“There’s alot of players in this league that can score the first three quarters of the game, but you get down to the fourth quarter when you need a basket and you can separate the men from the boys” — Larry Bird
There are plenty of prime time performers in the NBA, but very few actually possess the “clutch gene.” Being able to hit game-winners and step up in the face of adversity with a stone cold assassin’s demeanor is an innate ability only possessed by a select group. It doesn’t have to be getting buckets. Timely steals, blocks and assists are also weapons of the “clutch” performer.
Here’s The Shadow League’s Top 5 clutch players in NBA history that made the NBA’s Top 75 Greatest Players List
1. Michael Jeffrey Jordan
When you go 6-0 in the NBA Finals with six Finals MVPs, it’s called perfection. MJ is as close to perfection as it gets in the NBA. His Airness’ NBA Finals performances included walk-offs agains the Jazz in back-to-back Finals.
MJ owns seven buzzer-beating playoff daggers. His ability to score late in the game and often, was second to none. When everyone else was wearing down, the relentless Jordan was turning up. Once he hit his peak, there wasn’t an individual defender or defensive scheme that could tame him.
Jordan shot 45 percent on 22 clutch playoff shots. His lack of fear in the biggest moment is rivaled only by his little brother, the late, great Kobe Bryant. Being elite on defense also made MJ clutch.
2. Larry Bird
Larry Legend aka Larry Bird was one of the most clutch players in NBA history. He did his best work in big playoff games and was usually at his best in Game 7s, where the French Lick,, Indiana legend he averaged 27/9/8 while going 6-1 in those games.
He’s indisputably the greatest white player to ever grace the hardwood (No offense to Dirk and The Logo). The curly-haired assassin had a belief that no matter what clutch shot he took it would go in. Memories of him making impossible shots on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden still resonate. His battles with Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Isiah Thomas’ Bad Boy Pistons are the stuff of basketball lore.
3. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson’s baby skyhook over Kevin McHale and Robert Parish in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals is the stuff of legends. You could see the work he had done with teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on that shot. For his playoff career the “Magic” man averaged 20 points and 13 assists. He averaged 22/14/8 in three consecutive Game 7s in 1988.
He and Michael Jordan are still the only guards to win at least three NBA Finals MVPs. Magic was clutch in numerous ways. He’s probably the most all-around dominant guard in NBA history when you take into account everything he was able to do on a basketball court at 6 feet 9.
4. Kobe Bean Bryant
The late great Kobe Bryant took and missed more clutch shots than any other player in NBA history. The fact that he was willing to take as many as he did just shows you how clutch and confident he always was. When Kobe was on the court and the game was on the line, there were no other options.
From playoff walk-offs to regular season buzzer-beaters, his offense was often overshadowed by his all-time great ability to lock up his opponent and get a key defensive stop in the last two minutes of the game.
The “Black Mamba” had a belief that he was always gonna knock in the big shot, and more often than not he did. Five NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVPs prove just that.
5. Damian Lillard
Maybe Damian Lillard wasn’t quite ready for that Top 75 list, but he made it, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s also one of the most clutch players in history. Memorable buckets and misses are the ones that people remember and become the cornerstone of a player’s legacy.
Lillard has hit 35 go-ahead field goals (including playoff series walk-offs) since entering the league in 2012-13. One came in 2014 against the Rockets and the other in 2019 over the Thunder. There have been so many more “clutch” moments since then.
Dame has a knack for getting to his spot and creating space and hitting big daggers. Who can forget him waving bye to OKC when he finished their season from about 40 feet out over Paul George. Point blank, he’s CLUTCH.
Steph Curry — Curry has his share of clutch moments for sure.
LeBron James — ’Bron has daggered a few opponents in his illustrious career.
Kevin Durant — Durant almost hit the biggest shot of the year against the Milwaukke Bucks in Game 7 of last year’s playoffs, but his toenail was on the line.
Kawhi Leonard — Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 championship run with Toronto had more clutch moments than the careers of most players.