The NBA postseason is a great time for basketball fans because every game means something. Players have the opportunity to become a hero. However, there have also been many chokes in these high-pressure situations. This is what makes it so gripping to watch.
So today we’re going to look at some of the worst postseason performances in the modern NBA era. Ironically many of these players actually put in some of the best performances in playoff history. But it just goes to show that even the very best players are capable of having a bad day. Check out the 25 worst playoff chokes via Complex.
25. Chris Paul – 2009
Back when then Pelicans were still the Hornets, Paul was the main man in New Orleans. He was disproportionately important to their team that when he didn’t perform, it was a disaster. Unfortunately, like every player, he was capable of a bad day.
The problem is when an important player chokes during the postseason. The Denver Nuggets battered the Hornets in Game Four of the Western Conference quarterfinals and Paul was ineffective. He contributed just four points and two assists in as anonymous a performance as you’ll ever see.
The Miami Heat possessed an infamous trio of Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. Fans had high expectations and no wonder, because on paper that’s as good of an attack as any we’ve seen in the modern NBA. However, Wade totally flunked in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Luckily James and Bosh were there to pick up the pieces because Wade was truly awful. He scored just five points and produced the same number of turnovers in the third game of the series in a loss against the Indiana Pacers. But Miami was too hot for Indiana and went on and won the championship.
Malone had a tremendous career in an era where the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons ruled the roost. He still won the NBA MVP award and was a 14-time All-Star. However, even ‘The Mailman’ had a few chokes throughout his 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz.
Game three of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Lakers saw Malone play shambolically. He succeeded on just two out of 20 shot attempts. That figure says it all. However, the Jazz did come back to win the tie and made the Finals again.
The 1990s were a magnificent era for Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, but the less said about 1995 the better. In short, Jordan was responsible for his team crashing out of the playoffs. It may seem harsh to put him on a list of chokes after a game where he posted 19 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
However, this is Jordan that we’re talking about. For a man who regularly broke the 40-point barrier, this was simply not good enough. Then, with the Bulls needing three points to reach overtime, Nick Anderson blocked his shot in the final minute. Definitely not MJ’s best night.
Harden is one of the NBA’s best players. The Houston Rockets’ hero thrives in unorthodox circumstances, but even he has his fair share of playoff chokes. In 2019, he put in one of the most confusing performances we’ve ever seen after a historically-bad shooting night where he went 3-of-20.
After two great games against the Utah Jazz, the Rockets came into their third game full of confidence. However, Harden missed his first 15 shots in an inexplicable game. He still finished with 22 points and 10 assists after a late revival, but he was lucky that the Jazz didn’t exploit his wayward display.
The first of Nowitzki’s appearances on this list saw him put in a brutal display against the Golden State Warriors. It ended in a shocking series win for the Californian franchise after the league MVP failed to make a major difference during this game.
Golden State’s smaller and more nimble line-up outwitted Nowitzki throughout one of the worst chokes of his career. He scored eight points but did very little else during the game. It was a must-win game six for the Mavericks, who couldn’t get past the Warriors.
The problem with being great is that everybody expects you to be consistently brilliant. However, even Garnett couldn’t help the Minnesota Timberwolves to break their diabolically bad playoff record. From 1997-2003, they failed to make it out of the first round.
In 1998, Garnett was a shadow of himself in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Seattle Supersonics blitzed Minnesota and there was nothing Garnett could do about it. He had just seven points and four rebounds, putting him on this list of worst postseason chokes.
Michael Jordan fans will always point to James’s Western Conference final against the Boston Celtics as well as his tepid 2011 display for the Miami Heat as the main reasons why he’s not the greatest of all-time. To be fair, it’s entirely reasonable to criticize those performances because he was awful.
His game six against Boston was particularly bad and one of the most disappointing chokes on this list. He lacked the aggression and desire to dominate that we associate with LeBron. Furthermore, the Celtics didn’t have Isaiah Thomas, so they were there for the taking.
Sometimes your teammates dig you out of a hole. That’s exactly what the situation Westbrook found himself in before game four of the Western Conference semifinals. After a stunning season, critics predicted that Westbrook would perform brilliantly in the postseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But in this game, he made barely any impact as he scored a meager seven points. Fortunately, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka were in inspired form. Durant scored 36 points while Ibaka went a perfect 11-for-11 as the Thunder narrowly beat the San Antonio Spurs. It was no thanks to Westbrook.
Some weaker NBA teams benefit from having just one truly elite player who can drag them kicking and screaming into the postseason. However, while he can make the difference for them in a positive manner, the same is true if that individual has an off day. Iverson’s display in game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is a fine example.
The Philadelphia 76ers depended on Iverson. But he only scored 13 points as Orlando took over in the playoffs. Iverson didn’t have many chokes, but when he did the whole franchise was affected. This time,he succumbed to the heavy pressure.
If you just look at McGrady’s stat line from game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, you’ll probably wonder why he’s on this list of worst chokes. On the face of it, 20 points and six assists is a reasonable return by anybody’s standards. But dig deeper and you’ll find that he cost his team the game.
The New Orleans Hornets defeated McGrady’s Orlando Magic 80-79. However, McGrady missed several key free throws costing his team the opportunity to go to overtime. Sometimes, the pressure of the occasion is just too much and that was the situation for McGrady.
The New York Knicks have experienced their fair share of trauma over the past decade. It’s probably worse when you have a sense of false hope as Anthony gave them in 2012. In short, he was sensational during a regular-season campaign, shooting his team into the playoffs.
But then he ran out of steam and put in one of the worst chokes on this list in game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Anthony scored just 11 points and missed 13 shots on a night where the Knicks needed him. Miami crushed them in the tie and the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since.
The Black Mamba had a sensational career but even he was capable of poor performances. One of the worst chokes of his stellar career came in game five of the NBA Finals in 2000. Furthermore, his display raised questions about his mentality. It was only after the departure of Shaq that Bryant shook off these opinions.
Bryant scored just five points as the Pacers put the Lakers to the sword in that game, but luckily for him, it didn’t affect the tie. The Lakers won the next game and Bryant took the first of five career championship rings. If you are going to choke, then do it on a very good team.
Another player who never managed to win an NBA Championship despite doing seemingly everything else, Barkley is one of the league’s all-time greats. While he was one of the Phoenix Suns’ most important players for a long time, Barkley had a couple of chokes along the way.
Game three in the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets was one of his worst displays. He missed all 10 of his shots and only contributed seven rebounds. While he managed five points from free throws, it was nowhere near enough to help his team win.
The second of Harden’s appearances on this list shows that even great players are capable of multiple chokes. It was game six of the Westen Conference semifinals and the momentum was with the Houston Rockets. Injuries to the likes of Kahwi Leonard looked to have swung the tie in Houston’s favor.
But Harden totally underwhelmed. After a clinical and effective season, he put in his worst performance of the year. Just 10 points and seven assists saw the Spurs clinch a blowout victory. Nobody expected it.
Shaq wasn’t the same player for the Miami Heat that he was for the LA Lakers. There’s no shame in that because he was getting older and suffered regularly from injuries. But even so, the third game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal was awful by anybody’s standards.
It was one of the biggest chokes of O’Neal’s glittering career. In sum, we’re talking about a very poor seven turnovers and just eight points on the scoreboard. Furthermore, he missed each of his free throws in a wasteful display. But in the end, it didn’t matter because the Heat still won the NBA Finals.
Curry scored 19 points in game two of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, so you’re probably wondering why he’s on this list of chokes. In sum, the answer is because he only landed two-of-15 three-point attempts and lost his team the game. His accuracy was off the charts but not in a good way.
The Golden State Warriors’ star just couldn’t find his groove as the game passed him by. He was the NBA MVP that same year so the fans expected more from him in this game but it just didn’t happen on a night where they lost 95-93. At least the Warriors managed to take the series.
James did not leave Cleveland for the first time in good circumstances. Fans saw it as a massive betrayal but his terrible showing in the Eastern Conference semifinals definitely didn’t help. James had the chance to make a difference as the Cavaliers looked to get past the Boston Celtics.
In sum, he did have an impact but it was resoundingly negative. James appeared to have no interest in the game, scoring just 15 points. He also missed all of his three-point attempts as the game passed him by. To call this a choke is almost too generous because he just didn’t seem to care.
One of the best European players to ever star in the NBA, Nowitzki had his fair share of highlight-reel moments. The German spent 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and was even the Finals MVP when they won the Championship in 2011. But even legends have off days.
Just look at his game six showing against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference quarterfinals. In sum, Nowitzki attempted just two shots with zero rebounds. The funny thing is that he wasn’t even the worst player in that series thanks to a totally anonymous effort from Steve Nash two games earlier.
The LA Lakers totally shut Allen down in game three of the NBA Finals. It came as a massive surprise after a great Game Two where he scored an outstanding 32 points. However, he chose a bad moment to have one of the worst chokes of his career because it really cost his team,
He scored zero points from the field with his two coming from free throws. With just four rebounds and two assists, he contributed to the Celtics falling a game behind in the series. The Lakers carried their momentum forward and went on to win in seven games.
Like Karl Malone, Miller was always in Michael Jordan’s shadow. However, after years of suffering at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, he finally made it to the NBA finals. Unluckily for him, it was against the LA Lakers as they commenced a new NBA dynasty.
We’re talking about the start of the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant era. Meanwhile, Miller couldn’t do anything to make a difference for the Pacers. He scored just seven points in Game One as he fell apart on the biggest stage. Failing in the Finals is the worst way to choke.
You have to wonder if we’ve seen the best of Kevin Durant. Now with the Brooklyn Nets after several excellent seasons with the Golden State Warriors, he first made his name with the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, he had his fair share of chokes with the Thunder during the playoffs.
His worst display came against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals. In short, Durant shot 19 blanks and only scored 11 points. Of course, when your best player has a bad day, it usually means the result is bad too. The Grizzlies won 95-83.
James made the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat after dealing with a ton of abuse throughout the regular season. He left his beloved Cleveland because he wanted to win a championship but you wouldn’t have known it from his disinterested performances against the Dallas Mavericks.
Game Four was his worst performance as he managed just eight points. He also attempted just eleven shots in the 45 minutes he spent on the court. This left fans and critics to analyze his mentality and desire. In the end, he came back a year later to finally win the Championship.
Duncan is one of those players who really deserves more credit. If he hadn’t stayed faithful to the San Antonio Spurs and moved to another franchise in a bigger city, then the chances are he would have been the league’s most famous player. After all, he did play in 251 postseason games.
But you can’t be brilliant in that many games even if you are an elite NBA star. Duncan belongs on this list of worst chokes after an appalling game one in the Western Conference semifinals. To sum up, he managed just one shot in a horror show. Luckily, that was a rare bad day for Duncan.
Nash is an NBA legend and also one of the best players never to get his hands on a Championship ring. However, this basketball hero put in a wretched performance in the Western Conference quarterfinals. It was even worse than his teammate Dirk Nowitzki’s two games later. That’s truly saying something.
We’re talking about arguably the worst game of Nash’s career. He scored exactly zero points against the Trail Blazers. First of all, Nash was the Dallas Mavericks’ starting point guard so that is unacceptable. But it was a rare bad day in a great career.