What defines clutch? The word "clutch" might be the most misunderstood in pro basketball. Many believe that clutchness exists, while others look at something we deem as a clutch but as luck. Still, there has to be a middle ground between the two words.
What we can agree on is that some athletes take high-pressure situations and succeed at a higher level. These athletes are calmer, cooler, and are much more confident about sealing the deal; therefore, they are more likely going to succeed in these situations late in the game. There are some players that we want to take the final shot to give their team the lead or tie the game in the final 60 seconds in the fourth quarter or overtime periods. These top-15 players are the players you want in that situation.
Clutch may be the most misunderstood word in pro basketball. Other than Antetokounmpo, of course. Many are convinced that it exists. Some insist there is no such thing. Still, others say the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
20. Shaquille O'Neal
Shaq managed to complete a three-peat when he played with the Lakers. Shaq averaged 24.3 points and 11.6 rebounds in his playoff career while shooting 47.6% in clutch situations.
Shaq averaged 29.9 points and 14.5 rebounds during the Lakers' run at a three-peat. What keeps Shaq from rising in the standings was his 47.3% free-throw percentage in 13 close-out games.
19. Robert Horry
From 1992-2008, "Big Shot Rob" might not have recorded the greatest career overall stats, but he knew how to win. Clutch shot percentage measures shots in the final 60 seconds of a game via fourth quarter or overtime periods. Horry was 12 of 30 in those situations, good enough for 40%.
Horry played on championship teams with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995, the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-2002, and the Spurs in 2005 and 2007. Despite playing with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan, Horry was 40% in clutch situations as a part-time starter. The stat to solidify his greatness? In nine Game 7 appearances, Horry shot 50% from the field or better eight times and those teams went on to finish 7-2.
18. Dwyane Wade
The 2006 NBA Finals MVP put on a clinic of clutch moments over a three-year stretch in the mid-2000s. Then, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Heat in 2010 and the Heat and Celtics rivalry was born, it provided more moments that allowed us to enjoy.
Wade owns five game-winning shots, which is the most in Heat history. His best moment came in a double-overtime win over his hometown Chicago Bulls. Wade recorded a 48-point performance. The highlight of the game came when he recorded a steal, took a three-point circus shot and gave the now famous "this is my house" celebration.
17. Reggie Miller
When Miller was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, many believed that Miller was the most clutch sharpshooter of all time. In his final nine seasons, he made 142 three-point attempts in crunch time, which was 54 more than the runner-up. In 1998, Miller played Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals and it went all the way to seven games. In terms of outside shooting, Miller outplayed Jordan by making 17 threes, while Jordan attempted only 15.
Miller was one of the best shooters from 15 feet or more. If Jordan was not in the Eastern Conference, Miller and the Pacers likely would have made an NBA Finals. Instead, he was ousted by one of the most clutch performers to ever play the game.
16. Joe Johnson
From 2008-2017, Johnson recorded eight buzzer-beaters, which was the most among the NBA. Again, just to recap, during a 10-year stretch, Johnson had more buzzer-beating shots than the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
While Johnson may never make it to the Hall of Fame, he owns one of the best under-the-radar careers. May it be Atlanta, Brooklyn, or Phoenix, Johnson was a regular in clutch situations. There was a reason that "ISO Joe" stuck as a nickname.
15. Jerry West
West actually owned the nickname "Mr. Clutch." It came from a consistent performance in the closing minutes of close games. Throughout his career, West proved time and time again that he could make excellent plays himself or by setting up his teammates. His record with the Lakers in the finals is representative of that.
In the finals, West had to battle great players from the Boston franchise, such as the great Bill Russell. While the data lacks in clutch categories, his highlight reels in tight situations speak for itself. The ball was in his hand when it came down to the final minutes.
14. Tim Duncan
Duncan averaged 20.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in the postseason, where his .194 postseason win shares/48 minutes is 12th all-time. In clutch situations, Duncan shot 41.9% from the field. Mr. Fundamental was one of the best at picking his spots and making shots when it really counted.
Among bigs in the 3-ball era, Duncan is tied with Shaq for the most Finals MVPs among bigs with three. It may not have felt like Duncan was clutch, but that was because he was so quiet. It's only fitting that his quiet clutch stats back him up once again.
13. Ray Allen
How clutch was Ray Allen? For starters, LeBron James once said that Allen could go "0-for-99 in a game, and if he gets an open look late in the game, it's going down." That was evident in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals when his shot tied the game with nine seconds left and helped the Heat avoid elimination.
Allen once owned the record for most three-point field goals in the playoffs, a record that has since been broken by Steph Curry. With that said, Allen has a lot of experience in clutch situations. Out of 148 possible attempts, he made 54 shots, good for 36.5%.
12. Paul Pierce
As for Pierce, it was one found that he has been involved in the most buzzer-beaters of all time. That included seven baskets and five assists in game-winning situations. "The Truth" never shied away from high-pressure situations and his confidence showed every time.
Despite the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Pierce shined his way to earning Finals MVP in 2008. No moment came bigger than when he scored 41 points in Game 7 against LeBron to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pierce served up clutch moments all the way to the end of his prime. Namely, his last moment came when he "called game" for the Wizards in a 101-101 tie as time expired to lead the team to a Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.
11. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk was dirty in late-game situations and that is entirely meant as a compliment. In clutch situations, Nowitzki shot nearly 43% in 159 attempts. His postseason stats are very impressive, sinking at 25.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Nowitzki ranks in the top-20 for playoff win shares/48 minutes, but what makes him stand out was that lethal fadeaway jumper.
Think about all the times that the Mavericks star had the ball in late-game situations. Remember when he had his back to the basket and faded out for the shot? Every time, no matter Dallas fan or a fan of the opposing team, you thought it was going in. That's called respect and Nowitzki earned it for being so clutch.
10. Kawhi Leonard
His corner jumper during the 2019 Eastern Conference semi-finals will forever be played in Toronto. The shot hit the rim four times before the Raptors went on their magical run to claim the 2019 championship. By the end of that season, Leonard had shot 37% in clutch situations and he ranks fourth all-time with .220 playoff win shares/48 minutes.
Leonard was clutch in San Antonio. He was clutch in Toronto. He's trying to be clutch for the Los Angeles Clippers. If he can provide similar results and lead the Clippers to an NBA title, we will seriously need to consider Leonard as a top-3, potentially top-2 option.
9. Kyrie Irving
in 2018, Irving was the fourth-most voted player among players in the league for who you would want to take the final shot in a game. Three years later, as he has transitioned to shooting guard, he remains near the top as someone you want taking the last shot in a game. Irving's clutch Game 7 shot in the 2016 NBA Finals proved to be the game-winner for the Cleveland Cavaliers and has followed him ever since he left.
Irving has the issue now that he shares a team with James Harden and Kevin Durant, both players who are capable of making shots in the final seconds of the game. What makes Irving stand out is that not only can he make the final shot, but he has the ability to set up his teammates to be in the position to make the final shot. Irving is versatile in his ability to perform in clutch situations, which makes him dangerous on all spectrums of offense.
8. Steph Curry
Finals MVP or no Finals MVP. It doesn't matter as Curry is a top-1o clutch player of all time. For starters, his postseason line of 26.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals speaks for itself. In league history, Curry is one of forthy players to record 40% or higher on three-point attempts in the playoffs and nobody has made more since the Chef.
Curry could have won Finals MVP in 2015 but Iguodala played great offensively and shined when he guarded LeBron. In 2017 and 2018, Kevin Durant came over and played out of his mind in the Finals. During the Warriors dynasty, who was the main consistent performer. Was it Iguodala? Durant? No, it was Curry and he remains the player in Golden State that you want to take the final shot.
7. Kevin Durant
Durant gets the narrow nod over Curry for his two Finals MVP trophies, but he also should get the nod when you look at the numbers. Durant has taken over 100 more late-game shots than Curry and yields only one percentage point less than Curry.
Durant also ranks higher in playoff win shares, where he is ranked ninth in comparison to Curry's ranking of 11th. Durant's postseason stat line also speaks for itself, where he has averaged 29.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. In-Game 7 situations, Durant has averaged 33.3 points on 55% shooting. If that isn't clutch, then what is?
6. Damian Lillard
In February, Lillard connected on his 33rd career-go ahead bucket in the final minute of a game, which includes playoffs. That put Lillard ahead for the most baskets in the final minute since Lillard came into the league in 2012-2013. Just days before shooting that basket, Lillard had scored 82 points on 63% field goal shooting.
Only the true hard-core NBA fans will appreciate how clutch Lillard is in late-game situations. Lillard is a product of a Trail Blazers team that has played in only one Western Conference Finals. That's not on Lillard, where his numbers speak for himself.
5. Magic Johnson
Johnson averaged a double-double of 19.5 points and 12.3 assists per game in the playoffs. His .208 postseason win shares/48 minutes ranks fifth all-time in a career where he runs five championships during the 1980s. Remember his clutch hook shot in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals in a 102-101 win over the Boston Celtics? Moments like that are what helped Magic stand out from the rest.
In three consecutive Game 7s in 1988, Johnson threw a slash line of 22.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. Johnson, along with Michael Jordan, is the only guard with three or more NBA Finals MVPs. "Showtime" put on a show at the end of games, no pun intended.
4. LeBron James
Is there a player more under the microscope in late-game situations than LeBron? He has had the ball in his hands quite a bit in late-game situations. Heading into the 2019-2020 season, LeBron had taken 231 attempts in the final 60 seconds of a game and connected on 90 of those shots that gave his team the lead or a tie. Everyone wants to criticize his ability to close, but here are just a few extra numbers to solidify his clutchness.
LeBron has made eight shots to tie or win games in the final seven seconds, which includes two more shots than Michael Jordan. He owns five buzzer-beaters, which were once the most of all-time. LeBron is big time in big moments. He's also the only player in league history to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals.
Among other moments, LeBron was a closer against great teams like the Big 3 Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Raptors, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, couldn't get over the hump, mainly because of LeBron. Even in the finals his iconic block of Andre Iguodala will forever live in the minds of Cavaliers fans. You don't have to like the guy, but you have to appreciate his greatness.
3. Larry Bird
Larry Bird was one of the clutchest players in NBA history. Bird owns four buzzer-beaters and in each of those moments the Celtics trailed when he took the clutch shot. No other player has multiple 45-plus-point games with a buzzer-beater. Also, no other player has ever won consecutive games at the buzzer like Bird did in January 1985.
Bird averaged 23.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.8 steals in the postseason. He is the only player in league history to win the MVP award three times in a row. From 1984-1986, his clutch shooting percentage had to be near the top.
"Larry Legend" was magnificent in Game 7 situations too. He averaged 27.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. In those situations, his team won six series-deciding games. In the 1980s, Bird was known for taking any late shot and had the belief from the fans that it went in every single time.
2. Kobe Bryant
Out of all players where the clutch shot percentage has been calculated, Bryant has taken the most shots with 287 attempts. While Kobe Bryant himself would likely tell you that nobody is taking the last show besides him, the Lakers knew that the Black Mamba had the best chance to connect than anybody.
His overall percentage was 33.8%, which may seem low, but when you look at the number of attempts, it checks out. Think about the multiple defenders needed to guard Bryant in those situations. Nobody had more confidence in himself to make the last shot than Bryant, and that includes Michael Jordan. Besides, there's a reason that generations have shouted "Kobe" when shooting a paper ball into a wastebasket.
1. Michael Jordan
With a 6-0 Finals record and six NBA Finals MVP trophies, were you expecting anyone else? Jordan has only 22 shots recorded in the clutch shot percentage era, had a 40.9% success rate. If all of Jordan's numbers were tallied, this would have been higher.
He owns seven buzzer-beaters that clinched playoff series wins. We all remember "The Shot" from the 1989 Eastern Conference first round, as well as "The Push Off" in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. This doesn't count all the defensive stops or fouls he drew in late games. Jordan's ability to will his teammates to wins was also a big impact. In the end, with the game on the line, the ball must be in MJ's hands.