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All-Time Worst NBA Finals Performances

Joel Brigham looks at star players who delivered an awful NBA Finals performance over the years.



Kevin Love just can’t catch a break. Last year, his injury was one of the major reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers were blasted for not winning the championship. This year, after losing the first two games of their NBA Finals series with Love, the Cavaliers absolutely romped the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 with Love sidelined due to a concussion. Now, there are articles saying things like, “Kevin Love Must Come off the Bench in Game 4.”

He seems to be catching endless grief for a player who is undeniably good, but the fact that he’s averaging 16.5 points and 9.4 rebounds in the playoffs this spring doesn’t seem to matter to those who just don’t believe he’s a proper fit with his current team. His Finals numbers are skewed a bit because he only played 21 minutes in Game 2 thanks to the concussion, but in Game 1 he had 17 points and 13 boards in the loss. That is by no means a “choke” game, by any stretch of the imagination.

While Love’s “struggles” in the Finals so far have been blown out of proportion, other stars over the years have actually been awful on the NBA’s biggest stage.

With that said, here’s a look at the stars who put up the worst performances in the NBA Finals over the years (and no, Love isn’t anywhere close to this list):

#5 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2007 NBA Finals – It’s been almost 10 years since LeBron James made his Finals debut, but that appearance is one he’d likely rather forget. In his first game in that championship series, legendary defenders Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan took turns defending James, holding him to only 14 points on 16 shots. That obviously resulted in a loss, but then again they were all losses for the Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals. San Antonio swept the Cavs and put a massive halt on James’ trajectory as a future ring winner. It would be a few more years before he’d get his first one (in Miami, obviously).

#4 – John Starks, New York Knicks, 1994 NBA Finals – While Starks isn’t quite on the level of some of the other stars on this list, he was an All-Star for New York in 1994, and that big year from him went a long way toward helping the Knicks charge their way to the Finals in the first season that Michael Jordan had finally retired and allowed them to advance that deep into the postseason. Starks had an atrocious Game 7 against the Houston Rockets, though, shooting 2-18 from the field and missing an ungodly 11 three-pointers in a game that Houston would eventually win, giving Hakeem Olajuwon his first of two rings in the mid-‘90s.

#3 – Ray Allen, Boston Celtics, 2010 NBA Finals – In Game 2 of the NBA Finals that year, Ray Allen knocked down what was then a record eight three-pointers, but he must have used up all of his legs in that contest because he followed it up with a Game 3 that saw him score his first points in his 42nd minute of action that night – and even those were free-throws. He shot 0-13 on the game and uncharacteristically missed eight three-pointers, all of which equated to the worst playoff performance in the career of an all-time great shooter.

#2 – Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers, 2000 NBA Finals – Another all-time great shooter, we think of Miller as this heroic scorer, nailing down the biggest of shots in the biggest of games – but he had his bad nights too. One such off night came at the worst possible time, during Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals. Miller must have been overwhelmed by the moment for arguably the first time in his life, as he shot a brutal 1-16 from the field and attempted only three shots from deep, all of which failed to connect. The Pacers did not win those Finals despite much more valiant efforts from Miller later in the series, but it’s easy to imagine how things may have been different had they stolen Game 1.

#1 – Dennis Johnson, Seattle SuperSonics, 1978 NBA Finals – There’s nothing quite like a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, and when a Hall-of-Famer comes into that Game 7 on a tear, it seems almost certain that legendary things are bound to happen. In 1978, legendary things did happen to future Hall-of-Famer Dennis Johnson, but not quite like he’d hoped. Johnson put up the worst shooting night in the history of the NBA Finals, going 0-14 from the field in the final game of the series. The Sonics did win the championship the next year, and Johnson would be named the 1979 Finals MVP, but in ’78 he was about as bad as a great player has ever been in such an important game.

Honorable Mention:

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 2015 NBA Finals – Even the most unconscious shooter in the history of basketball has his off nights, and when you shoot with the kind of volume Curry does, some record-setting nights (both good and bad) are bound to happen. In Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Curry clanged 13 three-pointers over the course of the game, which set a new record and served as one of the most atrocious shooting nights for a league MVP in the history of the Finals.

Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers, 2008 NBA Finals – Staring elimination in the face during Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant completely failed to save his Lakers by shooting 7-22 from the field at the hands of a really tough Boston Celtics defense. Boston outscored the Lakers 34-15 in the second quarter alone, and everything the future Hall-of-Famer threw up seemed to clang off the rim. He’d have plenty of big games in his NBA Finals career, but this absolutely was not one of them.

Put in this perspective, the Cavaliers should be glad that Love is a consistent rebounder and three-point shooter, even if he’s clearly not on the level of LeBron James himself or any of Golden State’s big stars. He’s not the worst, either. Some of the most revered names in basketball history have been way more disappointing in big games.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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