The NBA has had its fair share of outstanding players. However, out of all the greats who have passed through the doors of this American institution, a select few players had what it takes to win in the moments when it counted.
In this article, we’re going to cover what it would take for one NBA player to ascend from simply being a good player to being one of the greatest players – taking clutch play into account and several other aspects of the game.
Let’s get into it!
What Does it Mean When a Player is Clutch?
Clutch is a buzzword in basketball. When a player is “clutch,” they can step up when the game is on the line, whether coming down the stretch of a close game or hitting a big shot in crunch time.
Being clutch is not a simple matter of statistics. A player can have a high percentage of shooting late in games and still not be considered as clutch as another player with lower shooting percentages but takes the big shots with more regularity. The key to being considered a clutch player is taking those big shots and making them more often.
Suppose you need to score one more basket than your opponent to win the game. In that case, you have to ensure that your best players are on the court during those crucial moments because they have proven themselves capable of coming through in these situations more often than others.
When Does Clutch Time Happen in Basketball?
In basketball, clutch time is typically defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the score is within five points. It is considered clutch time if the score is tied or there’s a one-possession difference.
The NBA has its definition for clutch time: It’s the last two minutes of a period when the game is within five points. So if you see a team down by twenty-nine with two minutes left in the game, they’re not in “clutch.” – they’re just losing badly.
Being clutch is often considered one of the essential traits of a basketball player because it shows that they have what it takes to step up when their team needs them most. It doesn’t matter if it’s during the regular season or playoffs; being able to perform in these situations helps build confidence and momentum for your team and players.
Top 10 Most Clutch NBA Players Of All-Time
When it comes to the NBA, all eyes are on the player who can take over in a big moment. Whether hitting a buzzer-beater or throwing down an emphatic dunk, clutch players can change the game with brilliance.
Here’s our list of the top 10 most clutch NBA players of all time:
10. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is one of the best pure basketball players in the world. He’s incredibly skilled, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him a threat.
Durant’s clutch shooting percentage is 325, but he hit a fair number of clutch shots in his career, including these daggers from Game 3 of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals.
9. Vince Carter
Vince Carter is one of the most exciting players in NBA history. His acrobatics, creativity, and ability to make incredible plays have made him one of the greatest dunkers in basketball history.
On top of that, Carter has always been a clutch performer—he knocked down seventeen game-winners in his twenty-two years NBA career. He could hit shots from anywhere on the court when he was hot.
8. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki was a big part of the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff success in the 2000s, including their first championship win in 2011.
The German superstar has finished top 10 in the NBA in clutch points per game three times, including No. 1 in 2006-07 with 4.9. That season, he hit an astounding 13 game-winning shots, including one to win a playoff series against the Sacramento Kings.
7. Dwayne Wade
Dwayne Wade was one of the best clutch players in the league during his prime, and he still holds the Miami Heat franchise record for most career game-winning points in the playoffs.
The 2006 Finals MVP hit five game-winning buzzer-beaters, including this running triple to beat the Chicago Bulls in 2009.
6. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is one of the greatest players in NBA history. In his prime, he was also one of the best clutch players in the league. He hit several clutch shots during his career, including this one against the Phoenix Suns in 2008.
5. Ray Allen
Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA, and he ranks second all-time in career 3-pointers with 2,973. He also has a reputation as one of the best clutch players ever. The two-time NBA champion hit many clutch shots during his career. But the most memorable was this corner three-pointer during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
4. Larry Bird
Larry Bird is one of the greatest clutch players in NBA history. He never missed a shot when it mattered most, and he was an excellent shooter with a career field goal percentage of 49.6 percent.
The three-time NBA champion hit 18 game-winning shots during his career.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James is one of the most clutch players in NBA history. He has a reputation for making big shots, and he’s hit 21 game-winning shots so far in his career.
The four-time MVP has hit some memorable shots in the playoffs. His clutch ability was on full display in this play as he had a clutch block on a potential game-winner and hit a game-winning three at the buzzer during the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in NBA history. He won five NBA championships, scored 81 points in a game, and has hit more than 36 game-winning shots during his career.
The Black Mamba hit plenty of big shots throughout his 20-year career. One is this game-winning buzzer-beater against the Phoenix Suns during Game 4 of the 2006 first-round series.
1. Michael Jordan
Yes, you guess it right. It’s a no-brainer, and I don’t think an explanation is needed.
Jordan performed excellently in pressure-packed situations. Probably the only player in NBA history with the famous “flu game.” He always wanted to have the balls in his hands during clutch moments and delivered 25 game-winners throughout his career. His game-winner over Byron Russel is one of them.
5 Best Clutch Plays in the NBA
Clutch play is a feature of sports that separates the great players from the good ones. A player’s ability to perform under pressure makes them legendary, and many have been over the years.
Here are five of the best clutch plays in NBA history:
5. Larry Bird’s Put-back, Game 1, 1981 Finals
Larry Bird’s put-back is one of the most iconic moments in NBA history, and it happened during his sophomore season.
With just seconds left on the clock and the Celtics down by one point, Bird grabbed a rebound off his own missed shot and put it back for two points to win Game 1 of the 1981 Finals.
The Celtics went on the win the game and eventually captured the championship.
4. Kyrie Irving’s Three-Pointer During Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals
In Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving hit a three-pointer with 53 seconds left in the game to put the Cavaliers up by two points.
The Warriors had dominated the series, took a 3-1 series lead, and looked like they would win their back-to-back championships.
However, Irving’s clutch shot wholly changed everything and gave Cleveland an unexpected victory.
3. Michael Jordan’s Game-Winner in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round
Jordan’s shot against the Cavaliers to win Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round is one of the most iconic moments in the history of the NBA.
With three seconds left on the clock, Jordan received an inbounds pass, stopped on a dime, rose up, and hit the shot over Craig Ehlo.
2. Ray Allen’s Three During game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals
The 2013 NBA Finals was a series for the ages. In Game 6, San Antonio Spurs were up 3-2 in the series and led by five points with 23 seconds remaining. Fans were heading to exit with disappointments.
However, a miracle happened. LeBron hit a three to cut the lead to two. Kawhi Leonard went one out of two from the free-throw line, and the Heat got the ball back with 19 seconds remaining, down by three.
LeBron missed a three-pointer, but Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and passed the ball to Allen, who was back-pedaling to the three-point line in the right corner. Allen hit the three to tie the game, and the Heat won overtime to force Game 7. The Heat went on to win Game 7 and for their back-to-back titles.
1. Michael Jordan’s Jumper Over Byron Russel, Game 6, 1998 NBA Finals
The greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, was in the midst of his last season with the Chicago Bulls when they faced the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals.
Chicago led the series, 3-2, and headed to Game 6. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the clock and the Bulls trailing by one point, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone, dribbled up to the foul line, and hit the jumper over Byron Russel.
Also known as “The Last Shot,” that jumper won them the game, their second three-peat, and Jordan’s sixth NBA championship.
From the steal to that shot, it was a full display of Jordan’s clutch gene. Hence, that play deserves to be on top of this list.
Wrapping Things Up: Top 10 Most Clutch NBA Players Of All-Time
If there is one common trait that ties the players in this countdown together, it’s the ability to win games. Some players could come through in the clutch with scoring, others with playmaking skills, and still others with defense, rebounding, and more.
While these NBA greats may be some of the best basketball has ever seen, they’ll all be remembered for their most memorable plays—plays made when it was truly needed.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.