With the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing by a point in Game 2 of the Western Conference semi-finals late in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant ran a pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor and went to his right and blew by Andrew Bynum who jumped out to guard him. KD made his way to the baseline where it seemed as though he would get smothered by Pau Gasol who came over to contest and Bynum that came over to trap him.
Durant never flinched.
Instead, he lofted a smooth seven-foot floater over the outstretched arms of Gasol that hit the bottom of the net with 18 seconds left to give the Thunder a one-point lead. His final line would read 22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals on 9-for-15 field goal shooting.
The Lakers would now get the ball and go to Kobe Bryant.
The purple and gold entrusted Bryant with the ball as it was inbounded to him and he inexplicably proceeded to dribble out the clock — OKC still had a foul to give — and then finally went towards the basket where he was fouled by Thabo Sefolosha with five seconds left in game. The Lakers called timeout to set up a flare screen for Bryant to shake loose from the Swiss Mister, but instead Blake ended up wide open and received a pass from Metta World Peace and then missed the jumper.
Kobe would finish the game with 20 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals on 9-for-25 field goal shooting.
Although both superstars came to play — one could argue they could have played much better — the contest highlighted something different: being clutch can be overrated if teams don’t adequately execute.
For instance, Kevin Durant had an efficient game by all measures and even stepped up in the fourth quarter by scoring eight points on 3-for-7 field goal shooting. When his team needed a basket to give them to lead, he delivered. But if we nitpick, KD also went to the free throw line with 0.3 seconds left with a chance to give his team a three-point lead and then inexplicably badly missed the second free throw which gave the Lakers a chance to inbound and shoot the ball. OKC held on, but one would think that Durant would have known better to either make the freebie, or miss it well enough that the rebound itself would cause time to expire.
And then there was Kobe.
With his team up 75-68 with two minutes left in the contest, the superstar that most fans, coaches, general managers and players would pick to carry their team down the stretch had an odd meltdown. He had a pass picked off by Kevin Durant, fumbled a pass out off bounds, missed a tough 3-point shot and then dribbled out most of the game clock late despite the fact that his team was trailing by a point.
Very rarely will we see Kobe Bryant falter down the stretch of games in the manner in which he did, but it happened in Game 2.
The Los Angeles Lakers had essentially wrapped up the contest and were headed back home with the series tied; but then OKC turned up the heat, and well, the Lakers got cooked.
In the last two seasons, many have criticized Scott Brooks for his less than stellar imagination in concocting plays to get Kevin Durant open down the stretch of games, while Kobe Bryant has been glorified for his ability to always end up with the ball in his hands late regardless of what defenses have thrown at him.
And yet, it’s almost as if the roles were reversed Wednesday night.
Durant got the ball in the middle court and enhanced his reputation as the NBA’s new big closer while Bryant on the other hand became the player that KD once was, catching the ball 30+ feet from the basket and not doing much with it and then failing to get open with the game hanging in the balance.
Although Mike Brown is still getting used to coaching the Lakers and employing various strategies to get them in the best position to win, it was thought that the purple and gold’s collective experience would allow them to execute late given that the core of Gasol, Bynum, Bryant and World peace had already been through the fire together in the postseason.
For one game, it sure seems as though OKC has the edge in that department.
History tells us to trust Kobe Bryant. But recent history on the other hand suggests something entirely different.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, Kevin Durant is tied with Jrue Holiday for points scored — both have scored nine points — with the scoring margin within three points in the last two minutes of the game in the 2012 playoffs. In the situation previously outlined, Durant is 3-for-5 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free throw line.
If we point the microscope on Kobe Bryant though, we will see something we are not accustomed to seeing. The future Hall of Fame guard has failed to score so far in the 2012 playoffs with the scoring margin within three points in the last two minutes of a contest. He is 0-for-5 from the field (three of those attempts were from 3-point range) and hasn’t even gotten himself to the free throw line.
As it stands right now, the Durantula and the Black Mamba are at opposite ends of the clutch spectrum.
It’s obviously a small sample size but it’s interesting nonetheless. One would have to think that Bryant will be able to come back make a few clutch baskets for the Lakers in the next few games; but one can only wonder…
Has KD stolen the proverbial torch from Bean?
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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