KOBE'S FEARLESSNESS PUTS HIM ABOVE THE REST.By Ramona Shelburne
There are a thousand reasons why Kobe Bryant is regarded as one of the best "closers" in the NBA. His preparation, his confidence, his athleticism. But the only thing that really matters, the one thing that separates him from other elite stars who have a knack for rising to the late-game occasion is his fearlessness.
To quote Eminem, he's not afraid. Of missing. Of the criticism that will follow if he takes a bad shot or forces one up. Of losing. He simply believes, ruthlessly, in his abilities and that he is the right person, the only person, who should be taking that last shot.
The only other player on the Lakers with even a small amount of that DNA is Derek Fisher. Which is a big reason he and Bryant are five-time champions, and longtime friends.
I've read all the articles breaking down Bryant's "real" or "true" statistics in crunch time, which argue that he's actually not as clutch as his reputation would indicate. But that's not really what we're discussing here, right?
We're talking who we'd want taking that last shot, not math or statistics. I want the guy who is not only unafraid of the moment but who lives for those moments. That's Kobe.
With all due respect to Dirk Nowitzki, and really, everybody else, I don't think anyone in the league right now thrives off pressure as Bryant does. Does he miss sometimes? Yes. Take a bad shot when he'd be better off passing to an open teammate? All the time.
But ask yourself one question. Even when he takes a bad shot. Even when he misses, aren't you glad he's the one shooting it?
You've heard our takes; now give us yours. DISCUSS
STATS DON'T LIE. DIRK IS THE BETTER CLOSER.By Tim MacMahon
Believe it or not, Kobe Bryant shows human tendencies during crunch time. He occasionally misses shots. OK, he misses a lot of shots, as TrueHoop's Henry Abbott painstakingly detailed earlier this year while debunking the myth of Kobe's clutch invincibility.
Dirk Nowitzki isn't a flawless performer under pressure. He's just more efficient than Bryant.
In fact, no player who has attempted at least 50 potential game-winning or tying shots in the final 24 seconds of games over the last 15 years has been more efficient than Nowitzki. Dirk has drilled 26 of 67 such shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's a .388 shooting percentage, well above the league average of .297.
It also compares favorably to Kobe, who has hit 37 of 117 shots (.316) in those situations.
Using 82games.com's definition of clutch, Kobe ranks second in the NBA over the last four seasons, with 51.8 points per 48 minutes. Dirk is third (43.7) and shoots almost a full percentage point better.
That's especially impressive for a guy who admittedly isn't a natural-born closer, preferred to defer to Michael Finley and Steve Nash while serving as a 7-foot floor spacer early in his career, who had to develop the confidence to carry his team during crunch time.
"Now, I feel comfortable touching the ball in the end," Nowitzki said. "I love having the ball in my hands at the end of the game. That's what this game is all about."
The Mavs would be fine if that's what this series is all about. All due respect to Kobe, but Dallas wouldn't be scared if games come down to clutch duels between future Hall of Famers.
"He wants the responsibility of winning games," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Nowitzki. "I've been around some of the very best. I played with [Larry] Bird for three years when he was the best player on the planet. I was with Reggie Miller for several years as an assistant coach and head coach. He was a guy that embraced that kind of responsibility. And Dirk's the same way.
"I've been fortunate to be around three of the best. And Bryant's obviously there, too."
Yes, Kobe is. Just a bit below Nowitzki, according to the numbers.