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.