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But here’s the thing: The numbers ESPN’s research group has provided suggest Pierce shoots just as “poor” a percentage in crunch time as Bryant does. Consider this TrueHoop post from March 2010, in which ESPN looked at 10 seasons’ worth of potential game-winning or game-tying shots attempted in the last 10 seconds of regulation or overtime:
- Bryant has attempted by far the most such shots of anyone over the last decade. His 89 is trailed by Vince Carter’s 69, Paul Pierce’s 57, Dwyane Wade’s 51 and LeBron James’ 50.
- Bryant’s 26 makes also lead the League, followed by Carter with 20, Ray Allen with 17 and Allen Iverson’s 14. Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce have each made 13.
Put those numbers together, and Pierce, to that point in his career, was 13-of-57 (23 percent) on such shots — worse than the league average of about 29 percent.
This is a peculiar post from Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe. Apparently motivated by some week-long praise given to Paul Piece by Hardwood Paroxysm, Lowe wants us to realize that Pierce is not a good clutch shooter by TrueHoop standards. Or does he?
This is not to paint Pierce as a bad clutch player; I’ve argued the opposite in detail before, and Pierce’s “clutch” numbers at 82games.com fluctuate unpredictably from season to season. (Note: Those 82games.com numbers focus on stats accumulated within the last five minutes of close games, defined as games when the score is within five points either way.) Go through the year-by-year clutch stats at 82games.com, and you’ll see seasons in which Pierce shot poorly (25 percent in 2007-08, the same year in which he was named MVP of the Finals); pretty darn well (45 percent in 2008-09); and around average for a guy who takes a lot of big shots (37.5 percent in 2009-10). You’ll also see that Pierce has typically piled up both free throws and assists in the clutch — very valuable things, and numbers that show he can function well as a playmaker down the stretch.
Again: The point is not to declare Pierce a subpar clutch player. It’s just curious that Bryant’s crunch-time bonafides draw such close scrutiny while those of other stars, at least in Pierce’s case, do not. It’s true that a lot of Boston fans grew tired of the late-game Pierce isolation years ago, but it’s also true that NBA experts are more likely to lionize his elbow jumper than dive deeply into his crunch-time résumé the way we (and I include myself here, to be clear) do with Bryant.
There are lots of reasons for that. Bryant will go down as a top-10 all-time player; Pierce will not. Bryant has scored more points than anyone in Lakers history and, with good health, should finish his career with more points than Michael Jordan. He has won five rings. And, as Abbott points out in discussing the impetus for his work, it is Bryant, not Pierce, that general managers, scouts and writers always — always – pick as the NBA’s greatest clutch player.
I get it now. This isn't a post challenging Pierce's clutch ability. It's a post questioning why Kobe Bryant is scrutinized more than other players.
Lowe gives many potential answers to that question… all of which are wrong. The right answer is that Kobe is a self-absorbed jerk. He's phony and smug. This is something we love to point out from time to time. And it's not a Boston thing. America hates him too.
As far as statistics to measure clutch levels, I don't buy it. Those stats don't measure the quality of a possession. A possession with 10 seconds left on the clock allows a player to do much more than one with 3 seconds on the clock. And what about double-teams? There are so many x-factors. I use the eye-ball test. My eyes tell me Kobe is clutch. And so is Paul Pierce.
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