Sam Jones’s glorious Hall of Fame career was notable for how late it started and also for 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 game where Boston or its opponent faced elimination that 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.
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
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
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
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.