In The Clutch

 —  February 24, 2005

The Lakers win in Portland was typical of the Lakers in one respect — the ball was in Kobe Bryant’s hands at the end. From the 8:00 mark of the fourth quarter on, Kobe scored 12 of the Lakers 16 points, and assisted on the other two baskets.

Kobe has a well-deserved reputation as a clutch player. However, this season, with no Shaq as another scoring threat and Lamar playing a bit passively, more has fallen on his shoulders.

And he’s the worse for it.

Before I get too far into this, let me define clutch for statistical purposes: It is the last five minutes of a game (or overtime) where neither team is ahead by more than five points. These stats are kept by 82games.com.

Last season, in those situations, Kobe had an eFG% of 44.5%, plus he got to the free throw line 61 times, or on 17.4% of the shots he attempted. He also had 10 assists and 8 offensive rebounds, but had 11 turnovers. Near the end of the season Roland Beech at 82games came up with his own rating system — which used even tighter restrictions on what was considered clutch — and rated Kobe the 19th best clutch player in the league.

This season in clutch situations Kobe’s eFG% is down to 29%, although he gets to the free throw line at about the same rate (17.3% of shots attempted). He already has 11 assists but with it 11 turnovers. He has just two offensive rebounds.

It’s safe to say that other teams know it’s going to be “The Kobe Show” late and they are overloading — did you notice at the end of the first half in Portland, Kobe had the ball just a few feet over the half court line and with about 8 seconds left Portland sent a double team way out there, forcing him to pass. The Lakers ended up with a poor three-point attempt by Chucky Atkins.

Other players need to get shots down the stretch — that falls on Kobe and the rest of the team. Kobe has to give up the ball earlier, others need to step up and make shots.

Lamar Odom has been good in the clutch when called upon this season. Odom has an eFG% of 56% and has gotten fouled on 24.2% of his shot attempts. He also has 3 assists, 6 offensive rebounds and 5 turnovers.

Another option is Atkins, who plays the role of spot-up shooter with Kobe or Lamar driving to the lane. In the clutch this season he is shooting 75% eFG% and has drawn fouls on 16.1% of his shot attempts, with 9 assists and 4 turnovers.

The point is not to say Kobe shouldn’t have the ball in his hands at the ends of games, he should. But the Lakers are going to see a number of close games the rest of this season — how well they do in those games may be the difference between making the playoffs and missing them — and when it gets to crunch time every other team is playing it as if Kobe is the first, second and third option.

If a couple of other Lakers become those other options, this team becomes much more difficult to stop.

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