Jerome Kersey sitting right in his lap. Only Johnson’s corkscrew catapult would have sufficed in that situation, and it paid off.
Microwave conquers all.