Three, two, one… Who do you want taking the shot as the clock winds down? It’s not always an All-NBA star and for some players it becomes their specialty, their calling card in the NBA. Bonus if you end up with a nickname due to your clutch shooting. Nicknames make everything better.
All of these players have no fear when it comes to “taking the shot,” regardless of whether it goes in or not. One consistent characteristic is that each player puts himself in position to either have the ball or receive it during crunch time. These are the guys that want to be down two, pulling up from beyond the arc with a chance to win! They don’t even think about the other option.
A lot of point and shooting guards make the list, along with a handful of post players. A few that just missed include Tracy McGrady who early in his career was expected to take the shot, but after injuries was relegated to a lesser role. Kevin Durant is definitely clutch, but too young to make this list. He really needs a memorable post-season shot to add “clutch” to his resume. Also, New York Knick Carmelo Anthony because it’s becoming really hard to figure out where Anthony excels and has deficiencies given the inept team that surrounds him in New York.
This list is a celebration of players that elevate their game during the final minute and relish the pressure that comes with the “win or go home” scenario. Sure, a few are debatable, but near the top it’s hard to argue with their game-winning nature. The only argument left is whether Michael Jordan did actual push off before he hit “the shot.” (Note: Of course he did!)
15. Paul Pierce
When the Celtics drafted Pierce I don’t think they expected the Hall of Fame career, but are certainly glad for it. Pierce carried the Celtics for several seasons before they were successful and eventually partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Even with these additions it was Pierce who often had the ball late in the game. In addition to carrying the offensive load, in the post-season Pierce was often called on to defend the go-to-guy on the other end (see: Kobe Bryant), not an easy assignment and one that makes his late game offensive game even more impressive.
14. Vince Carter
When Carter broke into the league with Toronto a lot of attention went to his dunks (especially after his appearance in the All-Star Dunk Contest). However, it was his rookie year when he established himself as a late-game champion, hitting numerous big shots down the stretch for a young Raptors team. Injuries and trades took Carter off the radar for a while, but he returned as a savvy veteran that may not had logged starter minutes, but was often on the court in the end. Carter is still playing today, although injuries have once again slowed him, as well as his late game heroics.
13. Chauncey Billups
Known as “Mr. Big Shot”, Billups widened eyes and hit so many game winners, it’s hard to keep track and even easier to forget. Initially drafted by Boston, Billups would move around until landing in Detroit. With the Pistons Billups led a group of blue collar teammates to the playoffs and an eventual NBA Championship. He didn’t stop there, after signing on with the Los Angeles Clippers Billups spent two years playing with one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Despite all the talent it was still Billups at the end of the game with the ball in his hand. He didn’t disappoint often, hitting shot after shot for the Clippers, cementing his nickname and place as one of the greatest crunch time shooters of all time.
12. John Havlicek
Havlicek, one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time, had many clutch moments, but it was the one we all know, the one that made him famous. In the 1965 Playoffs, the Boston Celtics, led by Bill Russell were inbounding the ball and turned it over. Did I mention this was game seven with the Celtics down by one? The next play, Philadelphia tried to inbound the ball, but instead “John Havlicek stole the ball,” passed it off to Sam Jones and the rest is history. After, Russell joked with Havlicek that he had made him famous, by putting the Celtics in that do or die situation in the first place. Regardless, Havlicek’s steal was one of the greatest plays ever and most clutch.
11. Jerry West
You can make the case for West being higher on this list and I’ll listen. West hit so many big shots in the 60s and 70s he was given the nickname “Mr. Clutch.” How many big shots did he make? Well, you know the NBA logo, that silhouette is Jerry West – yeah, that many. West beat everyone seemingly by himself in the final minutes, except for his nemesis, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics defeated West and Lakers throughout the 60s. West would eventually win a title in 1972 after hitting clutch shots down the stretch of the season, carrying the Lakers to a title.
10. LeBron James
For a while, James was on the “Greatest Chokers of All Time” lists. During his first stint with Cleveland, his teams always faltered at the end, with James often “missing” or having to carry too much of a load. Once he “took his talents to South Beach,” James started winning rings and became known as the guy you want to have the ball at the end of the game. What makes James so dangerous is that he is a threat to shoot, drive or execute a winning assist. He can do it all. Already one of the all-time greatest players, James still doesn’t have a moment, or winning shot that gets referenced like Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. There’s still time and he will have the opportunity to make it happen in Cleveland, where it still hard to believe he wasn’t considered clutch.
9. Dirk Nowitzki
Most of the players on this list rely on their jump shot; however, Nowitzki has a special weapon, his fall away jump shot. A shot that, at seven feet tall, is unstoppable. Bonus is that he can take this shot from just about any place on the floor. It’s pretty easy at the end of the game to draw up a play when you have Nowitzki, the only strategy needed is how you plan to get him the ball and where on the floor he is going to take the shot. Many games for the Dallas Mavericks have come down to whether Dirk’s jumper drops through, lucky for Maverick fans, they often do.
8. Magic Johnson
Johnson, maybe the greatest point guard of all time, made a name for himself early on as the go-to guy late in games. It started in college as he made several crunch time plays in the 1979 finals and continued his rookie season with the Lakers and beyond. Johnson always saw the floor better than everyone else, able to know when to drive, shoot or make a game-winning pass (often to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). One of the most iconic clutch moments in NBA history was his game-winning hook shot in 1985 against the Boston Celtics. It was the finals, and it was the Celtics. Enough said.
7. Ray Allen
It’s one thing to be known as a clutch guy for your team, but what about three teams? Ray Allen, the record holder for most three-pointers in the NBA played this role for the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. For the Bucks, Allen still relied on his quickness and ability to drive to the basket late in games. In Boston, Allen was a marksman that never shied away from shooting the three, even if the game outcome would be decided. With Miami, Allen had a more specialized role, off the bench, expected to hit late-game threes. The biggest, maybe of his career was the game 6 three from the corner against San Antonio. Only Allen and his quick trigger could have gotten that shot off in time.
6. Larry Bird
If clutch trash talking is an art than Bird was a genius because no one knew they were going to take and hit the game winning shot more than Bird. Several stories are told of Bird coming out of the huddle only to tell his opponent the play that was called. Sure, enough the ball would come to Bird and he would still get the shot off (usually making it). Bird’s clutch play transcended past the final minute and post-season. When playing in the All-Star three-point contest it was Bird that would enter the locker room and ask the question, “Who’s playing for second place?” Oh, and yes, he won the contest.
5. Kobe Bryant
Early in his career, Bryant always wanted the shot even if he wasn’t quite ready for it. It’s as if Bryant was preparing for a career of title runs, meaningful playoff games and shots with the game on the line. Well played, Kobe, well played. Bryant would grown into the role of clutch shooter and lead his teams to five championships. Granted, Bryant had some memorable teammates and he did push a lot of them away. It was still Bryant with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Win or lose, that ball was not leaving his hands.
4. Dwyane Wade
Wade’s game has always had a “jack of all trades” feel to it. With the ability to shoot, drive or find the open man, Wade is not the guy you want to have the ball on the other side. In 2006 Wade almost single handedly led the Miami Heat to their first title, with late-game mid-range jumpers and the ability to break down double-teams and still get to the hoop (or draw the foul). After LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined, Wade took a second banana role. Due part to the need to defer, but also injuries and wear on his body decreased his role as end-of-game go-to guy.
3. Robert Horry
A true specialist, Horry was the guy you wanted to take the shot with the game on the line, no questions asked. Horry wasn’t even that great of a player overall, but when it came down to the final minutes, he didn’t miss. It started in Houston, carried over to his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and then continued when he joined the San Antonio Spurs. What is the reward for being a clutch specialist? Being part of seven NBA Championship teams. He was given the nickname “Big Shot Rob” which is a phenomenal nickname that tells you everything you need to know.
2. Reggie Miller
Miller made a lot of clutch shots in his career, most of them seemed to be in the post-season. Remember a stoic Larry Bird on the sideline after Miller beat the Bulls with a last second three? Of course it was the play against the Knicks that made him famous. Everyone remembers the “choke” sign aimed at Spike Lee. How about Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals when Miller dropped 25 points on New York in the fourth quarter? Also, the Eastern Conference semi-finals with 8.9 seconds left when Miller would score 8 points to win the game. Tragic for Knicks fans and the reason the rest of us watch the NBA.
1. Michael Jordan
There will always be “the shot” in 1998 to win his sixth title (the one where he pushed off Bryon Russell), but he didn’t need that to be number one on this list. Over the course of his career, Jordan hit 25 game winners. If you were playing against Jordan it was a nightmare. Jordan could drive (even late in his career) and if he didn’t execute he always drew the foul. If he didn’t drive then he could pull up and bury a jumper, from anywhere in the court. There’s not much left to be said about the greatest NBA player of all time and Jordan being named clutch is nothing new. Let’s just agree on this, had Jordan not pushed off Russell he would have certainly drawn a foul and buried both shots.
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