Last night Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals had everyone up past their bed times, tweeting with excitement, and wondering "All of this in only game 1?". Yes it was a battle for the ages as the #1 seed Miami Heat hosted the #3 seed Indiana Pacers who gave the Heat everything they had. What we saw from these two teams last night was physical, passion filled, and sensational basketball. Despite the most back & forth 4th quarter the Heat pulled this one out at the last second (literally) as the NBA MVP LeBron James (30 pts, 10 rebs, 10 ast, 3 blks) scored a lay-up in exactly 2.2 seconds to win the game.
This game, and Lebron's late game heroics have many debating the substance of that game winner. Was it a clutch basket? Is LeBron truly clutch? Did the absence of Roy Hibbert take away from it? All valid questions that can certainly be answered.
Was it a clutch basket? With out a doubt that basket was clutch. In the NBA any shot with 24 seconds or less left in the 4th quarter that ties or wins the game is considered "clutch" (meaning performing at the highest level with very little time left in a game). Whether it's a lay-up, or a contested 18ft jumper if the shooter made the shot to win it or tie it that is a clutch basket.
Now many people have argued "There was no one to contest the shot, How can that be clutch?", and the answer is simple you take what the defense gives you. It's not LeBron's responsibility to make sure the opposing defense is in position to stop his layup with 2.2 secs left in the game. His job was to win the game, and in that situation he did. Could Paul George (27 pts, 4 rebs, 5 ast) (who's big time play put Indiana in position to win) have defended better? Yes. Should Roy Hibbert have been on the floor to defend the rim? Absolutely. However none of those things happened, and it's not LeBron's fault nor should it be held against his actions that won the game.
And finally is LeBron clutch? This is the million dollar question that has been a topic of hot debates in groups, social networks, and other forms of media. Before I answer it's important to know the different situations that one is considered clutch.
-There is the obvious one, the last second shot (or in LeBron's case a layup) with 24 seconds or less remaining that seals the fate of your opponent, and has the media praising your name the whole week.
-Then there is having a clutch game which I believed to be the case for the MVP finishing with a triple double, and a game winner in one game something no other player has done in NBA post season history.
-And finally there is closing, which is lifting your team over the opponent all the way through the crucial moments of the game (LeBron's 25 straight points vs Detroit in 2009 Playoffs).
Now that we've made that clear, the answer is yes Lebron is, and has been for quite some time a clutch player. What clouded my statement in doubt for a while was his horrific late game effort in the 2011 NBA Finals vs the Dallas Mavericks. However we've seen before that in his Cleveland Cavaliers days, and even this season with the Heat that LeBron has proven to be a clutch player. Now I've explained that the last second shot (which is everyone's favorite) isn't the only marker to see if an athlete is a clutch player. However if we are using that, there are some stats that need to be shared:
According to ESPN Stats & Info:
Most Game-Tying/Go-Ahead FG in Playoffs, Final 24 Secs. of 4th Qtr/OT Since 2003-04
- LeBron James: 7-16 FG
- Kobe Bryant: 5-17 FG
- Kevin Durant: 5-12 FG
- Dirk Nowitzki: 5-12 FG
Best FG Pct on Game-Tying/Go-Ahead FG, Final 24 Secs. of 4th Qtr/OT, Past 10 Postseasons
- Lebron James: 43.8%
- Kevin Durant: 41.7%
- Dirk Nowitzzki: 41.7%
- Manu Ginobli: 30.0%
So there you have it. The numbers, and on the court examples prove that Lebron has been not only a clutch player, but the most efficient clutch player in the post season the last 10 seasons. It'll be interesting to see if more moments like what we saw in Game 1 will happen later on in this series.
Game 2 between the Miami Heat vs the Indiana Pacers will be Friday May 24th, at 8:30 pm ET. Broadcasted on the TNT network.