The 5 Worst NBA Playoff Performances Since the ’90s


Worst NBA Playoff Performances E-V-E-R.

When the NBA playoffs roll around, I’m often reminded of Cotton McKnight, the play-by-play announcer for the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open on ESPN’s “The Ocho.” As Cotton would say…the NBA playoffs don’t build character, they reveal it. If you don’t get the reference, go watch “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” You’ll thank us. Big time players step up in big games, but sometimes, even the ‘best in the world’ stink up the court. We came up with a ranking of the seven worst playoff chokes in the NBA since the 90s. Personally, I have nightmares about one of the performances. Can you guess which one?

John Starks, Knicks vs Rockets; 1994 NBA Finals, Game 7

Knicks guard John Starks (.r) drives against the Houston Rockets during Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals. (Nathaniel E. Butler/NBAE Getty Images)

The Head Writer of First and Ten Sports is a lifelong New York Knicks fan and we fell in love with the John Starks grit, heart, and fearlessness. For those 90’s Knicks, Starks was a lighting rod and catalyst for some of the team’s greatest triumphs and most painful failures. The ’94 Finals against the Houston Rockets illustrates the volatile nature of one of the Knicks most popular players.

With the Knicks up 3-2 in the series, New York had two chances to win their first NBA championship since 1973. Starks led the Knicks in scoring with 27 points, including 16 points in the fourth quarter in Game 6. The Knicks trailed by ten at halftime and needed a spark. Starks took the game over and with 7.6 seconds left in the game, he had the ball in his hands with a chance to win. he raised up for three but ‘The Dream‘ got a finger on the ball. The Rockets won the game.

Then came Game 7. Starks picked the worst time ever to have a bad game. He went 2-18, scoring eight points and missing the 11 three-pointers he attempted. In a game decided by single digits (90-84), an average Starks performance could’ve secured a title for Ewing and the Knicks. Five years later, Starks told the New York Post in 1999, “That I wasn’t able to perform the way I was capable of performing and bring a championship to this city, which is so deserving of one. That’s the only thing I regret about being here. That one game.”

Kobe Bryant, Pacers vs Lakers; 2000 NBA Finals, Game 5

Pacer’ guard Reggie Miller (l.) is guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (r.) at the Staples Center during the 2000 NBA Finals. Jeff Haynes/AFP

Kobe Bryant is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He is a five-time NBA champion, 17-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP and an Olympic Gold Medalist. But Game 5 of the 2000 Finals proved that even the “Black Mamba” is human. In his first trip to the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers took on the surprising Indiana Pacers. The Lakers led the series 3-1 with a chance to close out the series in Indiana.

Bryant had a rough night, like Colorado hotel room rough. Jellybean Bryant’s son went 4-20, scoring a pathetic eight points in 37 minutes. Plus he nearly committed as many fouls (5) as he scored. The Pacers extended the series with a rout of the Lakers, 120-87. Bryant did have an excuse-he wasn’t 100%. He was recovering from a severely sprained ankle suffered a week earlier.

Tim Duncan, Spurs vs Pelicans; 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 1

Hornets Chris Paul (l.) and Tyson Chandler (r.) defend Tim Duncan (c.) of the San Antonio Spurs in New Orleans. Photo: Jerry Lara /San Antonio Express-News

Tim “The Big Fundamental” Duncan is one of the greatest power forwards ever to play in the NBA and one of the best “big man” ever. But when you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

The upstart Hornets led by Chris Paul, David West, and Tyson Chandler were looking to unseat the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 took place in New Orleans and the Hornets spanked the Spurs by 19 points. Duncan was shut down by Tyson Chandler. In 37 minutes, Duncan scored only five points on nine shots. He barely contributed on defense too. He finished the game with three rebounds and three steals. Not exactly an MVP-caliber performance.

The Spurs won the series, so no harm, no foul. Duncan makes this list because, c’mon man…single digits.

LeBron James, Cavaliers vs Celtics, 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 5

The semifinal series against the Boston Celtics in 2010 would be LeBron James’ last days with the Cavaliers. James would sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat before returning to Ohio. Gordon Wang/Blogger.

An entire book could be written about Game 5 and the series with the Boston Celtics. We don’t know whether the rumors are true, but the added controversy made the Cavaliers/Celtics series must-watch. Let’s review what we do know. The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the regular season with the best record in the league and LeBron James won his second MVP award.

In the series’ first four games, James was in MVP form, shooting 55 percent and scoring around 32 points a game. Then came Game 5. James finished with 15 points on 3-14 shooting in over 40 minutes. It was a bad night, but if you just read the stats, you’d think we were overreacting. But live James looked lethargic, passive, and uninterested. Was an elbow injury, or something else? A tweet may have revealed the truth.

According to urban legend, Cavaliers teammate Delonte West hooked up with LeBron James’ mother, Gloria. James found out about the affair before Game 4 and was shook for the rest of the series. Delonte West’s minutes went down in games five and six without explanation. The Cavaliers lost in six games and the rumors hurt any chance James would re-sign with the Cavs during the off-season.

James was accused of choking. But the harshest criticisms came from Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert who was said about the MVP, “He quit.” “Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape.”

Game 5 defined James’ NBA career from that point forward. The King orchestrated ‘The Decision,’ in the summer, formed a super team in Miami, finally won a championship, and then returned to Cleveland in 2014.

James Harden, Rockets vs Spurs; 2017 Western Conference Finals, Game 6

James Harden barely looked like himself in Game 6. (AP)

James Harden, aka ‘The Beard’ is a virtually unstoppable one one one player. His eurostep defies imagination and is there any other NBA player with a more vicious step-back jumper?

Harden averaged 29 points PPG, 11 assists per game and eight rebounds as Houston’s PG. He didn’t average a triple double like MVP Russell Westbrook, but there was a legitimate debate over which player deserved the award.

By the third quarter of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Harden’s game went to ‘$#it.’ The Beard was 3-for-11 from the field with six turnovers after halftime. He also didn’t score a point during the game’s final eight minutes. The Spurs won Game 5 in overtime. The Rockets did lose, but Harden did score 33 points.

Game 6 was a different story. Harden vanished–he scored 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting with seven assists and six turnovers. God damn, he sucked. As if the refs were kicking him when he was down, he fouled out with more than three minutes left in the game. The final score was 114-75.

What happened? Simple, Lil B. The Bay Area rapper and Warriors fan warned Harden to stop emulating his “cooking dance” in 2015. Harden ignored him and it was on. In May 2015, during the Western Conference finals ‘The Based God’s Curse’ took effect. “He’s [Harden] cursed for the rest of the playoffs and further notice until he speaks on what dance celebration he’s doing and where it comes from,” Lil B told TMZ.

Don’t cross The Base God.

Wrap it Up B

There’s our list. I may get shit for including Starks in a list of “big-time players,” but the ineptitude, the moment when it happened and the fact the Knicks haven’t reached the finals since made him list-worthy.

Remeber, if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs.