Ranking the NBA's Least-Clutch Moments of the Last 20 Years

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 28, 2020

Ranking the NBA's Least-Clutch Moments of the Last 20 Years

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    It's easy to remember some of the most clutch moments in NBA history.

    Michael Jordan's jumper to win the 1989 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Chris Bosh's rebound and Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Kyrie Irving's three-pointer over Stephen Curry to win the 2016 championship.

    The following are not those moments.

    For every Jordan, Bosh, Allen and Irving, there's an equally bad moment in the clutch, one that led to a late-game collapse or even ended a playoff series.

    Rankings have been determined by the magnitude of the instance and the level of poor play exhibited. As a result, these are seven of the worst crunch-time moments and performances over the past 20 years.

7. Grizzlies' Big 3 Combine for 1 Point in 4th, Clippers Go on 26-1 Run (2012)

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    The Memphis Grizzlies were a budding power in the Western Conference with Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Tony Allen getting ready to make their second playoff run together. They had already knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in the previous year's postseason before pushing an Oklahoma City Thunder team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to seven games.

    Now in their second go-round, they drew home-court advantage against a Los Angeles Clippers team that had made the playoffs just once in the past 14 years.

    Memphis started out Game 1 by demolishing L.A., getting off to an 82-55 lead with a little over two minutes to go in the third quarter. It was the first playoff game for the "Lob City" Clippers, and 23-year-old Blake Griffin was struggling against a physical Grizzlies frontcourt.

    L.A. never gave up, though, getting key baskets from Nick Young, Eric Bledsoe and Griffin with Chris Paul registering seven assists in the fourth quarter alone. What transpired was a 26-1 run by the Clippers, allowing them to steal Game 1 by a score of 99-98.

    While L.A. certainly deserves credit for one of the all-time great playoff comebacks, this game should never have been close.

    Memphis' core three of Conley, Gasol and Randolph combined for just one point on 0-of-5 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter. Gasol had more turnovers (one) than points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks combined (0).

    Kudos to the Clippers for hitting shots, but this was also a complete choke job by the Grizzlies' Big Three, especially since they were the playoff veterans here.

    L.A. would go on to win the first-round series in seven games.

6. Kobe Bryant Scores 1 Point in 2nd Half vs. Suns (2006)

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    PAUL CONNORS/Associated Press

    While Kobe Bryant will forever go down as one of the NBA's greatest players and a five-time champion, even he had some forgettable playoff moments.

    Going up against a Phoenix Suns team featuring MVP Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa, the Los Angeles Lakers were between the Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol years, leaning instead on Bryant, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker.

    Bryant had led the league with a career-high 35.4 points per game, a necessary amount given how little help was left on the roster.

    Drawing the Suns in the first round, L.A. built up a 3-1 lead before losing Games 5 and 6. The series would have to go back to Phoenix for a Game 7.

    Bryant was brilliant in the first half, scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and a 4-of-6 performance from three. However, no other Laker had more than six points, leading to a 15-point deficit.

    A huge second half from Bryant would be needed to win and advance.

    Instead, it was the Lakers' supporting cast of Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and Odom who carried the load, with Bryant contributing next to nothing. He followed up his 23-point first half with just one point and three shot attempts in the second half while the Lakers were down big, and he was outscored by seven of his teammates.

    Some even accused Bryant of tanking the second half on purpose, a sign to the front office that he needed more help. Bryant would vehemently refute that claim, saying he was just trying to get others involved.

    For someone with Bryant's killer instinct, it was a baffling show of passiveness.

5. Dirk Scores 8 Points in Game 6 Elimination to 8th-Seeded Warriors (2007)

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    The Dallas Mavericks were the NBA's best team in 2006-07, going 67-15 during the regular season and finishing 25 games ahead of the 42-40 Golden State Warriors. Dirk Nowitzki was in his prime, taking home the MVP award after averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 41.6 percent from three.

    Golden State had to win its final five games just to sneak into the playoffs as a wing-heavy team that was 19th in the league defensively and didn't have the size to match up with the 7'0" Nowitzki.

    Though everything seemed stacked against them, the Warriors came in hot with the "We Believe" mantra in full effect. They were playing with house money and got off to a 3-2 series lead.

    In Game 6, all eyes were on Nowitzki, who was expected to dig Dallas out of its hole and help his team finally play like a No. 1 seed. But while he had averaged 22.0 points in the first five games, he collapsed when the Mavs needed him the most.

    Nowitzki had just four points on 1-of-11 shooting after three quarters as the Warriors built up an 86-63 lead. By the time he made his second field goal in the fourth, the game was essentially over.

    While Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry and Devin Harris all stepped up in Game 6, it was Nowitzki who disappeared in the clutch.

4. Scottie Pippen Goes Scoreless in 4th, Lakers Beat Blazers in Game 7 (2000)

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    Scottie Pippen was one of the best players of the 1990s, finishing as high as third in MVP voting. He was also instrumental in winning the Chicago Bulls' six championships.

    When the Portland Trail Blazers needed him the most in 2000, however, he disappeared.

    Even at age 34, Pippen was having a strong season with the Blazers alongside Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Damon Stoudamire and Arvydas Sabonis. Portland won 59 games and registered the league's third-ranked offense and fifth-best defense in 1999-00.

    Playing in the Western Conference Finals against a rising Los Angeles Lakers team that had yet to win a title with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Blazers built up a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter of Game 7.

    Pippen had played in a handful of games more pressure-packed than this, yet he couldn't muster a single point in the fourth quarter while the Lakers mounted their comeback. He finished with zero points, zero assists and a turnover on 0-of-3 shooting in his 11:35 on the floor while the Lakers earned an 89-84 comeback victory and a trip to the NBA Finals.

    Had Pippen contributed anything, it might have been the Blazers in the Finals against the Indians Pacers, delaying the Lakers dynasty and possibly giving Pippen his seventh ring.

3. Courtney Lee Blows Alley-Oop in NBA Finals (2009)

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    Getting by a 66-win Cleveland Cavaliers team led by LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals was one thing. Trying to beat Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers for a championship was quite another for the Orlando Magic.

    After losing Game 1 by 25 points, the Magic fought back in L.A. during Game 2 and were close to tying the series before going home to Orlando.

    While Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu carried most of the offensive load, head coach Stan Van Gundy drew up the final play of regulation for rookie shooting guard Courtney Lee.

    With the game tied at 88 and just 0.6 seconds left, there wouldn't be much time for a game-winner. Turkoglu inbounded the ball, and Lewis set a screen on Bryant to open up a clean alley-oop attempt at the rim for Lee. Instead of winning the game and sending the series back to Orlando tied at one game apiece, Lee missed the layup.

    The Magic would go on to lose 101-96 in overtime.

    Lakers head coach Phil Jackson would later admit that goaltending should have been called on Pau Gasol, who made contact with the rim and net while the ball was still in play near the basket. While the Magic would have won if the call had been made, Gasol didn't cause Lee to miss the shot, either.

    Down 0-2, Orlando would win just one game in the series that allowed Bryant to capture his fourth ring.

2. Steph and Klay Go 6-of-24 from 3 in Game 7 vs. Cavs to Blow 3-1 Lead (2016)

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    While the 2016 NBA Finals were decided by many factors (Draymond Green's Game 5 suspension, Kyrie Irving's shot, LeBron James' block, etc.), the poor play of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Game 7 often goes unmentioned.

    Curry was the NBA's unanimous MVP that season, averaging a league-high 30.1 points to go along with 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He shot 45.4 percent from three on 11.2 attempts per contest. Thompson was another of the league's best outside shooters, averaging 22.1 points on 42.5 percent from three.

    Golden State had the league's best offense, posting 114.9 points per outing while winning an NBA-record 73 games.

    In Game 7, however, Curry and Thompson went cold.

    Green actually kept Golden State in the game, hitting six of his eight three-pointers and leading the Warriors with 32 points.

    Curry missed a key three-pointer that would have tied the game with 31 seconds left while he was guarded by Kevin Love, and he finished the game just 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) from deep for 17 points. Thompson was even worse, making just two of his 10 threes (20.0 percent) for his 14 points. The best shooting backcourt of all time would finish with just one three-pointer on six attempts in the fourth quarter.

    While it took some key plays on Cleveland's part, even an average shooting game from Curry or Thompson would have delivered Golden State its second straight title and prevented plenty of 3-1 jokes from ever taking place.

1. LeBron Scores 8 Points in Game 4 of Finals vs. Mavericks (2011)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    While LeBron James has delivered some of the greatest NBA Finals performances of all time, his play against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals was perhaps his worst.

    With the Miami Heat looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series (an advantage that had never been overcome at the time), James scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from deep. It remains the lowest total in his nine NBA Finals appearances, as well as the second-fewest of any of his 239 career playoff games.

    The fourth quarter was particularly brutal, with the Heat taking a four-point lead into the final frame.

    All James had to do was manage the game with a few baskets and keep Dallas from getting new life and tying the series. Instead, he went scoreless in the fourth, taking just one of Miami's 15 total shots.

    James' lifeless performance resulted in an 86-83 win for the Mavericks, tying the series at 2-2 and giving Dallas the confidence it needed to win the next two games and claim the championship.

    While James would go on to win two rings and a pair of Finals MVP trophies the next two years, this remains the least-clutch performance of the future Hall of Famer's career.


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