Although all facets of the game of basketball are important, some really stand out above the rest.
Being "clutch" is one of the most famous phrases in basketball. Who doesn't want to be the one that sunk that three-pointer from halfcourt to win the NBA championship? Every American child has dreamed of being carried off the court by the crowd, holding the trophy above your head for all to see.
The NBA has seen its fair share of clutch players in it's extensive history, most of them shooting guards. Without a doubt, these players receive more fame than the rest. They have the mental toughness, pure skill, and the flat-out most competitive natures in professional sports. Here is my team of the most clutch players of all time:
FIRST TEAM, ALL-CLUTCH
PG: Jerry West (6'2", 175 lb.)
Dubbed "Mr. Clutch," Jerry West couldn't be left off this list. Although most call him a shooting guard, he has said himself that he is just a "guard." Given that statement, and the logjam of clutch shooting guards, I decided to put him as my point guard.
In 55 Finals games, West averaged 30.5 points per game. And of course, his halfcourt shot to force overtime against the Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals had to be one of the greatest buzzer beaters of all time.
Although they eventually lost in that game, the shot only counted for two points. If it was played with modern rules, it would have won the game.
SG: Michael Jordan (6'6", 215 lb.)
Michael Jordan was truly the best who ever played the game. He was the master of every aspect, including being clutch.
Jordan has an astounding 25 game-winning shots, 24 of which were in the last 10 seconds, including eight at the buzzer.
If clutch could be summed up in one moment, it had to be his free-throw line jumper to beat the Utah Jazz and bring home the Bulls' sixth NBA title.
SF: Larry Bird (6'9", 220 lb.)
Larry Bird was a master of the game—there was nothing he couldn't do with the ball in his hands.
The Celtics were 29-63 during the 1978-79 season, but made a drastic improvement to 61-21 the year Bird arrived. Although they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they had a rematch the next season. Bird helped the Celtics overcome a 3-1 deficit and win the last three games by an average of 1.7 points.
After beating the Houston Rockets for the first of Bird's three NBA titles, he earned himself the reputation as one of the fiercest competitors in league history. He kept that distinction with some of the best finals performances the league has ever seen, posting more than 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists per game.
PF: Robert Horry (6'10", 240 lb.)
"Big-Shot Bob" is an extremely odd player. He was a solid role player when he was young, but the only time he ever did anything genuinely meaningful was in the last seconds of the game.
While he definitely doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the other players on this list, he has as many, if not more, clutch plays than any of them.
Horry holds numerous Finals records, such as most steals (7) and most three-pointers in a quarter (5). Horry has a staggering seven rings with three different teams (Lakers, Rockets, and Spurs).
No player has ever caused as much sheer frustration in the opposition's fans—that much I am sure of.
C: Shaquille O'Neal (7'1", 325 lb.)
Shaq is by far the most physically imposing center to ever play. He changed the game with his size and brute strength, literally bulling his way to the basket. His clutch plays were different than the others on this list. His ability to dominate the paint made all attempts at a last second lay-up worthless.
SECOND TEAM, ALL-CLUTCH
PG: Allen Iverson (6'0", 165 lb.)
Allen Iverson is, pound for pound, the toughest player to ever play in the NBA. He led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring, assists, and minutes as a rookie. Although never advancing far in his early years, Iverson played as much as 44 minutes a game while sustaining injuries. Iverson carried the Sixers through the playoffs, and faced the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals, where he averaged 35.6 points per game.
SG: Reggie Miller (6'7", 195 lb.)
Miller has always been known for two things—three-point shooting and clutch plays. Reggie Miller became well-known during the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals after having a 39-point performance (including 25 in the fourth quarter) and his famous altercation with Spike Lee. Miller's career is littered with clutch performances, way too many to be named here.
SF: James Worthy (6'9", 225 lb.)
Although Worthy had great regular seasons, the playoffs and finals were where he really shined. His inspired play during the Boston-Los Angeles rivalry gave him the reputation as one of the premier players in the league.
His 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists per game during the regular season warranted his selection as an All-Star, but his 22.2 points per game on 53 percent shooting in the Finals set him above the rest as a clutch player.
PF: Tim Duncan (6'11", 260 lb.)
Although his three-pointer in the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs was a great clutch play, it will never be in the same league as the rest. However, Duncan is clutch in a different way than the rest of these players—his incredible mental toughness and consistency make pressure virtually non-existent to him.
C: Bill Russell (6'10", 220 lb.)
11 NBA titles—need I say more?
Kobe Bryant (6'6", 205 lb.)
Kobe is definitely the premier clutch player in the NBA today, but I still don't think he belongs with the rest of these legends. Once he is retired, I'm sure he'll have overtaken Reggie Miller's spot on the Second Team but not right now.
Tracy McGrady (6'8", 223 lb.)
This may come as a surprise, considering he's never been out of the first round of the playoffs, but his 13 points in 35 seconds was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.
Doug Flutie (5'10", 180 lb.)
You can't have an article about clutch plays and not include the little guy. Here's to you, Doug!
As you can see, players who aren't even All-Stars (e.g. Horry) can make a legacy for themselve by being clutch. Do you have any suggestions for the list? Comment and we can discuss who should go down in history as the most clutch players of all time!