Sam Jones in the Clutch

Sam Jones ClutchSam Jones’s glorious Hall of Fame career was notable for how late it started and how Jones performed late in games.

To see just how great Jones was in the clutch, I went to basketball-reference.com and looked up every playoff elimination game Jones played in. Granted, this isn’t the surefire way to gauge his whole capacity for clutch play, but it’s the best quick look we can take.

Key -
ESF: Eastern Division Semi-Finals
EDF: Eastern Division Finals
GX: Game X of series
Result: Celtics win/loss margin for that one game

Sam the Reserve (1958 to 1961)
From the 1957-58 season through the 1960-61 season, Jones backed up Bill Sharman as the Boston Celtics’ two-guard. As Jones matured, he carved out a bigger role after getting a DNP in his first chance at playing in an elimination game and being used sparingly his rookie season.

Regular Season PPG (1958 to 1961): 11.0 PPG
Postseason PPG (1958 to 1961): 9.1 PPG
Elimination PPG (1958 to 1961): 10.8 PPG

Year Game Opponent Points Result
1958 G4 EDF Warriors DNP -15
  G5 EDF Warriors 0 5
  G6 Finals Hawks 3 1
1959 G6 EDF Nationals 10 -12
  G7 EDF Nationals 19 5
  G4 Finals Lakers 2 5
1960 G5 EDF Warriors 9 -21
  G6 EDF Warriors 9 2
  G6 Finals Hawks 16 -3
  G7 Finals Hawks 18 19
1961 G5 EDF Nationals 17 21
  G5 Finals Hawks 16 9

Jones’s first big game came in 1959 against the Syracuse Nationals in the 1959 EDF. The Celtics survived the Nats attack thanks in no small part to Jones scoring 19 points. However, Jones didn’t truly arrive as a big game player until the 1960 postseason in the Finals against the St. Louis Hawks. From there on out, Jones would ratchet up his big game play to heights few could have predicted in 1958.

Sam Hits the Big Time (1962 – 1965)
During this period, Jones became a perennial All-Star and was named to his first of three All-NBA 2nd Teams. He was Boston’s starting shooting guard and became their go-to player in pressure situations. Jones without fail raised his scoring output as the heat was on in the playoffs.

Regular Season PPG (1962 to 1965): 20.9 PPG
Postseason PPG (1962 to 1965): 23.9 PPG
Elimination PPG (1962 to 1965): 26.3 PPG

Year Game Opponent Points Result
1962 G6 EDF Warriors 15 -10
G7 EDF Warriors 28 2
G6 Finals Lakers 35 14
G7 Finals Lakers 27 3
1963 G6 EDF Royals 22 10
G7 EDF Royals 47 11
G5 Finals Lakers 36 -7
G6 Finals Lakers 5 3
1964 G4 EDF Royals 33 -9
G5 EDF Royals 23 6
G5 Finals Warriors 18 6
1965 G6 EDF Sixers 20 -6
G7 EDF Sixers 37 1
G5 Finals Lakers 22 33

Well, sometimes even the great Sam Jones fails. Game 6 of the 1963 NBA Finals was a big dud for Jones as he scored just 5 points. But holy molely did he tear up the other games. In particular his 47-point outburst against the Cincinnati Royals in ’63 remains monumental. It was also one of the great duels in NBA history as Oscar Robertson put up 43 points of his own in that game.

The 1965 season was the best of Jones’s career as he averaged a career-high of 26 points per game at age 31. For the next few seasons, he’d maintain that crest before finally dipping in his final year in 1969.

Sam with the Encore (1966 – 1969)
Jones was still flying high as this period began, but the Celtics were aging and found it harder to finish off opponents in the postseason. More elimination games presented themselves as Boston often fell behind late in a series and actually were dethroned by the Sixers in 1967.

Regular Season PPG (1966 to 1969): 20.8 PPG
Postseason PPG (1966 to 1969): 21.5 PPG
Elimination PPG (1966 to 1969): 23.3 PPG

Year Game Opponent Points Result
1966 G4 ESF Royals 32 17
G5 ESF Royals 34 9
G5 EDF Sixers 30 8
G5 Finals Lakers 15 4
G6 Finals Lakers 23 8
G7 Finals Lakers 22 2
1967 G3 ESF Knicks 19 11
G4 ESF Knicks 51 9
G4 EDF Sixers 32 4
G5 EDF Sixers 19 -24
1968 G6 ESF Pistons 22 8
G5 EDF Sixers 37 18
G6 EDF Sixers 20 8
G7 EDF Sixers 22 4
G6 Finals Lakers 12 15
1969 G4 ESF Sixers 19 -3
G5 ESF Sixers 16 3
G5 EDF Knicks 3 -8
G6 EDF Knicks 29 1
G6 Finals Lakers 9 9
G7 Finals Lakers 24 2

Sam hit his all-time elimination game high in a 51-point outburst against the New York Knicks in the 1967 ESF. In the 1966 postseason, he strung together three straight 30+ point performances in potential elimination games.

But by 1969, old man Jones was feeling creaky. In four of the six elimination games, he scored under 20 points and had two games under 10 points. However, he still strung up the biggest points for the biggest moments. To silence the Knicks in the EDF, Jones scored 29 points to pull out the one-point victory. In Game 7 of the NBA Finals, in the final game of his career, Jones scored 24 points as the Celtics won by two to defeat the Lakers.

Those 24 points matched Sam’s jersey number and gave him his 10th and final NBA title. An outstanding haul for one of the NBA’s most clutch players.

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