Jordan’s clutch performance didn’t really matter in his title runs

Saw this across my Twitter feed today:

It’s an interesting point actually. In the world of clutch it turns out that Michael Jordan actually lived up to the hype. He made 9 out of 18 clutch playoff shots, where clutch is defined as a game tying or game winning shot with 24 seconds or less left in the game. Let’s put this in perspective. In the 6 playoffs that Jordan won a ring, he put up 2916 shots! How many clutch shots did he put up in this time? 12; that amounts to less than half of a percent! Let’s also break down if Michael Jordan’s clutches changed the tides of any of the playoffs. (Clutch shots quoted from Abbott’s fantastic piece on Jordan’s playoff clutchness)

1991 Title Series vs. the Lakers

NBA Finals Game 1 vs. Lakers, June 2, 1991 

With the Bulls trailing 92-91 with 9 seconds left, Jordan took a pass near midcourt, drove towards the basket, and then pulled up for an 18-foot jumper that missed with about 3 seconds left. Lakers won 93-91.

NBA Finals Game 3 at Lakers, June 5, 1991

With the Bulls trailing 92-90, Jordan went coast to coast and dropped in a 12-footer with 3.4 seconds left send the game into overtime. The Bulls went on to win 104-96.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch mattered a little

Jordan’s clutch cancelled itself out. It took the Bulls to OT in one game, which of course required the Bulls win in OT. It lost the first game. And of course this series was over in 5 games. Jordan’s one clutch make helped, just not as much as you might think.

1992 Title Series vs. the Portland Trailblazers

NBA Finals Game 2 vs Trail Blazers, June 5, 1992

With the game tied at 97, Jordan had a chance to win it with two seconds left but his jumper over Terry Porter banged off the back of the rim. The Blazers went on to win 115-104 in overtime.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch didn’t matter.

Clearly if Jordan’s only clutch shot in the series failed and the Bulls still won, it’s hard to argue it mattered in the series.

1993 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers

Second round Game 4 at Cavaliers, May 17, 1993

With the score tied at 101, Jordan made an 18-foot fadeaway jumper over Gerald Wilkins at the final buzzer to give the Bulls a 103-101 victory.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch didn’t matter that much.

Jordan’s clutch definitely matters if you’re a Cavs fan. That said in a 4-0 route of the Cavs, it’s hard to argue that winning the game in regulation, instead of going to OT was a huge difference maker here.

1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the New York Knicks

Second round Game 3 at Knicks, May 11, 1996

With the Bulls trailing 88-85, Jordan hit a 3-pointer over Derek Harper with 19.4 seconds left. With the score tied at 88, Jordan then tried to gather an errant inbounds pass and threw up a wild hook shot while falling out of bounds well behind the 3-point line. He missed and the Bulls would go on to lose in overtime 102-99.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch didn’t matter

Jordan’s clutch canceled itself out and even so the end result was a loss. That said, losing this game didn’t stop the Bulls from taking down the Knicks in 5 games on their way to a title.

1997 Eastern Conference First Round vs. the Washington Bullets

First round Game 3 at Bullets, April 30, 1997

With the Bulls trailing 95-94 with about 11 seconds left in the fourth, Jordan had his shot blocked by Tracy Murray. (It appeared Jordan lost the ball on the way up, but he was credited with a shot attempt nonetheless.) The ball bounced out to Scottie Pippen, who took the rebound in for a go-ahead “and one” dunk with seven seconds remaining. Though Pippen missed the ensuing free throw, the Bulls held on to win 96-95.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch didn’t matter

Again, hard to say clutch matters when Jordan misses. What did matter was having a really good team mate that was able to make sure that this didn’t matter. The Bulls swept the Bullets, so no harm no foul.

1997 Title Series vs. the Utah Jazz

Finals Game 1 vs. Jazz, June 1, 1997

After Karl Malone missed two free throws with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 82, Jordan hit a 20-foot jumper over Bryon Russell at the buzzer to give the Bulls an 84-82 win.

Finals Game 4 at Jazz, June 8, 1997

With the Bulls trailing 76-73, Jordan’s 3-point attempt bounced in and out with nine seconds left. The Bulls went on to lose 78-73.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch helped

Jordan’s clutch again cancelled itself out. The result of his miss in game four left the series tied up. Again, 50% clutch is above average so he did help.

1998 Conference Finals vs. the Indiana Pacers

Conference Finals Game 4 at Pacers, May 25, 1998

With the Bulls down 2 and 0.7 seconds left on the clock, Jordan caught an inbounds pass and shot a 3-pointer that rolled around and out at the buzzer. The Bulls lost 96-94.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch didn’t matter

Again, your clutch can’t really matter if the shot doesn’t go in.

1998 Title Series versus the Utah Jazz

Finals Game 5 vs. Jazz, June 12, 1998

Trailing by two with 0.8 seconds left, Jordan caught an inbounds pass and launched a fallaway desperation 3 that missed everything at the buzzer. The Bulls lost by a final score of 83-81.

Finals Game 6 at Jazz, June 14, 1998

With the Bulls trailing 86-85 late in the fourth, Jordan drove right, crossed over at the top of the key, gave the stumbling Bryon Russell an extra little push, and hit the game-winning jumper with 5.2 seconds left. This shot — Jordan’s famous “Last Shot” with the Bulls — would provide the final score in Chicago’s 87-86 victory.

Conclusion: Jordan’s clutch helped
The bigger edge I’d argue was being up 3-1. Jordan’s clutch did finish out the series.

Summing up

Jordan’s clutch helped a little on the title front, but not as much as you might think. In playoffs where his team won a title he had 12 clutch shots and connected on 5 of them. This is not that great. Additionally, there are only two series I’ll give much credit to. The 1991 finals his clutch shot gave the Bulls a 2-1 edge instead of being in a 1-2 hole. Of course, had Jordan been clutch in game 1, it would have already been a 2-0 lead. In 1997 Jordan’s clutch kept the Bulls from starting in a 0-1 hole and given the series went to 6 as is, this mattered.

Another funny point is that before becoming a title winner Jordan had put up 6 clutch shots in the playoffs before ever winning a title. He connected on 4 of these. When he started winning rings he put up 12 clutch shots and connected on 5 of these. Basically his clutch shooting got worse as his winning got better! It’s possible there were other factors (Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman perhaps?) that resulted in Jordan’s titles other than his clutchness.

Jordan’s clutchness is engrained in our memory, in large part because Jordan has two of the most memorable clutch shots ever. To say a lack of clutch on his part would have kept him from titles? I’ll agree it MAY have changed the tides in two of the six titles Jordan won, but it still seems like clutch or not, Jordan would be a multiple title holder.


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