When a player is described as clutch, it generally means they’re reliable in game-winning situations, but with so many NBA players coming through in big moments, how can you determine the best of the best?
Through a combination of singular plays forever embedded in history and clutch stat analysis (most of which is between 2000 and present day), here are the top seven clutch players in NBA history.
7. Jerry West
If your nickname is Mr. Clutch, you’re going to be on this list. The Logo may only have one NBA title, but he’s been reliable time and time again, even hitting a 60-foot buzzer beater to tie Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Knicks. It’s a shame that West didn’t have a three-point line during his playing career, because he’d definitely skyrocket up the all-time points rankings if he did.
6. Reggie Miller
Before Ray Allen and Stephen Curry, Reggie Miller was undoubtedly the greatest shooter of all time. Miller ripped the Knicks’ hearts right out of their chest by scoring eight points in nine seconds in 1995 and hitting a game winner over Michael Jordan in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Miller also has the most three-point field goals in clutch situations from 1997-2005.
5. Magic Johnson
In one of the most specific scenarios of “clutch”, Magic Johnson, a point guard, played center for the Lakers in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went down with an ankle injury the game before. Magic would put up 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists to clinch the championship and Finals MVP as a rookie. Magic also had the iconic sky hook game-winner against the Celtics in the 1987 Finals.
4. LeBron James
LeBron’s been called LeChoke, largely due to a dismal 2011 Finals performance, but James has had his fair of game winners. The King is 6-for-13 (46%) with four buzzer-beaters in go-ahead shots with five seconds or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime. This stat made headlines last year, bringing up the question if LeBron is more clutch than Michael Jordan -- we don’t think so, but it proves that James is far from a choker.
3. Larry Bird
Sometimes highlight tapes speak for themselves, and the amount of difficult shots Larry Bird has hit over the course of his career is absolutely absurd. Unfortunately for Bird, clutch stats are more of a recent development and don’t go past the mid-to-late 90s, but his spot in history as one of the most clutch players of all time is secure with the footage. Trust your eyes -- the man was unbelievable.
2. Kobe Bryant
#MambaMentality is a term used to describe cold-bloodedness and the will to win, and Kobe Bryant coined it through his tremendous clutch resume. In shots to tie or take the lead with under two minutes left, Bryant has been a mainstay in the Top-10 for amount of field goals made in that situation, leading the league in 2003-04, 2006-07, 2009-10, and 2011-12.
1. Michael Jordan
There’s no surprise that the GOAT is also the most clutch player in NBA history. In his entire basketball career, Jordan had 23 total game winners, including a shot to win the NCAA championship with UNC in 1982, The Shot against the Cavaliers in 1989 and a jumper to secure his sixth championship against the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. Jordan has made his career on being a winner and being clutch.