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May 16, 2006



I know I'm always playing Devil's Advocate in these Steve Nash discussions, but I feel the need to address a few things.

Who hit the clutch shots when the Bulls beat the Lakers in Game 5 of the 1991 Finals? John Paxson. Who hit the series clinching shot when the Bulls beat the Suns in the 1993 Finals? John Paxson. (And it was Horace Grant, not Michael Jordan, who drew the defense and made the pass; indeed, Jordan wasn't even involved in that final play.) And again, who hit the series clincher when the Bulls beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals? Steve Kerr. Additionally, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher hit the big game-winners for the Lakers a few years ago...rather than Shaq or Kobe.

You might also remember that Horry, Sam Cassell, and Mario Ellie hit the clutch shots (in particular against Phoenix) during Houston's 2-year title run...even though Hakeem usually carried the team throughout most of the game. And Horry hit that game-winner against Detroit last year, rather than, say, Duncan, Parker, or Ginobli.

I could give several more examples of the role-player, or secondary player, hitting the game-winner instead of the superstar or MVP. Bill Russell, for instance, never hit a game-winning shot in the playoffs. (In fact, in his autobiography he said he purposely avoided the pressure of taking the high-pressured shots, and instead looked to his teammates to "bail him out" in those situations.) Because of his lack of shooting touch, inability to hit freethrows, and lack of desire to even ATTEMPT a game-winning shot, Russell was nearly useless in game-deciding situations. Are you going to take away his MVPs? Does that reduce his greatness?

Basketball is a team sport in which everyone is expected to contribute. The fact is, Steve Nash carries his team throughout the game by running the offense. He does it by creating shots and distributing the ball rather than scoring. But he still carries the burden of running the team...even if he isn't taking 30 shots a game and hitting the game-winners. If game-winning shots made you the MVP, then according to 82games.com (http://www.82games.com/random12.htm) Carmelo Anthony would have won MVP hands down, and guys like Kobe and Nash wouldn't have been in the top 10.

And as for Nash's lack of game-winning shots, I should point out that he hit the game-clinching shot in Game 3 of this series -- a 14-footer with 3.6 seconds left —- over Cuttino Mobley (I believe) just as the shot clock was running out.


Marion may have missed key free throws, but he did end up with 36 and 20, which I'm guessing is more than his regular season averages.


Big props to basketbawlful for being the true NBA Historian! My historical perspective goes back to 1984.

Jordan did hit one of the biggest shots in playoff history in Game 5 vs. Cleveland in 89. Jordan did hit the game winner in Game 1 of the 97 Finals vs. the Jazz. Jordan did hit the game winner in Game 6 vs. the Jazz in 98. Sure he had help in other game winners (combining with Wennington for 57 vs. the Knicks in 95), but obviously you double MJ with the game on the line.

Whereas, Nash, do you double him with the game on the line? Take for example Dallas vs. Sacramento in 03-04, he had three chances to win/tie in three consecutive games and all failed as Dallas lost to Sac in five. Nash had several poor decisions in Game 4 versus the Lakers that led to the loss. Nash made many poor decisions last night and was saved by Bell's shot.

Except for the Dallas series last year (which was a TOTAL revenge series for Nash), I don't recall him being a clutch playoff performer. Even when Dallas made the Western Conference Finals in 02-03, it was more a result of Nick Van Exel's play down the stretch than anything.

So yes, Nash is brilliant for the first 3 1/2 quarters, but like Kevin Garnett, he's not the best decision maker/clutch player in the last 6 minutes.

And Brett: Marion had ONE decent game (and still missed two ft's to win the game), but he's been mostly a no-show this and last postseason.


Believe me, I wasn't arguing that Jordan never hit game-winning shots. I'd have to be insane to do that. (Well, MORE insane, anyway.) I was just pointing out that there are many examples of role-players (ala Raja Bell) hitting the game-winning or game-deciding shots...even if they're playing with great (or legendary) players.

As for Nash: no one is talking about this, but the Clippers have been double-teaming him consistently since Game 1. By their own admission, they're employing a "Stop Nash" strategy. According to Corey Maggette: "I think we're just kind of building a wall around him where he's not getting easy looks."

It's not often a team doubles the opposing point guard throughout the game. So the Clippers, at least, are respecting Nash, even if no one else is. In reality, it's the Clipper's defensive scheme, along with the fact that Nash is obviously injured but still playing (another vastly downplayed aspect of the series; hell, if Jordan freaking SNEEZED it made front page news, along with dozens of columns about how he played bravely through his sneeze to score 30), that has reduced his scoring and affected his shooting touch. But he's still averaging 10.8 assists and has a 3.4-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio...which is pretty damn good.

As for Nash's history of clutch performances, don't forget that it wasn't HIS team in Dallas. It was Dirk's team. In fact, I'd argue that he was the third option behind Finley. Nash missed some game winners, and I remember them, but if you go back and watch the tape, he only took the shot when no one else could get open. In essence, he was often forced to take bailout shots when the opposing defenses stopped his teammates (which usually happened). It was very similar to the times Stockton was forced to shoot after spending 23 seconds waiting for the Mailman to get open.

If you look at the great "clutch scorers" throughout history, they usually have a physical advantage over their opponents. And even then, Kobe is 7-for-28 in game-winning/tying shots over the past two or three seasons (again, thanks 82games.com). He's won or tied seven games...that's awesome! But he's also failed in 21 games. Not quite as awesome. (He also has zero game-winning/tying assists; Nash has 6.)

In essence, though, I'll agree that Nash isn't the best "clutch" performer at the end of games. But neither, as I pointed out, was Bill Russell. Or Wilt Chamberlain. Even Jerry West, whose very nickname was "Mr. Clutch", suffered several one or two-point losses to the Celtics in the Finals during the 60s. (Indeed, Mr. Clutch made the Finals 11 times and won exactly once.)

Greatness isn't defined solely by what happens at the end of the game. It's what happens throughout the game. Hey, Magic Johnson made PLENTY of clutch errors at the end of playoff games. I could show you tapes ranging from 1981 to 1988 in which Magic lost or almost lost games at the end with costly passes. But he's still in my all-time Top 5. Nash isn't. In fact, he didn't even make my "Top 10 Guards Since 1975" list a friend recently asked me to make. But he's the best point guard in the league right now, and one of the top five players I'd want to build my team around.

NOTE: Marion is averaging 23 and 14 against the Clippers, and those numbers do, in fact, eclipse his regular season averages of 21.8 and 11.8. His struggles occurred mostly against the Lakers.

P.S. We really should start a series of point/counterpoint articles.

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