In the final two minutes of close games (teams within five points of each other), nobody had more than Bryant's 91 points. There is no player in the league more eager to take the final shot—for better or worse—than Kobe.
In the end of games, there is little room for error. The difference between immortality and going fishing can come down to one shot. Kevin Durant, who missed a potential game-tying shot in Game 2 of last year's NBA Finals knows that all too well.
During the 2012-13 regular season, Durant was not himself at the end of games. He scored a lot, but he didn't do so efficiently.
Ultimately, very few players shoot for a high percentage late in games. The opposing defenses are simply too locked in and typically know who is going to take the final shots down the stretch.
Along with Durant, the players listed below are the top playoff-bound clutch scorers. By and large, they are the go-to players relied upon in close games.
If they can outperform their peers, their teams are likely to advance. And if any of them can catch fire down the stretch—like Dirk Nowitzki did in 2011, hitting 9-of-13 shots in the clutch—they might just have the honor of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy come June.
Note: All stats and shot charts updated as of April 15 and courtesy of NBA.com.
10. George Hill, 51 Points
George Hill's 12-of-32 (37.5 percent) shooting from the field in the clutch this season hasn't been great, particularly since it has been so skewed by his awful 3-of-12 (25 percent) shooting from behind the arc.
While he definitely needs to work on his long-range accuracy in the postseason, Hill's 24-of-36 (66.7 percent) shooting from the free-throw line in the clutch this season has been atrocious. We're talking about a career 80.9 percent shooter from the line and a player who, until recently, was the Pacers' first option to take technical foul shots.
Indiana has team-wide efficiency problems when it comes to scoring, so the last thing this team needs is one of its key end-of-game ball-handlers getting the yips during the playoffs.
8. (tied) Kevin Garnett, 52 Points
Kevin Garnett is a strange guy in more ways than one. One particular oddity you might not be aware of is his late-game efficiency from the midrange.
Unlike most NBA players, he has been extremely accurate on his long twos this season in the clutch, knocking down 11-of-24 shots he has taken from between 16-23 feet.
Now, if he could just make the easier shots in the paint, he would be all set.
KG has made a depressing 5-of-16 (31.3 percent) shots in the lane. That is not going to get it done if the Celtics hope to win a series against the Knicks.
8. (tied) Joe Johnson, 52 Points
Given how well Deron Williams has been playing for the past month, it would seem like lunacy to let anyone else take late-game shots for the Brooklyn Nets in the postseason.
Joe Johnson disagrees.
He has been a crunch-time assassin, easily posting the best field-goal percentage (53.8 percent) among any player who has scored 40 or more points in the clutch this year. His 57.1 percent rate from three-point range (albeit on 4-of-7 shooting) is also tops among the top 20 clutch scorers.
More memorably, he also buried two huge shots in February to beat the Milwaukee Bucks.
On the first, as seen in the video above, Johnson inbounded the ball as his team trailed by three with under seven seconds to play. After the pass, he ran off a double screen to stick a lovely catch-and-shoot fadeaway three from several feet behind the arc that extended the game into overtime.
In extra time, with the game tied, he didn't need any stinkin' screens.
The Nets just gave Johnson the ball and got out of his way. He took it from there, showing that he still has the ability to go into "Iso Joe" mode by burying a contested mid-range jumper at the buzzer.
7. Deron Williams, 54 Points
In the shot-chart below, we see the other reason why Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo might want to consider going to Joe Johnson late: Deron Williams has shot a revolting 26.9 percent this year in the clutch.
Williams has been playing through injuries that badly hampered his game early in the season. He might also have some complaints about the offense Avery Johnson had the team running to start the year.
Still, that's no excuse for shooting 7-of-26, including 2-of-10 from three-point range.
Brooklyn fans have to hope that second number reflects why Williams performed so poorly late in games this year. Perhaps his ankles were simply too weak to drive on, so he settled for threes whenever his team needed points.
Take away the three-pointers and he shot 5-of-16 in crunch time this year. That's still bad, but he did hit four of 10 shots in the paint.
Now that he is fully healthy, he should be able to get there more for his late-game attempts during the playoffs. Or he can defer to Johnson.
6. Paul Pierce, 57 Points
Outside of Kobe Bryant, there may be no player who relishes taking big shots more than Paul Pierce. The truth about his clutch shooting this season isn't pretty, but his willingness to take and make threes could swing a game or two in the playoffs.
When the game is on the line, he uses a deadly combination of step-back jumpers, pull-up three-pointers and drives into the lane that often end in free throws.
He has clearly lost a step, maybe even several steps, but Pierce has always relied more on guile than anything. He is always be able to get off a shot at the end of games.
At this point, you just have to wonder if he can still make them, but I'm sure he and the Boston Celtics will go down swinging.
5. Jarrett Jack, 62 Points
The surprise Sixth Man of the Year candidate is also the biggest surprise on the list of the NBA's most prolific clutch scorers. In a word, he has been excellent.
The shooting has not been the most efficient, but his ability to get to the line has impressed.
In 10 fewer clutch minutes, Jack has gotten to the line eight more times than LeBron James. And with his 84.2 percent free-throw shooting late, he has scored nine more clutch points on foul shots than the soon-to-be four-time MVP.
Some of these attempts have come as the result of other teams scrambling to extend the game by fouling intentionally, but Jack's late-game composure has been instrumental to the Golden State Warriors' ascendance this season.
He also made this tremendous clutch backdoor pass to Draymond Green to best LeBron in another way. The Warriors' upset of the Heat on December 12 was one of the team's finest moments this season, and it's little surprise that Jack was involved.
4. Monta Ellis, 69 Points
Despite Monta Ellis' reputation as a gunner, his late-game shooting has been one of the brightest spots this season for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Among the league's top 10 clutch scorers, only Joe Johnson has shot better than Ellis' 46.3 percent, which includes 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) from behind the arc.
Will this be enough for Milwaukee to upset Miami in the postseason?
No. God, no.
But it might be enough for the Bucks to shock the world and extend their first-round matchup with the Heat to five games. Maybe.
3. LeBron James, 73 Points
Not many people who have lived are better at basketball than LeBron James, and there is no longer any doubt that this truth extends to crunch time. Two players whose teams are still alive have scored more, but nobody in the league can even come close to touching his plus/minus of 59.
And that's in 65 clutch minutes.
In layman's terms, that means Miami outscored its opposition by nearly a point per minute during the final two minutes of close games this year.
That's nuts, and it shows why his confidence is now sky high late in games.
LeBron put this on full display in mid-March as his Heat found themselves in a dogfight with the rival Celtics. Miami's win streak stood at 23 games, and the media was just starting to discuss the real possibility that the team might beat the 1971-72 Lakers' run of 33 straight victories.
We know that they didn't quite make it that far, but James' heroics against Boston gave the Heat their 23rd win in a row.
Additionally, his 24 clutch rebounds, tops among anyone who has scored at least 40 clutch points this season, also show off his versatility. Throw in his 13 late-game assists, the second most among the top 20, and you have the most unstoppable weapon to close out a win.
1. (tied) Kevin Durant, 79 Points
With apologies to Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant is the best-shooting high-volume scorer since Larry Bird. There is nobody in the NBA who can match his field-goal/three-point/free-throw shooting percentages of 50.9/41.3/90.7.
These numbers make him just the second player since the three-point line was added to join the elite 50/40/90 club while scoring at least 25 points per game. Bird did it twice while averaging 28.1 and 30.0 points per game, respectively, in 1986-87 and 1987-88.
These numbers only make his late-game struggles this year so perplexing.
The sample size remains small, so a few more makes would have him up among his more-accurate peers, but it's still odd to see 34.0 percent associated with Durant in any context.
Stranger still, his 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) three-point shooting is the main culprit.
Maybe Durant is settling, or maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder miss James Harden's ability to create down the stretch. Regardless, the three-time scoring champ is going to have to step it up in the postseason if the Thunder hope to win the title this season.
1. (tied) Chris Paul, 79 Points
Chris Paul is nothing if not discerning. Unlike many other superstars in the league, Paul is rarely willing to launch a contested, long-range pull-up jumper with the game on the line.
Instead, he toys around with the defense and defers to running the offense, working the angles to try and find a way for the Los Angeles Clippers to get an easy bucket.
You can't argue with the results.
In addition to the plays he makes for others, he has managed to tie Durant for the non-Kobe clutch scoring lead. He has also done so while out-shooting both and taking way fewer three-pointers.
He lives in the paint and at the line, where he has made 43-of-47 (91.5 percent) of his freebies.
If Paul can keep up this type of production from these areas of the floor throughout the postseason, the Clippers may be able to advance a lot farther than some experts project.
Perhaps Paul can become the 2011 version of Dirk Nowitzki.
LeBron and Durant—among many others—will give him stiff competition, but if Paul keeps it up, he may become the most clutch superstar in the 2013 playoffs.
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