The Worst NBA Playoff Performances by Great Players

We often forget the less stellar plays made by sports icons— here's a reminder of the worst NBA playoffs performances by great players.

worst nba playoff performance lead

Image via Getty/Dylan Buell

worst nba playoff performance lead

We remember Michael Jordan for moments like “The Shrug” and “The Final Shot.” But does anyone remember when Nick Anderson made him look like a fool in the 1995 playoffs? Chances are, unless you have a photographic memory or are Nick Anderson, the answer is no. The greats are judged by what made them great, not by what was done on their worst nights.

Bad nights from great players, however, have arguably had just as much of an impact on the game as great players having great nights. Maybe if LeBron James’ Cavs made it past the Celtics in 2010, he never would have gone to Miami. Maybe if John Starks shot better than 2-for-18 from the field in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals, the Knicks would have a series championship in an era in which cell phones exist.

A perfect example of this is taking place right now, with everyone in awe of the Warriors’ dominance. The speculation as to how they would do against the ‘80s Celtics, ‘90s Bulls, and early-‘00s Lakers will easily kill all of the “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” memes for good, just like Michael Jordan made everyone forget about the Nick Anderson steal by winning three straight championships. Winning is the best amnesia-inducer on the market in the sports world. So, at the end of the day, none of us will remember this decade’s Warriors team for their worst nights. Complex has compiled a list of NBA greats’ worst playoff games, and our bet is that you probably don’t even remember at least half of these, as if they didn’t happen. The player's’ greatness were like those little silver things from Men In Black that erase memories of their bad games—even for playoff games.

So with that said, here is a list of legends and their worst performances in the NBA playoffs.

Larry Bird

worst nba playoff performance larry bird

Magic Johnson

worst nba playoff performance magic johnson

Patrick Ewing

worst nba playoff performance patrick ewing

Michael Jordan

worst nba playoff performance michael jordan

Charles Barkley

worst nba playoff performance charles barkley

Karl Malone

worst nba playoff performance karl malone

The game: Game 3, 1997 Western Conference Semifinals

The stats: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 0 assists, 2-for-20 from the field

The result: Lakers 104, Jazz 84

Aside from hitting 11 of 12 free throws, Malone was ice cold all night. He hit just two of 20 shots from the field, struggling mightily as the Lakers blew out the Jazz. The Mailman would bounce back though, by leading the Jazz to a series win en route to their first of back-to-back Finals appearances.

Kevin Garnett

worst nba playoff performance kevin garnett

Allen Iverson

worst nba playoff performance allen iverson

Kobe Bryant

worst nba playoff performance kobe bryant

The game: Game 5, 2000 NBA Finals vs. Pacers 

The stats: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4-for-20 from the field

The result: Pacers 120, Lakers 87 Kobe’s worst NBA Finals performance came in his first-ever NBA Finals. The Lakers came into the game with a 3-1 lead and a chance to clinch a championship, but they were forced to wait until Game 6 to do so, thanks in part to this performance from Kobe. If Kobe were reminded of this game, we’re guessing his response would look a little something like this: Best. GIF. Ever.

Tracy McGrady

worst nba playoff performance tracy mcgrady

Steve Nash

worst nba playoff performance steve nash

Dirk Nowitzki

worst nba playoff performance dirk nowitzki

The game: Game 6, 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Trail Blazers

The stats: 4 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 2-for-11 from the field

The result: Blazers 125, Mavs 103

 Much like Nash in Game 4 of the series, Nowitzki had a dud of his own in Game 6, scoring just four points. Despite this pair of poor performances, the Mavs were able to win this series in seven games.

Shaquille O'Neal

worst nba playoff performance shaquille oneal

Tim Duncan

worst nba playoff performance tim duncan

The game: Game 1, 2008 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Hornets

The stats: 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1-for-9 from the field

The result: Hornets 101, Spurs 82

When you make the playoffs every year for almost 20 years, you’re allowed to have a bad game every once in awhile. And Duncan had a real bad one to open up the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, hitting just one field goal the entire game.


Dwyane Wade

worst nba playoff performance dwayne wade

Chris Paul

worst nba playoff performance chris paul

Lebron James

worst nba playoff performance lebron james

The game: Game 5, 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Celtics

The stats: 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3-for-14 from the field, 0-for-4 from three

The result: Celtics 120, Cavs 88

Many in the media, along with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, criticized LeBron for what they saw as quitting in this series—which would be the last of LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland.

Whether he quit or not, there’s no question that he turned in an awful performance in Game 5. James scored just 15 points on three of 14 shooting, and missed all four of his three-point attempts. The series was tied at two games apiece at that point, so to see the best player in the league have that kind of an output in a must-win game was very disappointing to say the least. It’s amazing how much has changed in just seven years, by the way. The prospects of LeBron “quitting” or putting up a statline like this in a big game is now almost unfathomable.

Kevin Durant

worst nba playoff performance kevin durant

Russell Westbrook

worst nba playoff performance russell westbrook

Carmelo Anthony

worst nba playoff performance carmelo anthony

Stephen Curry

worst nba playoff performance stephen curry

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