The NBA Finals are a chance for a player to validate his worth during “crunch” time. The center stage brings out the best and worst. The whole world watches your every move, both hoping for you to fail and to succeed. Many factors play into a player’s effectiveness during the Finals: the pressure, the development of the player, the defensive schemes of the opposition, teammates, and your own offensive game plan. These factors aren’t something new during the Finals, rather, they’re simply amplified.
Karl Malone, notoriously known as a man who choked during the Finals, recently came out on The Dan Patrick Show and intentionally placed Michael Jordan off of his all-time starting five. Malone wanted to get a rise out of Patrick, who was gushing over Jordan. Regardless, it provides an opportunity to formulate an all-time top five of my own. The only difference between the top five Malone chose and the one I will make is that mine will constitute players who choked in the NBA Finals. Here’s a special shout out to Malone himself for helping spur the idea. Since it is common for players to repeat as NBA champions, I will choose specific years that the player played poorly.
You will notice, however, that Malone doesn’t crack this list. I won’t let an unbelievable steal by Jordan taint the Mailman’s overall great numbers during both of those Finals appearances.
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2010 Ray Allen, 2011 Chris Bosh
5. KOBE BRYANT, 2008
I might get some flak for this but Kobe just wasn’t very good during this Finals appearance. He struggled from the field, failing to shoot 39 percent in four of the six games versus the Boston Celtics. During three of Boston’s four wins, excluding Game 2, Bryant shot a combined 22-for-67. That’s less than 33 percent. Many pundits believe he didn’t identify the proper times to lean on other teammates, typically causing him to hoist up shots or put his teammates in poor positions to score. This doesn’t take away from Bryant’s other accomplishments, especially his five NBA Finals trophies, but this particular series just wasn’t his best.
Kobe was also pretty bad in 2004 against Detroit. You could argue that performance was even worse.
4. CLYDE DREXLER, 1992
The only reason I put Clyde on this list is for his constant comparisons to Michael Jordan and his expectations of himself. If he considered himself as good, or better, than Jordan, you better out produce him. He did neither during this Finals appearance, a matchup that had been getting hype for close to two years. Drexler shot a lowly 40 percent and continued his poor three-point shooting by only knocking down 15 percent from deep. He was still able to average 25 points during the Finals but those are inefficient numbers that did his team more harm than good. And Michael? Well, let’s just say he did a tad better. He shot 52.6 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range while averaging close to 36 points a game.
3. DIRK NOWITZKI, 2006
2. LeBRON JAMES, 2007
Both of these players faced better teams, didn’t have much supportive help, and didn’t get the luxury of the whistle. (In the case of Dirk, Dwyane Wade‘s love affair with the referees was so shocking that it even earned him a new nickname: D-Whistle.) The remaining similarity is that both stunk in crunch time after putting the team on their backs for the playoffs. They both had their field goal percentage dip nearly 10 percentage points to what they normally produced during the regular seasons and they combined to shoot 10-for-44 from three-point range. They both later went on to win a championship and the latter has an opportunity to win his second.
In a sweep by the Spurs in 2007, James made just four shots in Game 1, and then saved his best performance for last. The only problem? He shot 10-for-30 in Game 4, made only two of six free throws, committed six turnovers, and watched as San Antonio won a title on his home floor.
As for Dirk, Dallas went up 2-0 on Miami before Nowitzki delivered one of the worst performances of his career in Game 4: a 2-for-14 shooting night. In the final three games, all Dallas losses, Nowitzki failed to top 50 percent shooting even once. While he would rally to post 29 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6, his performance came to personify one of the worst collapses by a team in Finals history.
We can’t forget about 2011, either. When these two squared off on each other in the Finals, it was James mentally succumbing to the moment, and delivering one of the most head scratching performances we’ve ever seen on the NBA’s biggest stage.
1. PATRICK EWING, 1994
This pains me to my inner core but Ewing was simply abused in his ’94 matchup with Hakeem Olajuwon. Granted, John Starks didn’t provide much relief for Ewing with a 2-for-18 shooting effort in Game 7. Olajuwon averaged seven more points than Ewing while attempting a total of 10 less shots through the seven-game series. Ewing shot nearly 14 percentage points lower than what he did during the regular season, a drop off that essentially sealed the Knicks’ fate. This series would be the last time that Ewing would make the NBA Finals, as he would be out during the 1999 New York run with an ACL injury. Ewing would play much better in nearly every one of his playoff series, but just couldn’t muster up the same production in the 1994 Finals, making him my biggest NBA Finals choker.
What do you think?
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