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Buzzer-beaters highlight intense playoff weekend

Wins at the horn by Chicago, Washington and Cleveland have given the 2015 playoffs a boost of drama and flair

POSTED: May 11, 2015 2:46 PM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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You wanted drama?

You've got drama.

Plenty of it, in fact.

Truly An Epic Weekend

3 days, 3 buzzer beaters - one incredible weekend.

And to think, you complained about the lack of it in the first round of these NBA playoffs.

The bellyaching about sweeps and the absence of tightly-contested, compelling basketball vanished this weekend. It started on Friday night with Derrick Rose banked-in game-winner in Chicago to give the Bulls a 2-1 series lead over Cleveland. That was followed by Paul Pierce's dagger in Washington on Saturday that lifted the Wizards to a 2-1 lead over Atlanta. And, lastly, it was capped off by LeBron James' corner buzzer-beater Sunday afternoon in Chicago to even the series with Rose and the Bulls.

This is the most buzzer-beaters in a playoffs, four and counting (Milwaukee's Jerryd Bayless had one to beat the Bulls in the first round), since 2010, back when Pierce, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) all sank shots that beat the buzzer for their respective teams.

Cranking them out in successive days, in three straight Eastern Conference semifinal games, is taking things to another level.

With MVPs -- regular season, Finals and both -- doing the honors, it makes the weekend's exploits even more spectacular. It also accentuates a conference semifinal round that has lived up to every bit of the parity hype that has been going on all season.

"This is great," Hawks All-Star guard Kyle Korver said 48 hours before Pierce made him eat his words. "Is it good that there are new teams in the mix? I think it's great. I think that's what the NBA has really been pushing for ... if you manage your team well, you put a good team together and you coach them well and you play hard, doesn't matter if you are a big market or a small market, you're going to have a chance."

We already know that a champion will be crowned next month that has not been in this position in over a decade and potentially ever, depending on who reaches The Finals. The Bulls are the most recent champion of the remaining field, and their last Larry O'Brien trophy came in 1998.

Taco Bell Buzzer Beater

With less than two seconds on the clock, Jerryd Bayless receives the inbound pass and lays it in for the game-winning shot.

But the fact is, these are entertaining and strange days. Few things are going as planned, based on the seeds of the teams heading into the playoffs.

When the sun poked through the clouds Sunday morning, the lower seed in all four conference semifinal series was leading its series for the first time since the playoffs expanded after the 1983-84 season.

And then we get three of the most thrilling finishes to playoff games we've seen ... and all in less than 72 hours.

It would be the equivalent of three straight baseball playoff games ending with walk-off homers from some of the game's biggest names. Or maybe it would be like three straight NFL playoff games ending with last-second Hail Marys from the likes Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Three consecutive days with a playoff game ending with a shot at the buzzer deciding things is? Well, it's it's ground we have not covered before.

Last week was billed as perhaps the greatest weekend in sports history, with the Kentucky Derby, NFL Draft, NHL and NBA playoffs and the latest "fight of the century" featuring Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao all during that two-day stretch.

These three NBA playoff games with unbelievable finishes trumped that hype, and did so with late-game heroics from three players who have been headliners, for various reasons, throughout their NBA careers.

Rose is busy reestablishing his good name as one of the league's elite players, shaking off years of injury issues to lift the hopes of a franchise and city starving for a return to The Finals stage.

Pierce's reputation and nickname, "The Truth," have been forged with years of fearlessness in clutch playoff and Finals moments. Shots like the one he drained to bury the Hawks on Saturday are absolutely why the Wizards' front office wanted him.

No one has spent more time in recent years immersed in the blazing-hot cauldron of the playoffs than LeBron, who is bidding to take his team to The Finals for a jaw-dropping fifth straight season. When he drained that fade-away jumper Sunday, he did so while laboring through what constitutes an "off night" -- 25 points but on 10-for-30 shooting from the floor, 14 rebounds, eight assists, eight turnovers and two blocks.

"Give me the ball and get out of the way," James reportedly told Cleveland coach David Blatt after he'd done his due diligence on the white board designing a play to get the same result LeBron did with his own gut instinct.

Inside the NBA: LeBron's Game-Winner

The guys discuss LeBron James' decision to draw up the game-winning play.

For a player who over the course of his brilliant career has often criticized for not being a crunch time performer, LeBron now has three career playoff buzzer-beaters. That's the most by any player in the past 15 years (and it matches the number of playoff buzzer-beaters Jordan had in his career.)

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was on the right side of the late-game good vibrations Friday night when Rose drilled an off-balance 3-pointer. But Thibodeau walked out of the United Center Sunday on the dark side of things, so he knows better than most that you're always at the mercy of someone else in the make-or-miss minefield that is the NBA playoffs.

"It's going to be a hell of a series," Thibodeau said after Game 4 while acknowledging the greatness of players like Rose and LeBron.

Going to be, though, Thibs?

Four games in and all tied up, it already is an epic in the making.

Someone needs reminding that we're living on three straight Eastern Conference playoff games that went down to the wire and were won on buzzer beaters?

And the playoff plot thickens by the day.

Monday brings critical Game 4s for the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The Golden State Warriors, seeded No. 1 overall, have to battle back to even against a Memphis Grizzlies crew playing with confidence. Meanwhile, the Hawks can ill afford to return home from Washington staring at a 3-1 series deficit against a finisher like Pierce.

You wanted drama?

You got it!

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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