Basketball U on Clutch Play
Posted Sep 17 2002 2:28PM
As the clock ticks down, the fate of the game and the season may come down to one play or possession. What does it take to make the last-second shot? Confidence, preparation and talent.
Confidence: The ability to perform in the clutch comes from having the confidence to know that you can. The player has to believe in himself and his abilities. His teammates should want him to have the ball in his hands at the end of a game.
The biggest shot for a clutch player is the first game-winner he ever makes. Clutch players draw on their past experiences for strength and assurance. For Michael Jordan, the first big shot he made was as a college freshman. Playing in the 1982 NCAA Finals against Georgetown University and freshman centre Patrick Ewing, Jordan's North Carolina coach Dean Smith called a play for future Los Angeles Lakers All-Star James Worthy. When Worthy was covered, Jordan was the second option to take the shot. Jordan proceeded to make a jumper to win the game. From that point onward, Jordan thrived in situations with the game hanging in the balance because he had positive memories to build on. His success at taking and making the big shot established his reputation of being a "money" player.
The more a player makes the big shot and comes through in the clutch, the more his confidence grows and the more he believes he can do it again. Even if they fail, clutch players want the ball back in the same situation. They want the responsibility of winning or losing the game. Clutch players may not deliver a win every time, but they do it often enough that fans and players alike remember when they do.
Preparation: Clutch players practice harder than their competitors because they want to be ready when the game is on the line. Like children on a playground, players grow up practicing last-second buzzer-beaters.
Often the preparation comes with an undying competitive spirit. Their simple desire not to quit allows them to pull out some wins they may not expect. Their love of winning and hatred of losing spurs these players to push themselves harder and focus more intently when the stakes are at their highest.
Lakers great Jerry West never stopped working on his game. Under the bright lights of the 1970 NBA Finals' Game Three, West made a 60-foot shot at the buzzer to send the Lakers' playoff game against the Knicks to overtime. Plays such as this earned West the moniker "Mr. Clutch".
Talent: Most great clutch performers have an abundance of talent. The more crucial the circumstance, the better a clutch player will perform. These stars are able to rise to the occasion and achieve a peak performance when the situation calls for it. In these tense moments everything appears to slow down. The players take the time to evaluate the situation and can clearly see what needs to be done and the moves to be made. Clutch players are in the moment and in control.
After Jordan, perhaps no player today has made more clutch shots than the Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller. The shooting guard's end-of-game heroics have led some in the media to dub this "Miller Time". Nowhere has Miller's star shone brighter than in the NBA Playoffs.
Some of Miller's greatest performances in postseason games:
•1994 Eastern Conference Finals: With the Pacers trailing heading into the fourth against the Knicks, Miller exploded for 25 points in the quarter, including five three-pointers, finishing with 39 points and leading the Pacers to a 93-86 win.•1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds, and the Pacers defeated the Knicks in a miraculous come-from-behind victory.
•1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Miller made a three-point shot with 5.9 seconds left to force OT at Madison Square Garden, finishing with 38 points and an Indiana win over New York.
•1998 Eastern Conference Finals: Despite a badly sprained ankle and Jordan's best efforts to defend him, Miller hit a three-point shot against the Bulls, tying the series. That season Miller attempted 14 game-breaking or game-winning shots, the majority of which were three-pointers, and missed only two of these shots.
•2001 Playoffs First Round: Shrugging off a poor shooting night, Miller hit a deep three-pointer in the last seconds while being closely guarded by Allen Iverson, and the Pacers defeated the top-seeded Sixers.
Toronto Raptors guard Alvin Williams has shown a propensity to make big plays at opportune moments. Against the Clippers in December 2000, Williams made a three-point shot at the buzzer to put the game into overtime. The Raptors ended up with a 104-95 win. A month later, Williams saved the Raptors again by following up a missed shot with a tip-in offensive rebound for a two-point win over the Sonics.