Kobe And Dirk For Game 2: Clutch Talk

After Game 1, we heard lots of mentions that the Mavs were ‘lucky' that Kobe didn't make that last shot because he's such a great closer. Heard it on TV, from Mavs players and coaches, from Lakers players and coaches, from Mavs fans and media, and on and on. But were they lucky? Or was Kobe's failure simply the norm? Ramping up to tonight's Game 2 with ‘Clutch Talk' …

Research from True Hoop's Alok Pattani shows that Kobe has now missed his last five game-tying or go-ahead postseason field goal attempts in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, and his success rate on making those game winning playoff shots is 28 percent. In other words, for every time he makes one, he misses the next three tries.

But wait … Kobe Bryant is The Black Mamba, the league's deadliest in those situations. Right?

Well, no.

The league average is 28 percent. In other words, in those situations he's merely an "average'' player -- hoisting and hoping along with the rest of ‘em.

Of course …

*That 28 percent can bite you, if you get hit by the one time he makes it rather than the next three when he misses.

*And in a sense, after a final minute in Game 1' 96-94 Dallas win in which Bryant missed not just the final buzzer-beating 3 but also was involved in two straight turnovers before that …maybe it can be argued that tonight, he's due.

*And if he's going to botch three of four tries, so on that level, the Mavs were fortunate that his big botch came in that big situation. "Lucky'' in the sense that obviously, Kobe is a superior player to most of the rest of the league's 28-Percenters.

But don't buy the myth. The Dallas Mavericks didn't win Monday because "abnormal'' happened. They won because "normal" happened … in the clutch situation … at a rate "normal'' usually happens.

While we were pondering this point about "Clutch Kobe,'' we wondered how Dirk compared in this category. All we are considering is game-tying or go-ahead postseason field goal attempts in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.

The first thing we noticed in our digging around (and thanks to DB.commers Michael Dugat and Nick Reed for their shovels!) is that Dirk hasn't been in this situation very often. Since the 2003 playoffs (the earliest year for which we can find play-by-play details), Dirk has had only six "opportunities" (field-goal attempts) in such situations. The results? He's made the shot three times, or 50 percent of the time.

Here are the details, in reverse chronological order.

2009, Western Semifinals, Game 3 vs Denver.

The Mavs had a two-point lead in the final seconds, with a foul to give, and Antoine Wright tried to foul Carmelo Anthony (twice) before he went up for a shot. But a foul wasn't called, and Melo drained a 3-pointer to give the Nuggets a one-point lead with only one second left on the clock. After a timeout, the ball was inbounded to Dirk who got off a desperation catch-and-shoot 30-footer that missed.

(As with some of Kobe's misses, not exactly a high-percentage shot, and almost shouldn't be counted against them in terms of "clutch.'')

2006, Western Semifinals, Game 7 vs San Antonio.

Dallas had the ball down 3, with a timeout and about half a minute left. When play resumed the ball went to Dirk, who slashed to the basket and was fouled as he made the shot with 21 seconds left. His free throw tied the game, the Mavs kept the Spurs from scoring on a final possession, and won in overtime to take the series.

(Notable: Sometimes it takes defense on the other end to make stand up what the "clutch guy'' just did on offense.)

2006, Western Semifinals, Game 5 vs San Antonio.

The Spurs had taken a one-point lead with 1:59 to go, and for over a minute-and-a-half neither team had been able to score. After a non-shooting foul with 15 seconds left, the Mavs had the ball in a possible game-winning possession. But the execution was sloppy: the ball got batted around leading to two jump ball situations, with the Mavs unable to get off a shot before finally having an in-bounds opportunity with 2 seconds left. It went to Jason Terry who missed the shot, and Dirk had a missed tip attempt at the buzzer.

(Maybe we should do the same study on Jet!)

2005, Western First Round, Game 2 vs Houston.

In the last half-minute, Dallas was down 2 with the ball. Dirk drained a 14' jumper to tie with 10 seconds left, but Tracy McGrady countered with a 23' jumper with 2 seconds left to get the win for the Rockets.

(Ah, so are you "clutch'' if another guy matches your "clutch''?)

2005 Western Semifinals, Game 2 vs Phoenix.

Steve Nash made a jumper to tie the score with 27 seconds left. After a timeout, the Mavs put the ball in the hands of Dirk who took the shot clock almost to zero before hitting a 16' fallaway jumper with 6 seconds left to give Dallas the lead. Phoenix missed their shot to tie and the Mavs won by 2.

(The One-Legged Euro Lean-Back.)

2004 Western First Round, Game 5 vs Sacramento.

In a game they had to win to continue the series, Dallas was down one and had a timeout with 6 seconds left. The in-bounds went to Dirk who made a move then took a 15' shot at the buzzer. It missed.

(At which point Chris Webber made the decision, if he ever got a network broadcasting job, to deride Dirk for being lacking.)

One big difference between Dirk and Kobe: Bryant is better at creating his own shot, and at getting to the rim. It's not the FG percentage that sets him apart; it's the creativity … and of course that creativity creates a picture of Kobe doing something spectacular at game's end. … even when the "spectacular'' ends up bouncing off the side of the rim.

Another difference: Dirk so often seals victories for Dallas at the free-throw line. Is that not "clutch''? Do they have to air his FT makes on SportsCenter in order to add to their glory?

Stein's got a nice piece here on Dirk's appreciation for Kobe's talents. We would add that we all have that appreciation ... and that Kobe has it for himself, too. Bryant possesses a certain sort of "sporting arrogance'' that allows him to sarcastically laugh off any suggestion that he is flawed in any way … 28 percent or no 28 percent.

"I'm not clutch''? Well, don't be so hard on yourself, Kobe.


Dirk doesn't handle his press-conference business quite that way. But his on-court business when it comes to helping his team close games?

If you are making the argument that Kobe is clutch, fine. He might just demonstrate that ability tonight in Game 2. But you'd have an even easier time making the same argument for Dirk … and the record shows that he might just demonstrate the same ability, in a different style, tonight as well.

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