Reaching the NBA Finals is no walk in the park. Most superstars are well aware of that, and that's why they give it all they got in the most important moment of the season. However, we all know that there's no "I" in the word "team," and over the years, we've witnessed an array of role players stepping up to help their team claim the most prestigious accolade in the league.
Of course, it's pretty impossible to list all the most notable role players who had their moments in the NBA Finals in the past seven and a half decades. So we decided to trim it down to the top 10.
10. P.J. Tucker
Prior to the 2021 NBA Finals, P.J. Tucker made quite a name in the league for rocking the slickest pairs of sneakers in games. But fans began taking him seriously when he became a key figure in the Milwaukee Bucks team that won the chip last season.
With his sticky defense and tough-guy persona, Tucker put on a commendable job on the defensive end, hustling for ball possession, getting multiple steals, and converting it to points.
9. Serge Ibaka
Unlike most role-players, Serge Ibaka is not the guy who will contribute offensively. Instead, "Air Congo" specializes in providing solid defensive work on the opposing team.
Ibaka has reached the NBA Finals twice- in 2012 with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in 2019 alongside Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. He won his first title the second time and had his moment in Game 2 of the series against the Golden State Warriors, where he erupted for 20 points to help the Raptors take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Dubs.
8. Shane Battier
Whenever we talk about the Miami Heat, we can't help but reminisce about how the legendary trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh put the franchise back on the map. The three perennial All-Stars undeniably dominated the league back then and managed to cop two NBA titles in the process.
But like any other NBA championship team, the Heat did not rely solely on their Big 3. And one of the players who constantly stepped up in the team's back-to-back championships was Shane Battier.
Throughout his entire NBA career, Battier was known for his defense and reliable shooting. However, the game that made him a Miami hero was the pulsating Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, where he nailed six three-pointers and finished the game with 18 points.
"Shane [Battier] ain't hit a shot since I don't know when, but tonight he was unconscious," Wade said after the game via USA Today. "He's just a big-time player. You want that for Shane so bad. You wanted to see those shots go in for him because of everything he stands for, Shane, he's going to go down as one of my favorite teammates of all time just because of the guy that he is."
7. Boris Diaw
Boris Diaw is not your typical athletic forward, but he outperformed his opponents through his basketball IQ. Honed by the legendary Gregg Popovic in San Antonio, Diaw made his mark on the team in the 2014 NBA Finals when he started in the series' last three games.
Diaw did not really light up the box score, having averaged 6.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game, but his intangible contributions were undeniable that some fans were rooting for him to win the MVP award. In fact, his series rival Chris Bosh even admitted it.
"He's difficult, you never know what he's going to do," Bosh said of Diaw via Bleacher Report. "You don't know if he's going to shoot it, you don't know if he's going to drive it, pass it, shoot it again, you don't know what he's going to do. I think his ability to do everything in that point forward kind of position makes it difficult."
6. Toni Kukoc
If you could become at least a notable player in a prime Michael Jordan team, you must be very good. That was the case of former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc.
In Game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals, MJ and Pippen weren't really hot the entire game. Jordan wasn't that efficient with nine of 26 from the field, while Pippen was ice cold with two of 16. Kukoc was having the time of his life with 30 points on 11 of 13 shooting and 4 out of 6 from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately, the Bulls found themselves trailing by two in the game's dying seconds. They had a chance to close the series out with a three-pointer, and that's what Bulls coach Phil Jackson drew up. However, Jordan missed the three at the buzzer, and Kukoc shockingly revealed that the play was drawn up by Jackson for him and not for MJ.
"Phil called the last play for me, but Michael decided to chase the ball," Kukoc said with a laugh via NBA.com. "It happens. He did call it for me. I was supposed to fake like I'm going down and Michael needs to lay a screen on Karl Malone because [Bryon] Russell would never leave Michael Jordan. I would just pop out towards the baseline."
5. Derek Fisher
In his 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Derek Fisher became the staple co-backcourt star of Kobe Bryant. D-Fish is no stranger to clutch plays and winning moments, but the game that stood out the most was his clutch 3-pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals.
With the game on the line, Fisher nailed a three-pointer over Orlando Magic's Jameer Nelson to tie the game at 87 apiece with 4.6 seconds remaining. The Magic missed their opportunity to close the game out, leading to overtime.
Both teams found it hard to score in OT, and with the game tied at 91, Bryant dished it out to Fisher late in the game, and he drilled another clutch three-pointer, who once again hit a clutch 3-pointer to give the Lakers a three-point advantage with 31.3 seconds left.
Once again, Orlando failed to score in the next possession, and LA closed it out with a dunk from Pau Gasol at the end.
The Lakers took a 3-1 lead following that 99-91 victory over the Magic and finished the series in Game 5.
4. Mike Miller
Almost everyone would credit LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for the Miami Heat's triumphant 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But to give you a quick trip down the memory lane, it was Mike Miller who nailed seven three-pointers in Game 5 of that series to help the Heat cop the championship.
Miller struggled to find his rhythm the game before, finishing Game 4 with 0 points.
What's even more interesting was that Miller had another epic moment the following NBA Finals when he hit a ring-less three-pointer off a dish out from James in Game 6 against the Spurs.
3. Danny Green
Many players on this list had their best NBA Finals moments in one team. But for three-time NBA champion Danny Green, one wasn't enough that he had to do it again in a different jersey.
It can be recalled that Green became a Spurs legend in 2014 when he drilled seven three-pointers in Game 3 against the Heat, making him one of only six players to score at least seven three-pointers in an NBA Finals game. On top of that, Green only needed five games to make 23 three-pointers and break the NBA Finals record previously held by Ray Allen (22 three-pointers) for most made three-point shots made.
Just when you thought Green was done, he made another spectacular three-point shooting display with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, exploding for 18 points in Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors.
2. Steve Kerr and John Paxson
Michael Jordan's so-called "The Last Shot" is still arguably the most famous NBA Finals moment of all time. However, John Paxson and Steve Kerr surely have a special place in the hearts of the Bulls faithful.
Through Google and YouTube, modern-day NBA fans may have been aware of Paxson's crucial three-pointer against the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals that lifted the Bulls to their first three-peat.
Chicago was one win away from winning its third straight championship, but the Suns were up 98-96 with 14.1 seconds remaining in Game 6. with 3.9 seconds left to lift the Bulls to a third straight title. Pippen drove to the basket and dished it out to Horace Grant in the post, who kicked it out to the wide-open Paxson, who nailed a three-point shot for the ages. And the rest, as they say, is history.
When talking about Paxson, we couldn't help but also mention Steve Kerr's two-point jumper version in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.
It was also Game 6, and the Bulls were hoping to close it out with a W at home. In the dying seconds, the score was tied at 86, Jordan drew a double-team and got John Stockton chasing him down the lane. MJ told Kerr in the last timeout that he would give him the ball once Stockton went for him, and that is what he did. Stockton went for the steal, and Jordan passed it to Kerr, who hit a long two that sealed the game.
1. Robert Horry
If we are to hail the king of all NBA role players, the crown absolutely belongs to seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry.
While most of the players on this list savor their lone respective NBA Finals moment, "Big Shot Bob" would need to pick one if he is to do so, as he has done it in every team he has played for.
Horry has a collection of big shots in the playoffs, and he had at least one for each team he won a championship with- Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs.
In the 1995 NBA Finals, the Magic had a chance to steal Game 3 as they held on to a one-point lead in the final seconds of the contest. However, Horry "calmly nailed" a three-pointer that resulted in Houston's 3-0 lead.
In 2001, Horry did it again with the Lakers as he hit a three-pointer from the sideline that gave LA a 92-88 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers failed to bounce back, and the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the series.
In 2005, Horry proved that he's the most clutch player in the Finals when he lifted the Spurs to a 3-2 lead over the Detroit Pistons by drilling a three-pointer with less than 10 seconds in Game 6 off a pass from Manu Ginobili.
This year, Boston Celtics' Al Horford and Golden State Warriors' Jordan Poole present a strong case, and with the Game 6 scheduled tonight, there is a possibility we'll soon find out who might be the best candidate.