NBA / Aug 14, 2013 / 4:30 pm

The 15 Most Clutch Performances In NBA History

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson

We love to throw around the word clutch whenever we can, but sometimes use it so loosely that it loses all meaning. We have to be selective when declaring whether someone is key in crunch time or hides from the moment, and we have to be fair. That also means that while I think a player can be clutch by hitting a game-winning shot, it doesn’t mean he’s not if he doesn’t always come through (looking at you, LeBron).

Clutch isn’t just a term to use to describe a single play. It should also be applied to spectacular moments leading up to those final seconds, because how would you have gotten there otherwise? Clutch is not always a buzzer-beater. It’s overcoming odds, overcoming troubles, and overcoming doubters to turn in an incredible performance. It’s the games that leave your hair standing up long before the buzzer sounds, the games that make you remember exactly where you were when you watched them. Here are 15 of the most clutch performances in NBA history…

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15. ALLEN IVERSON Drops A Crisp 48
On one side you have the Lakers, with their dominating tandem of Shaq and Kobe. Los Angeles was the defending champs and had swept their way to the Finals. On the other side, you have a very underwhelming Philadelphia squad whose one shining star shone brightest, at least in Game 1.

Allen Iverson was the answer. He scored an incredible 30 points in the first half alone despite garnering most of the attention from the Lakers defense. Able to slash and penetrate at such a small size with perhaps the strongest man ever to play the game standing in the paint is nothing short of heroic. He finished with 48 points as the 76ers took the first game of the series in a thrilling overtime bout. Unfortunately, Philly dropped the next four games, but Iverson’s scoring spree may be his best game ever.

14. JERRY WEST’s Toils
Despite winning just one championship among eight trips to the NBA Finals, West still earned his nickname of Mr. Clutch for always playing at his highest when things seemed most tense. On his long, storied road to winning a title, West hit many bumps, and perhaps none bigger than one suffered in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals.

In what would be Bill Russell‘s final game as a player, West did his best to end the Celtics’ unmatched run of the 1960s. In a series in which he averaged nearly 39 points per game, West left it all on the court for a shot at a ring. In the deciding game, West spurred a comeback and helped the Lakers overcome a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter. But the ring would elude him again, as his 42 points were not quite enough to get past Russell. For his efforts, West was awarded Finals MVP, the only losing player to take home the award.

13. BILL RUSSELL’s Monstrous Game 7
There’s a reason the Finals MVP award is named in his honor. With 11 NBA titles, Russell is far and away the most decorated player in league history. Going a perfect 10-0 in Game 7s in your career makes for some incredible moments, and one that sticks out was his massive 30-point, 40-rebound performance in the 1962 Finals.

Going head-to-head with Elgin Baylor, who scored 61 points in Game 5, Russell outplayed the Lakers big man in a tightly contested game that needed overtime to be decided. His 40 rebounds tied his own Finals record, and ensured the prolongation of the Celtics dynasty.

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  • Irwin

    You forgot Dirk’s 48 point (24/24 free throws, an NBA record) on just 15
    shots against the heavily favored Thunder. In fact during that post
    season, Dirk picked the Mavericks up and put them on his back, clearly
    outplaying future Hall of Famers Kobe, Durant, Wade, and LeBron. During the championship run,
    he led the team to stirring come from behind victories against LA, OKC,
    and the Heat, including a 15 point deficit with 5 minutes to go against
    OKC. In a playoff run where Dirk dominated with clutch performances,
    certainly the 48 point game stands as the jewel. It one of the most
    efficient offensive game in the post season, ever. It certainly defines the meaning of clutch and should have been included.

  • Chuck Moran

    What about the duel between pierce and lebron in the east finals when lebron had 45 and pierce had 41 and celtics go on o win the title. Pierce never gets any love what about when he to over in the fourth quarter against the nets in the east finals at the time it was the biggest fourth quarter comeback in nba history.

  • Layne Papenfuss

    Jordan’s “Flu Game” was not actually the flu, but probably the result of some bad pizza eaten the night before.


  • Brent Sanchez

    You’re right, can’t believe I missed that one. Thanks for pointing that out to everyone.

  • Al-Zamar McKinney

    How was this a clutch performance? It was the first game of the series. Being clutch isn’t just about scoring a lot of points, if that were the case there are any number of high scoring performances to choose from. Clutch is about the context surrounding the performance. If anything Lebron James Game 4 performance in Indiana in 2012 should be on this list. James had 40-18-9 (almost a 40 point triple double). If Miami loses game 4 they go down 3-1 and almost certainly lose the series. Everybody forgets this performance in Indiana because James’s game 6 performance in Boston overshadows it.

  • http://www.remixcomic.com/ Nodoubt223rd

    I was just thinking the same damn thing. Dude didn’t have the flu… The flu is contagious everyone that came into contact with MJ would’ve had the flu such bullshit… Just to make him look more than he is. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm