4.2 seconds left, the crowd is going crazy, and the home team is down one. Your star player, the one you’ve counted on to make plays, the one you've counted on to rise in this moment, has the ball 18 feet from the basket. His teammates are waiting to see how the final seconds will play themselves out, the defense is ready, the coaches have their hands in the pockets, and the referees are prepared to do their job.
The player gets by his man with ease, picks up his dribble and takes off for the basket. Another defender slides over, establishes position, puts his body in harm’s way, and the collision between the two is monumental. The clock is at all zeros, the ball goes through the hoop, the score is still a one-point margin, and a whistle blows.
Offensive foul. Game over.
This was the ending of a recent Spurs-Nuggets game. The player on offensive was Carmelo Anthony, and the weak side defender was Manu Ginobili. It was truly one of the most clutch plays I have ever seen, but if you ask ten basketball fans, you would be hard-pressed to say what Ginobili did was clutch. To take it a step further, if you asked them about the clutch play he made, they would be more likely to tell you about the runner he made prior to the Nuggets getting the ball to give the Spurs the lead.
Clutch is not something you get an award for. Sure, there is the scoring title, rebounding title, MVP, Rookie of the Year, but you don’t get awarded for clutch, and that may be partially why it is so hard to determine how you measure if someone truly has it or not.
Some fans have turned clutch into a metric, a statistic, something that has to be shown through how many shots a player has made in the final minutes of a game, but that definition, while understandable, is one I have not been able to fully accept. For starters, as explained at the beginning, clutch can consist of a variety of plays to close a game.
Someone can take a charge to end a game, someone can get a key steal, such as Kevin Garnett picking Sebastian Telfair’s pocket 25 feet from the basket to secure a Celtics win. Clutch can be Dwyane Wade putting his team on his back offensively, but it can also be a defensive play like he made against Kobe Bryant in the last Lakers-Heat clash a couple of weeks ago.
Also, there is something to be said if clutch is a trait that can be developed. Sure, you have to possess the ability to make a play at the end of a game, but is there something to be said about picking your spots, when to attack, when to lay off, when to shoot, pass, penetrate, etc? To me, there is, and when you have invaluable resources at your disposal, all it can do is enhance your ability to be great at the end of a close game. Case in point, Kobe Bryant, and the endless amount of resources he’s had over the past 15 years that have contributed to him being the killer we see on the court today.
When it comes to taking a shot, there is not anyone I want to shoot more than Kobe Bryant, but it is not because I solely think he’ll make it. No, it is because I know he is not scared, whatsoever, to take any kind of shot and live with the result. That is something that cannot be measured by how many he has made or missed. The man is not afraid to take any type of shot there is to win a game, and if you think that's not a big deal, watch enough basketball and see how many times these dudes pass up on wide open shots to finish a game, simply because they don't have the balls to shoot.
Now when it comes to making the right play, then it gets interesting. As much as I trust Kobe to shoot at the end of the game, it comes at a price, because he won't always do the right thing, in regards to making the right play. However, he's far from the only one who does this.
For example, there are times when I want ‘Melo to have the ball, because when he decides to just square up his defender and not fool around dribbling the ball, he’s the most terrifying player on offense in the NBA. He’s made plenty of game-winners to illustrate this point.
However, it's not always a happy ending. Just as soon as he'll win you one with his lethal outside game, he'll lose one for you by being a bonehead. When he puts his head down and goes to the rim, there are at least three examples of the ball either going out of bounds, or him being called for an offensive foul, and that is just this season alone (an example is in the first video with Ginobili.) Sure, ‘Melo is clutch, but it’s all about how you want him to proceed with the ball with the game on the line.
Paul Pierce, Ginobili, and Dwayne Wade are three other players, on offense, that you can pretty much trust your life with at the end of a game. They can get by their man and get to the cup, or they can just lull their defender to sleep and shoot a jumper to win a game.
Once again, you can look at stats, but what do they really mean? There’s something to be said about their ability to watch a play unfold, pick their spots, and go to work that a statistic simply cannot measure.
When it comes to defense, KG and Ron Artest are two guys that immediately come to mind. Neither player is afraid to guard anybody, and like their offensive counterparts, they will live with whatever the results are and put the onus squarely on them to keep their man from scoring. To me, taking the responsibility to keep someone from scoring is just as clutch as a player taking the responsibility to score.
Basketball fans, when someone asks what clutch means, just realize it is a trait that isn’t easy to describe, and it is one that can fully be appreciated when you watch an ending unfold right before your eyes. There surely is not a concrete definition of what it is, but what we do know is that it is much more than simply making a shot at the buzzer.
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