Ask most GMs, coaches, players or fans to name that single player throughout the course of NBA history that they would choose to take the last second shot in a playoff game, and the likely consensus would be Michael Jordan.
No single player has recorded more iconic moments. “The Shot” against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989 served as the catalyst for a 10-year playoff run known as the “Jordan era”, while Michael Jordan’s game winning shot against the Utah Jazz in 1998 resulted in a storybook ending that helped the Chicago Bulls win their 6th and final championship. Jordan’s game winning/game tying shots have been indelibly etched into our consciousness and his name has essentially become synonymous with the word “clutch”.
However, has anyone actually accounted for both the makes and the misses? Do we really have an accurate understanding of how Michael Jordan has truly performed in playoff game winning/game tying shot situations with the game on the line?
The game winning/game tying shot is arguably the most clutch shot in basketball. While any other shot attempt during a game offers a player an opportunity for redemption in the case of a miss, the game winning/game tying is the most unforgiving, since unless a player’s team is tied, there are no second chances. Either the player makes the shot and succeeds, or he misses and fails. Its one shot for all the marbles, and the outcome can mean the difference between a crucial win or a loss. In the playoffs, this shot becomes even more consequential.
Earlier in the year, I wrote an article detailing each of Kobe Bryant’s playoff game winning/game tying shots in which he was 7/25 (28%). I then followed up with a second article by detailing each of LeBron James’ game winning/game tying shots in which he was 5/12 (41.7%). Naturally, we received several requests to also provide a similar breakdown for Michael Jordan.
Historically, Jordan’s metrics have not been as readily available since most of his playoff game winning/game tying shot attempts were done in the pre-internet era, or prior to today’s readily available play-by-play logs. As a result, our team had to conduct the analysis the old fashioned way – by watching the game tape, validating through box scores and recaps, and documenting each and every single playoff game winning/game tying shot attempt that Michael Jordan had taken since 1985.
Therefore, without further adieu, below is a consolidated list of every game winning and game tying shot attempted by Michael Jordan throughout his playoff career. To define game winning/game tying shots, we uses the standard metric traditionally used by NBA coaches and GMs when scouting opposing teams – shot attempts made with the intent to either win or tie the game within the final 24 seconds, during which a player’s team is either tied or trails by three or fewer points – or in other words, a one-possession game.
The results show that Michael Jordan is 9/18 or 50.0%
|1985||Milwaukee Bucks||3||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot with 22 seconds left in regulation|
|1986||Boston Celtics||2||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot with 4 seconds left in overtime|
|1989||Cleveland Cavaliers||4||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot with 2 seconds left in regulation|
|1989||Cleveland Cavaliers||5||Make||Jordan makes a potential game winner with 6 seconds left in regulation|
|1989||Cleveland Cavaliers||5||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1989||Detroit Pistons||3||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot with 3 seconds left in regulation|
|1991||Los Angeles Lakers||1||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot with 6 seconds left in regulation|
|1991||Los Angeles Lakers||3||Make||Jordan makes a game tying shot with 3 seconds left in regulation|
|1992||Portland Trail Blazers||2||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot with 2 seconds left in regulation|
|1993||Cleveland Cavaliers||4||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1996||New York Knicks||3||Make||Jordan makes a game tying shot with 19 seconds left in regulation|
|1996||New York Knicks||3||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1997||Washington Wizards||3||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot with 11 seconds left in regulation|
|1997||Utah Jazz||1||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1997||Utah Jazz||4||Miss||Jordan misses a game tying shot with 10 seconds left in regulation|
|1998||Indian Pacers||4||Miss||Jordan misses a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1998||Utah Jazz||5||Miss||Jordan missess a game winning shot at the end of regulation|
|1998||Utah Jazz||6||Make||Jordan makes a game winning shot win 5 seconds left in regulation|
Some additional notes and observations:
- Based upon our analysis of both Jordan and the modern day players of today’s NBA, Jordan’s 9/18 success rate is remarkably high, and far and away the best amongst active players. The best career success rate amongst current players belongs to Ray Allen who is 6/12.
- Contrary to popular myth, Michael Jordan has indeed missed a game winning/game tying shot in the playoffs. In fact, the data shows that he has missed a total of 9.
- Obviously, this resolves the Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan debate regarding game winning/game tying shot situations. Jordan is 9/18 (50%) while Bryant is 7/25 (28%).
- Many Jordan fans will question why the 1997 “Flu Game” game winning shot is missing from this list. The answer is that Jordan made that shot with 25 seconds left on the clock, missing the 24 second cutoff point in our analysis. In an effort to remain consistent with our prior analysis of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, this shot was excluded.
- There were two instances in which Jordan made game winning/game tying free throws in a playoff game – 1986 vs. Celtics in OT of Game 2, and 1989 vs. Knicks in game 6. These instances were excluded from our list since our objective was to focus exclusively on game winning/game tying shots, not free throws.
- With the exception of a driving bank shot against the Detroit Pistons in 1989 (Game 3), every single Michael Jordan playoff game winning/game tying shot attempt was a jumpshot.
Michael Jordan Clutch Game Winning Shots