What Does Clutch Mean in Basketball? Explained

Remember those times when you’ve aced your exam at the last minute? When handled well, feeling the right amount of pressure can summon your adrenaline to produce a surprisingly incredible result.

This happens in sports, too, like basketball, and the situation has been labeled ‘clutch’.

But what exactly does clutch mean in basketball?

Clutch is a term used when there’s an incredible play near or at the end of a game that greatly contributes to the team’s victory. It can refer to a clutch shot, block, steal, assist, rebound or any other play. Its opposite term is ‘choke’.

What Does Clutch Mean in Basketball?

Used widely in different sports competitions, the clutch isn’t only known in basketball. Sports commentators also use the expression, particularly ‘in the clutch’ in football and hockey.

And in fact, it’s more popularly used in baseball. In this sport, there’s a phrase called ‘clutch hitter,’ which refers to a baseball player skillful at getting a home run during high-pressure moments.

But what does clutch mean in basketball? The term is used in basketball in the same context as in other sporting events.

It refers to a phenomenon that occurs in a critical game moment wherein the result is at stake.

‘In the clutch’ refers to a crucial situation when a player successfully achieves something important for the team under high pressure. An example of a clutch moment is when a player throws a game-changing buzzer-beater shot which puts his team in the lead or on the winning end.

The opposite of clutch is choke. Choking in sports refers to the failure of a player or the team to perform exceptionally as expected.

For example, a team gains a significant point lead during a basketball game. When that happens, the audience would expect that this team will be on the winning end.

But then, at some point in the game, the opposing team gains momentum and makes a series of three-point shots, while the leading team makes a series of mistakes which results in a tie at the end of a quarter.

The tables had now wholly turned when the game resumed in the next quarter. That said, the team with a significant point lead has choked while their opponent performed in the clutch.

Why is it Called Clutch?

Player dribbling

We’ve learned so far what clutch means in basketball. It is about being able to perform remarkably during intense, high-pressure situations. This usually translates into victory for the team.

But why is it called such? Let’s talk a bit about the history of the term.

In Middle English, clutch refers to a verb that means to grasp or hold onto something tightly.

In sports, it originated as a metaphorical term used in baseball. For example, you’ll often hear expressions such as “the crucial moment in the game when something is in something or someone’s ‘clutch’. In other words, something or someone’s grasp or control.

From the 1980s to the 1990s, clutch became widely popular across various sports. When you hear the expression, something extremely desirable has happened. A player who performs in the clutch is someone who performs excellently at the exact point in the game when the team needs it the most.

All these being said, we can wrap up why it’s called clutch into something like this: Having a firm grasp on the victory so focused on that end goal drives you to perform at an incredibly exceptional level during crucial moments in the game. In other words, you’re clutching onto victory.

What Does Double Clutch Mean in Basketball?

You might have heard the phrase ‘double clutch’ when watching a game. Does this mean similar to ‘in the clutch’?

A double clutch refers to a particular basketball move, like a power layup, tear drop, bank shot, etc. It is a move closely related to a dunk or a layup.

It is similar to a move called ‘up and under’. The difference is that a double-clutch is performed mid-air.

It’s specifically a ball position change that the player does while in the air.

An example is when a player swiftly does a fake to the left and shifts to the right, then finally dunks the ball into the hoop.

Why is Clutch Shooting Important?

Shooting on a basket

The ability to thrive under pressure is a valuable skill in every life situation, whether professional or personal. It works in the same way in basketball.

If players succumb to pressure, they can make many mistakes, jeopardizing their chances of winning the game.

On the other hand, a player who’s confident and knows how to keep his cool during intense moments can think more clearly and execute their game plan better. Combine it with skillful shooting, and they can increase their chances for a better outcome in every game.

Clutch Terms and its Meanings

The term clutch has evolved into other phrases used in basketball. Examples below are clutch shot, come through in the clutch, clutch time, and clutch player. Let’s explore what these phrases mean.

Clutch Shot

Clutch shot is also known as clutch shooting. It refers to a successful shot that a player makes in the last few minutes or seconds of the fourth quarter or the overtime. This can be a buzzer-beater three-point shot, slam dunk, layup, or jump shot.

Come Through in the Clutch

The idiom come through in the clutch isn’t only used in basketball. This is also a general phrase that can be applied in different situations and events. When someone comes through in the clutch, it means he is successful at accomplishing something of great value during intense difficulty or high-pressure situations.

Clutch Time

In Basketball, clutch time refers to the game’s last five minutes. In this situation, a team has a five-point lead or less.

Clutch Player

Clutch players are graceful under pressure geniuses who perform incredibly remarkable during do-or-die situations. When thrown a curveball, many of us get intimidated and succumb to pressure. But these under-pressure geniuses are the exact opposite.

Thriving well when the stakes are high, a clutch player is often regarded as the team’s hero. He often makes those game-changing three-point shots just a few seconds before the buzzer.

Top 5 Most Clutch Players in NBA History

We now know what clutch means in basketball, and for some inspiration, we came up with a handy list of the NBA’s best clutch players throughout the league’s history.

1. Michael Jordan

If you can pick one teammate to pass the ball to when your team is at serious risk of losing, you’ll always look for Michael Jordan.

Undoubtedly the GOAT, This basketball superstar who’s the title holder of several NBA Finals MVP trophies is in a league of his own. When it’s crunch time, no other than MJ should grab the ball.

2. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, a.k.a. the Black Mamba, doesn’t need any motivating words when he’s on the hardcourt. All the spectators can say is that “He got this! Nothing’s going to stop him!”

His confidence and ability to keep calm and collected during the final moments of any game make him a reliable teammate. On top of that, he’s an incredibly accurate shooter.

3. Larry Bird

Larry Bird is known to be the only player in the NBA history to snag the MVP title three times in a row. That being said, who would question his credibility during the clutch time? He surely didn’t fail his team with those amazing buzzer-beater shots!

4. Lebron James

Lebron James is one of those guys who can thrive under pressure. His record shows he has made successful shots to tie or win the game in the last few seconds.

He’s got buzzer-beaters which only shows his skill level in clutch moments. And he’s even got triple-doubles, proving his versatility on the hardcourt!

5. Magic Johnson

Like Jordan, Magic Johnson is the only guard in the league history who owns more than three NBA Finals MVP awards. During his career, he averaged 19.5 points and 12.3 assists per game during the playoffs.

His double-double record showcases his reliability in different aspects of basketball. And on crunch time, it’s indeed Johnson who can create magic for his team.

Final Thoughts

Being able to perform in the clutch is an essential skill in basketball. The final seconds in every game are crucial. By acting swiftly, wisely, and decisively in executing your game plan, those impossible shots can be a game-changer, whether you tie or even win the game.

And early on, performing in the clutch could even mean gaining ground over a significant point lead. But it takes the perfect combination of skill, confidence, and speed to perform in the clutch. Therefore, it’s essential never to stop practicing and improving in these aspects.

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