Dirk Nowitzki came up huge Tuesday for the Dallas Mavericks, and some say that he came up huge for America! Nowitzki woke up with a 101-degree fever and still managed to get it done. This was easily the greatest performance by a sick player in a playoff game since Max McGee had seven receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl I while nursing a vicious hangover.
And then there was LeBron James, who had just eight points on Tuesday night.
But as LeBron looks to rally on Thursday night, he should realize that he's not the first player to completely tank in the playoffs. Here are the worst NFL playoff performances ever.
Asante Samuel in Super Bowl XLII. Before the entire Patriots defensive line was held, before David Tyree's incredible "helmet catch," before Plaxico Burress was defended by Ellis Hobbs and a single-high safety running the other way, there was Eli Manning, telegraphing a pass into the hands of the best Patriots CB ... except Samuel let the ball and a fourth Super Bowl for the Pats slip through his hands.
Barry Sanders, 1994 playoffs. Running backs are never judged by playoff failures like quarterbacks. Good thing for Sanders, who rushed for -1 yards vs. the Packers in the 1994 playoffs.
Marty Schottenheimer's entire playoff career. The saddest part is that if he'd just tried to play Marty Ball during his final playoff game vs. the Patriots, he would have probably won.
But look who he had to deal with ...
Webster Slaughter. Earnest Byner gets vilified for the fumble against the Broncos in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. But discredit Slaughter for not making his block.
Something tells me another Schottenheimer player will end up making the list.
And without further ado ...
6. Jake Delhomme, 2008 NFC playoffs
Delhomme was living a nightmare when he committed six turnovers (five interceptions and a fumble lost) against the Cardinals in the 2008 playoffs. At the end of the day, this was Delhomme, not one of the alleged greats of the game. So although this mark was heinous, we're not talking about a future Hall of Famer coming up short here.
5. Jay Cutler, 2010 NFC Championship Game
The vision of Cutler draped in a jacket sulking on the sidelines against the Packers probably wasn't a surprise to those in Denver who followed the brooding quarterback's early days. Again, this would be ranked higher on the list but is negated by the lower expectations we've had for Cutler.
4. Donovan McNabb, 2003 NFC Championship Game
I know, the obvious answer here is McNabb puking up his guts -- allegedly -- in Super Bowl XXXIX vs. the Patriots. But to truly understand McNabb's inability to come through in the clutch, look at the 2003 NFC Championship Game -- 100 passing yards and three interceptions while losing to Delhomme and the Panthers, 14-3.
3. Brett Favre, 2001 NFC playoffs
One of the things I always hated about announcers is that they say things like, "Favre gives the Packers a puncher's chance of winning." Favre passed for 281 yards and two touchdowns against St. Louis in 2001. He also tossed six interceptions. So Favre was more punch-drunk, I suppose. Why were we surprised when he made the game-crippling interception in the 2009 NFC Championship Game?
2. Peyton Manning, Super Bowl XLIV
So much to wade through. Do we go 2003 AFC Championship Game, in which he had four interceptions vs. the Patriots? Or his 31.2 passer rating vs. the Jets in 2002? Nope, the Mona Lisa of Manning's underachievement came when he threw the game-deciding interception to Tracy Porter in Super Bowl XLIV. Just when he had a chance to prove his doubters wrong, he made their point.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson 2007 AFC Championship Game
Tomlinson will forever be known for scuffling with the Patriots after that 2006 playoff loss (pity, too, because he had a good game), or spending time on the exercise bike in numerous other playoff appearances. But hiding under his cape and helmet during the 2007 AFC Championship Game was just inexcusable.