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NBA 2012: The Five Most Clutch Players in the Association

Michael FitzpatrickCorrespondent IApril 11, 2012

NBA 2012: The Five Most Clutch Players in the Association

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    When the game clock is draining down toward zero and your team is losing by three or less points whose hands would you want the ball in? You could do a lot worse than letting Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony or even Cleveland rookie point guard Kyrie Irving deciding the game for your squad.

    Those three players are included in a list of the NBA's five best closers or finishers. Some define a finisher as a player who never misses a layup in traffic or can throw down a dunk with authority (that would be you Blake Griffin). But for this examination we'll use the word closer and finisher interchangeably.

    Got it? Great, let's go!

Simply the Best?

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    It seems you can't turn on SportsCenter during the NBA season and not run into a highlight of Kobe Bryant sinking a jumper to lead the Lakers to a last second win. But a lot of times perception isn't reality.

    Bryant ranks 12th on a list of clutch players for the the 2011-2012 season, according to the Web site 82games.com, and he led the same list last year.

    However, an exhaustive study of just how clutch Bryant is by a blog entitled Chasing23 portrays The Black Mamba in a different light. According to the blog, written by an individual who goes by the name of The NBA Realist, Bryant has shot just 28 percent on what is termed by NBA GMs as the Game Winning/GameTying Metric.

    The metric, according to Chasing23, is defined as "shot attempts made with the intent to either win or tie the game within the final 24 seconds, during which a player’s team is either tied or trails by three or fewer points." Bryant has hit just 7-of-25 such shots in the playoffs, according to the blog.

    Despite those cold hard numbers, 78 percent of GMs named Bryant as the most clutch player in the league according to the same blog, via a poll conducted by NBA.com in 2010.

Give Him the Damn Ball

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    Carmelo Anthony showed a national television audience just how clutch he can be recently when he drained a 3-pointer with just 8.2 seconds to go in overtime to lead the New York Knicks past the Chicago Bulls.

    Anthony deemed the shot one of the biggest of his career.

    “Overtime. Easter Sunday. Everybody’s watching. This ranks as one of the top. At that point, I was thinking something had to go. If I take the shot and we make it, we win. If we don’t, we lose the game,’’ Anthony told the New York Post.

    Coming up big in crunch time is nothing new for Anthony. According to 82games.com he's the third most clutch player in the league this season. In fact, if you projected his clutch-time stats out over a full 48 minutes he would average 43.6 ppg., 12.1 rpg., and 3.4 assists.

    Clutch stats are defined by the Web site as those compiled by a player in the final five minutes of a game or overtime in which the player's team leads by no more than five points and trails by no more than five. 

    Further statistical evidence seems to support Anthony's clutch performances. According to ESPN.com, Anthony made 21-of-44 field goals (in situations in which his teams trailed by either one or two points or was tied in the final 24 seconds) in games dating from the start of his career through late January of the 2011 campaign.

    You haven't heard too much recently from critics who insisted the Knicks should dump Anthony during the peak of Lin-sanity. It's surprising what a clutch hoop can do for your rep.

The Young Gun

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    He just turned 20 and can't even order a beer in a bar yet, but Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving will force many an NBA coach to drown their sorrows before his career is over.

    The rookie guard from Duke has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Cavaliers as he's produced a slew of game-winning and game-clinching shots. A missed layup by Irving in an early season loss to Indiana taught the rookie a valuable lesson: go strong and with confidence to the basket when the game is on the line.

    Irving scored a game-winning basket on a spectacular drive to beat the Boston Celtics in Boston. He wasn't fazed by the situation or the environment and though he was just 19 at the time (he turned 20 only recently), Cleveland coach Byron Scott didn't hesitate in drawing up a play for Irving.

    "At that particular time, I wasn't thinning about his age," Scott told Cleveland.com. "I just thinking about how pretty damn good he is with the ball in his hands."

    Irving's layup as the clock ran down gave the Cavs a win on the road over Denver. And if that wasn't enough, Irving scored a huge bucket in the final 15 seconds of a game that provided Cleveland with a 3-point win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

    Irving is the league's No. 1 ranked player during clutch time this season, according to 82games.com.

What Can't He Do?

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    Is it any surprise that Kevin Durant is one of the league's most clutch performers? He's the second most clutch player in the league this season, according to 82games.com and finished 6th overall in the category a season ago, according to the same Web site.

    Project Durant's stats in crunch time over a 48 minute game and he would average 44.2 ppg., 14.1 rpg. He is also deadly at the free throw line down the stretch, connecting on 87 percent of his free throws during crunch time, according to 82games.com.

    His buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Dallas earlier this season that gave Oklahoma City a 104-102 victory was one of the highlights of the campaign.

    "It's a dream come true," Durant said of the shot, according to a story on huffingtonpost.com.

    Durant has two other game-winning shots in his five year career.

    Durant is not the only guy on the Thunder with the killer mentality late in games. Teammate Russell Westbrook is rated as the fourth best clutch player this season, according to 82games.com.

The Cagey Vet

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    He may have lost a step, but it would be hard to imagine Paul Pierce not coming through for the Celtics if called on in this year's playoffs. You can already see Pierce getting the ball in his sweet spot near the right or left elbow draining a jumper to someone's heart out come the postseason.

    While not as lethal as he was just a few years ago, Pierce still cracks 82games.com's top ten clutch players for this season coming in at No. 10.

    Other players like Derrick Rose of Chicago and Chris Paul of Los Angeles deserve recognition, but none has been as clutch for as long as Pierce which is why he's on this list and not them.

Who Would Have Thunk It

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    Although it may not be the most popular opinion, there is evidence out there that LeBron James is actually a clutch player. Ever since his meltdown in the 2010 Playoffs against Boston James has been saddled with a rep as a player who shrinks from the spotlight when the light is brightest.

    One of his strongest critics at Cleveland.com insists that James simply quits in tough situations.

    But according to the blog Chasing23, LeBron is a better bet to come through with the game on the line than Kobe Bryant.

    LeBron James has made 5-of-12 shots in the postseason that would either tie the game or put his team ahead in the final in the final 24 seconds, according to Chasing23. Kobe has connected on just 7-of-25 of the same type of shots.

    James did nothing to bolster his rep during last year's Finals against Dallas when he disappeared in the fourth quarter of Game 6. But there is always next year. He just might come back this postseason and dazzle in the clutch during the playoffs, salvaging his reputation and shaking the growing perception that he might be a player who can perform only when the Heat is not on.

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