15 Biggest Mistakes NBA Players Made in the Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs and Finals have some of the greatest moments in sports. Those moments can cement you into the annals of history and leave you in glory. The opposite is true as well; your mistakes can make you infamous and leave a horrendous mark on an illustrious career. Take a look at 15 of the biggest mistakes NBA players have made in the Playoffs.

15. The infamous NBA Playoffs no-dunk

Patrick Ewing on a basketball court.
Patrick Ewing became known for making this major mistake. | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Patrick Ewing is seven feet tall. The man was known for his dunks and aggressive playing style. But for some reason, with only a point difference in the final five seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he decided to attempt a finger roll for the victory.

Why he thought this would be a better choice than a dunk, who knows. One thing we can know is that this is just the beginning of all the tragedies that we are going to cover in this article.

Next: Being tall is a requirement for basketball, but it can backfire.

14. Too tall for his own good

Bill Russell returned to coach the Kings in the late '80s.
Bill Russell became memorable for this slip-up. | Staff/Getty Images

Sometimes all you need to do is throw the ball back in and run out the clock. These simple tasks can often distract us from executing them properly. That’s what happened to Bill Russel in Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals. With five seconds left, all he had to do was pass the ball and they’d dribble away to victory.

Russel was up against Wilt Chamberlain, so he had to reach high to get the ball around him. In doing that, Russel hit the guide wire on the hoop causing the ball to go back out of bounds and into the 76ers possession. Luckily Havlicek was there to save the day with an in-bound swat and steal.

Next: Have you ever wondered why people yell “Kobe” when they miss a garbage can shot?

13. Airball central

Kobe Bryant in his uniform on the basketball court.
Kobe Bryant put himself on the spotlight for this reason. | Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Rookie years can be really tough on some players. For a great player like Kobe Bryant, there really shouldn’t be defining moments of utter failure. In the Western Conference Championship Game 5, Kobe desperately wanted to be the hero for the Lakers. What can you expect, he was just 18 years old with something to prove.

Kobe ended up throwing four airballs and a junk ball at the end of the game. the first one would have sealed their victory. The last one would have been enough to tie the game up for and could have led them to victory. Now you know why guys say “Kobe” every time they miss a garbage can shot.

Next: Sometimes you just hand over a series to your opponents.

12. ‘Here’s the series, you can have it. Sincerely, Magic.’

Kobe Bryant reacting on the basketball court.
Not the best way to be remembered. | Kim Kulish/Getty Images

There are all types of giving in the sport of basketball. You can give up, give in, or give it away. Magic managed to perform all three in the 1984 NBA Finals against the Celtics.

In Game 2, Magic gave up and dribbled the clock out in the fourth quarter with the score tied. The Celtics ended up winning in over time.

In Game 4, Magic gave the game away when he gave the ball away at the end. That lead the Celtics to another OT victory.

And finally, in Game 7, Magic gave in and turned the ball over for another, final victory for the Celtics.

Next: Some things are completely out of your control but you can still get pretty upset about them. 

11. This is bound to give you a headache

Scotty Pippen on the basketball court.
Scotty Pippen hasn’t aways played impressive games. | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

]The duo of Scotty Pippen and Micheal Jordan has never been matched, and at the beginning of their careers, the two were indivisible. Losing one of them would have catastrophic effects on the team and that was proven in Game 7 against the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference Championship.

When everything seemed poised for this dynasty to begin, but fate has other plans. The Chicago Bulls lost Scotty Pippen to an extreme migraine. Losing an essential player at a critical moment obviously took its toll. The Bulls lost to the Pistons.

Next: You can’t miss this many times in a row.

10. Five to make it live

Nick Anderson standing on the basketball court.
Nick Anderson made a few beginner mistakes in his time. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Free throws are the most annoying thing to miss in basketball. That’s because you’re shooting from the exact same spot with no one guarding you. In Game 1 against the Houston Rockets in 1995, Nick Anderson managed to miss four of them at the end of regulation time.

Orlando was up by three points at this time when the fifth shot finally went in, making the score 111-107. The Rockets were able to march back down the court and make up the difference for their victory.

Next: A true underdog story and one for the history books. 

9. David versus Goliath

Two basketball players from the Sonics standing next to each other.
A game no one will forget. | Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The 1994 Seattle SuperSonics were the best team in the entire league. They were set up to lead that year’s playoffs and even made it look like they were going to cruise through the quarterfinals after dominating the first two games against the Nuggets.

Somehow, the SuperSonics, led by greats Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, managed to fall apart in the subsequent three games. This is the first time that a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in the history of basketball.

Next: Being cocky in basketball is kind of expected, but don’t get too cocky.

8. Never Get too far ahead of yourself

An empty basketball court.
A victory is never guaranteed for any team. | Artisteer/iStock/Getty Images

Have you ever heard the phrase “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”? Well, apparently the Lakers learned this lesson in 1969 in the hardest way possible. The Boston Celtics were looking like they were on their way out when Game 7 came around and the Lakers were poised to get their first championship. They believed it so much that the Lakers owner, Jack Kent, had flyers printed about how the team was going to celebrate their “impending” victory.

As it turned out, Boston still had some fight left in them. They came back in Game 7 and claimed their 11th title with Bill Russell to close out his final season.

Next: When the mailman couldn’t deliver …

7. Karl Malone couldn’t deliver in game 1

Karl Malone talks to the media after signing with the Lakers.
Karl Malone didn’t act well under pressure in this game. | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Every point matters and Karl Malone is a perfect example of why that is true. In game 1 against the Bulls in 1997, Karl Malone was set up for a pair of free throws with seconds left in the game. Unfortunately for the “Mailman,” he couldn’t deliver. Neither sleet, nor ice, nor snow, could stop him in the regular season, but it seems pressure had him dead in his tracks.

Karl Malone is one of the greatest players to ever have played the game and he never won a title to prove it.

Next: We’re not sure which list this should go in, but it’s both a great play and a terrible mistake.

6. The worst throw in ever

Forward Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics sits on the bench during a game.
The mistake seen around the world. | Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

It’s hard to play against legends in the game and there are few bigger legends than Larry Bird. This play could be seen as a top 10 playoff move or mistake depending on who you’re a fan of. In Game 5 of the 1987 Playoffs between the Celtics and the Pistons, Isiah Thomas made a dire miscalculation with seconds to go on the clock.

With the Pistons up by just one point, Isiah passed the ball directly into the waiting hands of his opponent, Larry Bird. Bird made a quick pass before falling out of bounds to Dennis Johnson who put it away for the win. The Celtics ended up winning the series.

Next: Sometimes you just freeze up at the worst possible time.  

5. Manu Ginobili lost his hands

Manu Ginobili holding a basketball in his hand.
Manu Ginobili didn’t perform well and everyone noticed. | Getty Images

Ginobili was a critical element to the Spurs during his tenure on the team. He often complimented the teams two stars, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. But during the 2013 NBA Finals, Ginobili apparently lost his ability to play the game. In Game 6, Ginobili scored nine points and turned the ball over eight times. The Spurs ended up losing Game 6 by three points. They would have taken the title from the Heat if Ginobili decided not to fall apart at the end.

Next: There are wins and there are blowouts. This was an annihilation.

4. Blown out of the arena

LeBron James reacting on the basketball court.
Not LeBron Jame’s best game. | Elsa/AFP/Getty Images

Blowing a big lead is always a bad thing. But losing three straight games in a row is even worse. In the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 5, LeBron James and the Cavs were absolutely annihilated by the Boston Celtics. In that game, James had one of his most disappointing performances of his career with the Cavaliers. The Cavs lost to the Celtics 120-88.

After losing to the Celtics, James eventually left the team to play somewhere he could win.

Next: This is what happens when you don’t take advantage of opportunities.

3. So many missed opportunities

Michael Jordan bending on the basketball court.
Winning against Jordan is a huge challenge. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The greatest basketball player of all time is Micheal Jordan. Going up against him and the Chicago Bulls of his era was a daunting task in and of itself. However, The New York Nicks managed to edge out two victories in a row against the hardened champs in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Then, in true Chicago fashion, the Bulls rallied for a three-game winning streak.

The biggest missed opportunity, or opportunities, came in Game 5. With just 20 seconds left and one score to put the win the game and Leave the nicks ahead 3-2 in the series, the Nicks Charles Smith choked in epic fashion. He missed four shots that would have put them over the edge and wasn’t able to draw a foul. Had he made just one bucket, the Nicks could have gone to the Finals that year to claim their glory.

To add insult to injury, Jordan took the ball down the court for a slam dunk … just like their subsequent victory.

Next: This is not the way you set a record.

2. Setting a Finals record

The 2008 Celtics vs. Lakers basketball game.
There was a big losing streak for this team. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to setting records in the Finals, you want those records to be of positive things. Instead, the Lakers wanted to be the team that lost by the greatest margin. In the 2008 Finals, it looked like the Lakers decided to not play basketball despite having all the advantages in the world and playing their rival, The Boston Celtics. In Game 6, the Lakers fell to a devastating loss by 39 points.

Next: Even Wilt Chamberlain has had the yips.

1. Wilt’s Yips

Wilt Chamberlain being interviewed.
Wilt Chamberlain is still considered a legend. | Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images

Wilt Chamberlain was arguably one of the greatest players to play the game of basketball. In the 1968 season, Wilt averaged 22 points-per-game and led in pretty much every other category. But in game 7 against the Boston Celtics, the 76ers most powerful offensive player decided that he was only going to take four shots. One of the most prolific shooters in the history of basketball took four shots in one game. Most of those shots came in the first half and only one in the second half.

The 76ers ended up losing to the Celtics that night. Wilt’s obvious absence in the final two games of that series led to the 76ers blowing a 3-1 lead over the Celtics.