Don’t Choke: The Worst Playoff Performances By The Best NBA Players

Basketball | 4/23/19

The NBA is a superstar-driven league. When the Golden State Warriors push their way to NBA Finals, fans expect Stephen Curry to play out of his mind. If you look at Curry’s trophy case, however, you’ll notice one award is missing; Finals MVP. And what about Michael Jordan? He might be the GOAT, but even he has been caught off guard in the biggest moment. In 1995, Nick Anderson showed just how vulnerable Jordan could be. That disappointing playoff performance and even more shocking ones lay just ahead.

Do you remember when Shaq missed every free throw he took?

Michael Jordan Lost His Handle

michael jordan worst nba playoff performances
TONY RANZE/AFP/Getty Images
TONY RANZE/AFP/Getty Images

The year was 1995. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were taking on Nick Anderson and the Orlando Magic. Jordan had a game line of 19 points, five rebounds, and three assists. For most players, those numbers would do just fine. For Jordan, they were unacceptable.

With time winding down and the Bulls needing a three-point shot to send the game into overtime, Jordan had a chance to rectify his night. He got the ball with a second left on the clock, but before he could take the shot, Anderson stole the ball. After the game, he called Jordan “old.”

Kevin Garnett Let Minnesota Down

kevin garnett worst nba playoff appearances
DAN LEVINE/AFP/Getty Images
DAN LEVINE/AFP/Getty Images

From 1997 to 2003, the Minnesota Timberwolves failed to make it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs. If Kevin Garnett had played like his elite self in those series, then that run of bad luck might never have happened.

Case in point; game five of the 1998 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. If the T’Wolves had beaten the Seattle Supersonics, they would have made the conference semis. Garnett contributed to the devastating loss with seven points, four rebounds, and ten turnovers.

Coming up, Allen Iverson’s poor showing showed just how valuable he was to Philadelphia!

The 76ers Needed Allen Iverson More Than He Knew

allen iverson worst nba playoff performances
Sporting News via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images

Without Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers were not a good basketball team. Every year he could, he carried them to the playoffs on his back. If his back couldn’t handle the load, they were done for.

This was never truer than in 1999 when Iverson’s performance in game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was far below average. He contributed 13 points to the teams 79-68 loss to Orlando. This was a low scoring game and one that Philadelphia wouldn’t have lost if Iverson had been on target.

Kobe Bryant’s Worst Playoff Game Was Ugly

kobe bryant worst nba playoff performances
Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images
Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images

Like Michael Jordan, the lasting memory of Kobe Bryant around the NBA is that he was never bad. The reality is that in game five of the 2000 NBA Finals he was very bad. Bryant scored five points as the Lakers fell to the Indiana Pacers 120-87.

Luckily for Bryant, no one would remember his disappointing game. Los Angeles won the next game and clinched the NBA Title. It was the Black Mamba’s first of five rings in his Hall of Fame career.

Shaq Missed Every Free Throw In 2006

shaq worst nba playoffs performances
Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images
Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images

Shaq had a game of shame for the record books in the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Bulls. The third game of the series saw “Big Aristotle” shrink with only eight points and a personal post-season-worst of seven turnovers. He also missed all of his free throw attempts.

During his Hall of Fame career, Shaq played in over 200 playoff games. Game three of the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals easily stands above the rest as his worst performance. The good news for Shaq is that the Heat still managed to win the NBA Finals that year.

Still ahead, LeBron might be a legend, but even he’s had a bad game!

LeBron James Choked Away The 2010 Finals

lebron james worst nba playoff performances
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In 2010, LeBron James was on his way out of Cleveland, and if you ask fans he probably packed his bags early. The Cavaliers were tied two games apiece in Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics when LeBron said goodbye.

Despite the NBA Finals being within reach, James didn’t appear interested. During game five, he scored 15 points and missed all of his three-point attempts. The next season he took his talents to Miami, where he would finally taste victory.

Stephen Curry Felt The Pressure In 2015

stephen curry worst nba playoff performances
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors broke through to the promised land in 2015, making the NBA Finals for the first time in four decades. In game two of the series against the Cavaliers, however, league MVP Stephen Curry couldn’t get into a rhythm.

Curry finished the game with 19 points and six rebounds. He made two of 15 three-point attempts on the night, proving that even the most prolific shooter in NBA history has off nights. The Cavs beat the Warriors 95-93, but Golden State won the series.

Carmelo Anthony Backed Up His Best With His Worst

carmelo anthony worst nba playoff performances
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony was supposed to be the savior of the New York Knicks. In 2012, he led the team to the playoffs, giving New York the best he had. Once the playoffs started, though, the big man ran out of gas.

In game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Heat, Anthony scored 11 points and missed 13 shots. Miami tore down New York 100-67, crushing the franchise’s spirit. The Knicks haven’t been back to the playoffs since, while Anthony has endlessly bounced around the league.

Keep reading to learn how Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant let down the Thunder in back-to-back years!

Russell Westbrook Was Saved By His Teammates In 2012

russell westbrook worst nba playoff performances
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook is unquestionably one of the best players in the NBA. In 2012, the OKC Thunder steamrolled their way into the playoffs with Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka. For Westbrook, the pressure was too much.

Against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the Western Conference Semifinals, Westbrook scored seven points and had five assists. Miraculously, the Thunder won 109-103 thanks to a 36-point night from Durant and another 26 points from Ibaka (who was a perfect 11-for-11 shooting).

Kevin Durant Hasn’t Always Been Perfect

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Before joining the Warriors, Kevin Durant had his share of playoff struggles. None more so than his game six performance during the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. Durant went 4-23 shooting, scoring 11 points. The Thunder lost 95-83.

Since then, Durant has been a playoff miracle man. In the NBA Finals with the Warriors, he has averaged nearly 30 points per game and been named the Finals MVP twice. Russell Westbrook, who made a point to stay with OKC after Durant left, hasn’t been so lucky.

Chris Paul Let The Hornets Down

chris paul worst nba playoff performances
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When Chris Paul played in New Orleans, the team was still named the Hornets. They were lucky to make the playoffs in 2009, and they were even luckier to have Paul on their side. His game four performance in the Western Conference Quarterfinals showed just how bad they were without him.

Paul might have been on the court that game, but you never would have known from his final stat line: four points, two rebounds, and six turnovers. The Hornets lost to the Denver Nuggets 121-63 and Paul was traded to the Clippers two years later.

Dwayne Wade showed his vulnerability in 2012, but do you remember how bad his worst game was?

Dwayne Wade Couldn’t Carry The Load

dwayne wade worst nba playoff appearances
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The 2012 Miami Heat were an impressive basketball team anchored by LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. When the team reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it was thought they would cruise to the NBA Finals. Then Dwayne Wade disappeared.

In the third game of the series, Wade produced five turnover and only scored five points. The Pacers beat the Heat 94-75 and took a 2-1 series lead. Suddenly, fans were starting to say the “big three can’t win.” The team responded by going on to the NBA Finals and winning the championship in five games.

Tim Duncan Was Bound To Have A Bad Game

tim duncan worst nba playoff performances
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When you play in the postseason as much as Tim Duncan did with the San Antonio Spurs, it’s hard to be great every game. In game one of the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, Duncan was really bad and only made one shot.

Predictably, the Hornets beat the Spurs 101-82 that day. Duncan has probably forgotten this performance, though. Five championship rings will make the bad taste of any rough game go away. Did we mention he also has an Olympic medal?

Dirk Nowitzki Was Forgiven For This Dud

dirk nowitzki worst nba playoff performances
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki is going to be a first ballot NBA Hall of Famer. His career with the Dallas Mavericks was filled with far more highs than lows. One of those lows was his game six performance in the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Nowitzki only made two shots and failed to get any rebounds. The Mavericks lost to the Trailblazers 125-103. As we hinted, however, Nowitzki’s bad game didn’t stop Dallas. They pushed the series to seven games, ultimately winning and advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Still ahead, if you thought Nowitzki was bad, just wait until you remember how one of his all-star teammates played!

Steve Nash Scored A Donut In 2003

steve nash worst nba playoff performances
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Steve Nash was the starting point guard opposite Dirk Nowitzki for the Mavericks in 2003 when he had what might be the worst performance of his career. In game four against the Portland Trailblazers, Nash failed to score any points.

When your starting point guard finishes any game with a donut, it’s a problem. When that game takes place in the playoffs, it’s an even bigger problem. Thankfully, Dirk Nowitzki made Nash look better two games later.

Tracy McGrady Just Didn’t Do Enough

tracy mcgrady worst NBA playoff performances
NELL REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images
NELL REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images

On the surface, scoring 20 points with six assists should be enough to keep anyone off this list. Unfortunately, we can’t ignore Tracy McGrady’s free throw troubles in game one of the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Orlando Magic lost to the New Orleans Hornets 80-79. If McGrady had made just one more free throw, the game would have gone to overtime. If he had made two, then no one would be talking about this performance today.

Karl Malone Air Mailed His Shots In 1997

karl malone worst nba playoff performances
DOUG COLLIER/AFP/Getty Images
DOUG COLLIER/AFP/Getty Images

In game three of the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, Karl Malone was awful. The Mailman only made two of 20 shot attempts. He finished the game with 15 points, thanks to making 11 free throws.

The Utah Jazz dropped the game to the Los Angeles Lakers 104-84. If Malone had been on-target all night, the Jazz would have a fighting chance. Malone managed to bounce back, though and helped push Utah to the team’s second straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

Charles Barkley Might Want This Game Back

charles barkley worst nba playoff performances
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Throughout his NBA career, Charles Barkley accomplished a lot. He was named the league MVP and was a perennial all-star. The one thing he never did was win a championship, and his performance in game three of the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals might be why.

Chuck missed all ten shots he attempted and only collected seven rebounds. He did score five points thanks to free throws, but it wasn’t enough for the Suns to overcome the Rockets. The final score was 118-85.

Patrick Ewing Wasn’t The Problem

patrick ewing worst nba playoff performances
Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

Patrick Ewing ran into a brick wall in 1991 when the Knicks faced off against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Game one set the tone. Chicago crushed New York 126-85, with Ewing being kept in-check the entire game.

Ewing didn’t take the blowout loss sitting down though. He committed five fouls. One more would have removed him from the game and matched his points total. He also turned the ball over five times.

Magic Johnson Was Human In 1988

magic johnson worst nba playoff appearances
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Mike Powell/Getty Images

It’s not easy to find a bad stat line for Magic Johnson. We had to reach all the way back to 1988. It was game six of the Western Conference Semifinals, and the Lakers were taking on the Jazz.

Johnson only made three shots while collecting six rebounds. Los Angeles lost to Utah 108-80. As brutal as the final score was, Johnson must have used the night as motivation. The Lakers went on to win the series and their second straight NBA Championship.