I’m not a fan of trying to describe who is clutch in the NBA and who isn’t. Because defining clutch is impossible — any measure we put on it will miss the mark. We all kind of subscribe to the Justice Potter Steward “I know it when I see it” definition and even then we can’t agree — some of the guys with the best clutch shooting reputation miss a lot of shots at the end of games.
But this is the playoffs — when the NBA’s best face off against one another. Invariably, the games will come down to a final shot, a final possession. And there are guys you trust taking that shot. There just are. We say we want teams to “just run a play” in that situation, but as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey described recently it’s not that simple — with 8 seconds left if the play doesn’t work you can’t reset, you need a guy who can improvise and create for himself.
So, in the final seconds of a tight playoff game — who do I want taking control of and taking the final shot on my last possession? Here are my top five.
5. Kevin Durant (Thunder). He is one of the game’s great scorers, but he settles too much in the clutch — he’s taken 10 3-pointers (making two) in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Thunder were ahead or behind by two points this season, but he’s gotten to the free-throw line just eight times. He can create his own shot and is one of the great scorers in the game, but the Thunder can get too isolation heavy and the result is he is 7-for-21 in those final 30 seconds of a close game. He needs to attack more.
4. Kobe Bryant (Lakers). He’s on top of most lists, he’s the peoples’ champion. And no doubt he has and can hit big shots. But he misses more than he makes these days — in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Lakers are up or down two points or less, Kobe is 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) this season. But that is a little misleading — he also has gotten to the free-throw line 13 times (knocking down 11), a valuable and underrated skill. Also, he has two advantages. One, he can create his own look and if you send the double-team he can find the open guy (sometimes). Second, he is so, so confident — you want that, although it can lead to bad shots he is sure will fall.
3. Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson (Jazz). OK, it’s cheating to choose two guys, but the Jazz’s front line is a combined 11-of-23 in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Jazz are ahead or behind by two points this season, plus they have gotten to the free-throw line six times and hit all of them. Here is the big kicker — they have six offensive boards this season in that same small time set. With the game on the line, they are the best front line in the NBA and that is something I want in my corner.
2. Derrick Rose (Bulls). You have to send the double-team at him and he may still just make you look bad because he is that quick. He is shooting 5-of-9 in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Bulls are up or down two points this season, and he can get to the line. He doesn’t have any assists, but in the playoffs I don’t think he’d fear a kick-out to Kyle Korver or a dump-off to Carlos Boozer, even if both of those options make Bulls fans groan.
1. Chris Paul (Clippers). There is just nobody I trust to make the right play more — it may be attack and shoot, it may be find the open man, it may be draw the contact. Paul is 7-of-15 shooting and has gotten to the free-throw line 14 times in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Clippers are up or down two points or less. You can’t leave Blake Griffin or D’Andre Jordan alone on the baseline or on the roll after the pick because you know the lob will come if you do, but Paul is crafty and can get his shot or draw you into the foul. And make it all look effortless.
One shot, I want the ball in CP3’s hands.