What Is a Clutch in Basketball?

There are 3.3 seconds left on the clock. The Toronto Raptors are trailing Miami Heat 90-87. Kyle Lowry shoots from half-court in an incredible play, the buzzer sounds, and the ball finds its way into the net. Man, Lowry was clutch.

It's a term used over and over in sports; you'll hear basketball commentators saying it, your friends saying it, your favorite bartender even probably says it. To be overly simple about it, it means that game-winning play—that moment of magic on the court.

Lowry's 2016 buzzer-beater tie against Miami Heat is only one example of many. Let's talk a little bit about the word 'clutch' in basketball and take a look at some of the greatest clutch players of all time. 

Clutch Shooting

Almost everyone has heard of the clutch shooting, but most people don't know what it means. It's making a big shot when your team needs it the most. Essentially, the perfect ball to win the game or get you back into the fight.

Clutch shooting can also be referred to as being "in the zone," or making shots that you would typically miss. 

The only time shots are categorized as clutch shots is during the final two minutes of play. And this can be the last two minutes in the fourth quarter or overtime.

clutch-buzzer-beater

A clutch shot can be a lay-up, dunk, three-point, or jump shot. It can also be a clutch free-throw if the player sinks a free-throw in the game's final two minutes.

Players with superior clutch skills are the "magicians" who can fire a shot at the most critical points. The ability to make clutch shots separates the great players from the average ones.

The double-clutch is also simply changing the shooting position while in the air. 

So, now when you hear a clutch shooter, clutch shot, and clutch shooting, you'll know they're referring to a great player, a last-gasp shot, or a skillful play that seals the deal.

When Is Clutch Time?

Clutch time, in basketball, is the situation at the end of a close game that shooters can avail themselves of a clutch shot. The last two minutes of each quarter and the last two minutes of each overtime is considered clutch time.

Moreover, a team's performance contributes to rating its ability to handle pressure. Many fans believe that these most crucial moments are when their team has possession of the ball with a slight lead near the game's end.

How Clutch Shooting Makes a Difference in the Game?

Clutch shooting isn't just about making a difference in the game.

Sometimes a clutch shot can be the difference between winning or losing the league.

In the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan made a clutch shot with 7.5 seconds left in the game. The Chicago Bulls ended up winning Game 1 against Utah Jazz and went on to win the trophy. 

Clutch shooting is a player's ability to hit shots under pressure. But making a shot like that is easier said than done.

clutch-shooting

Sometimes, it's not just about a player's skill but about how well they can perform under pressure.

When the threat of the buzzer looms near, some players fall to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Instead of performing miracles and plays better than anyone could expect, suddenly star players crumple and miss shots they should have bagged easily.

Some players get extra nervous in clutch time and try to play it safe. Instead of going for gold and taking a chance, they'll pass the ball to another player.

Clutch players look at the clock and suddenly transform into legends. They are the ones that know how to grab the bull by the horns and take that last-gasp chance of victory.

Undoubtedly, they are also the ones that make watching basketball so exciting.

For a coach, it's critical to know who your clutch players are. In a close game, subbing in a clutch player near the end could be the difference between recording a win or a loss. 

The GOAT Clutch Shooters

Everyone has their favorite clutch players. It may be that player that drills a game-winning three-pointer from the corner or sends a game into overtime with a last-second shot. Let's take a look at the two of the most clutch players in history.

LeBron James

Haters love to criticize the big man's ability to close, but his stats speak for themselves. Lebron James is probably one of the best clutch players in basketball. He's led his team to win no less than three championships and can claim five buzzer-beaters. 

Undeniably, LeBron comes into his element in clutch time. He's a big man for big moments. Eight times, he's either tied or won the game for his team in the final seven seconds. 

Kobe Bryant

Ever leaned back to throw something in the garbage and crooned "Kobe"? There's a reason for that. The Black Mamba knew how to make clutch time count. 

When it came down to a race against the clock, Kobe was always quick to get the ball in the air.

If you look at all the players in the NBA, Kobe was the most likely to get a shot off during clutch time. When he was playing, he made as many as 287 attempts during those critical final seconds of the game. 

RIP Kobe.

Conclusion: Clutch in Basketball

Clutch comes into play when a game is on the line, a team needs a bucket, and players want to make game-winning shots. Clutch shooters can tolerate high-pressure situations. They have the confidence to take the risk in the final moments.

One of the best ways to improve your clutch shot-making ability is through training. By putting yourself under a lot of pressure, you will begin to see results. You can also study notable clutch players and learn from their skills.

Joshua Bast


My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast