When a choke is just a miss
I apologize in advance for what, even by FreeDarko’s standards, should register as one of the most deliriously ragged posts in the history of bloggetry. Despite my grouchy-ass attempt to do and see as little as possible, South by Southwest proved to be a motherfucker, leaving me to call to you from a rotten hearth of depleted health. All of the quality time I spent with my houseguest DLIC should bear immediate dividends for the future of FreeDarko, but Saturday was one for the ages: building with Brickowski and his better half over breakfast tacos, witnessing what might have been the
Yet in the midst of all the logistical terror and infinitely compacted scene-mongering, I did manage to catch five minutes of NBA action. After all was said and done, I happened to switch on the ol’ idiot box right when the Lakers/Cavs contest was winding down. Hubie informed me that “sometimes, great games just sneak up on you,” which I took to mean that, had I made a point of watching the damn thing, I might well have given up halfway through. I know that this is a game of runs, but sometimes you’re so demoralized by the time the light bulb beams that no late game tension is going to salvage the morning or mask the shame inside.
In any and all cases, I knew the second I smelled “eleventh hour tie” that it was going to come down to last-second Kobe or Bron. Unlike the college game (fuck a NCAA’s, incidentally), in which that last desperate possession always reaks of random circumstance, in the Association it’s an essential part of some dudes’ weaponry. I’ll lay it out all trans-sportionally: in what I see as the ideal incarnation of the National Basketball Association, inheriting the wind as the clock dwindles away is not unlike the two-minute drill for an esteemed quarterback. Time bears down, but this merely demands a different kind of perfect approach, as opposed to inflicting chaos upon the athlete’s ability to see the situation and move through it accordingly.
What I see when I bother to look at March Madness wonder moments is far more akin to the guy who happens to come up to bat in the ninth: like any other possession, but more wigged-out and struggly, with the outcome more a matter of what happens to happen than someone willing victory from out between the crunch. Even when it ends up in the hand of the obvious triggerman, you don’t see him pulling it off with the same adjustment to the moment’s gravity, possibly since they just don’t get the chance to go through it enough times. But the pros who can pull it off so deftly do so exactly because they’ve realized that this brief, flickering window is a whole different game. Clutch is an attitude, a confidence in the face of context that insists things can go on as usual; buzzer-beaters require ceding to the pressure in order to overcome it, reformulating one’s game so that it addresses the true singularity of the situation.
At this point, I would like to refer you all to the latest
Interesting work from 82games.com last month, which kept track of everyone's stats in game-winning situations (24 seconds or less: tie game, down by one, down by two) for the past two-plus seasons. Carmelo had the best numbers -- 8-for-14, and that was before he made two more game-winners in the past three weeks. One of the worst guys? Kobe Bryant ... 6-for-25. You read that correctly.
(You know what that means, right? I can dump him from my 2008 Dream Team because it turns out that he ISN'T that clutch! Good times!)
What’s worth noting here, aside from the astoundingly uncomfortable mix of petulance and poise that seems to have become Simmons’ way to be, is the assumption underlying the sarcasm: Kobe’s numbers in those situations may stink, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still an ace at it. As in, they ask him to pull something out way too often, and his success rate is a reflection on how difficult the feat is, not his aptitude at it. Yesterday, Hubie uttered that most dry of NBA incantations: “everyone knows it’s going to him.” That’s part of the last-second task, and for no one is it more true than for Kobe. You could even make the case that Melo is thriving because he’s figured out the nature of the beast without the beast deciding to up the ante on him. Or maybe Kobe is going through a slump of sorts, like a gunner who has to shoot his way back into rhythm. In either case, pure statistics don’t begin to tell the story of what happens as the game expires, when it takes a special, special man making a highly deliberate kind of play to give a team more than a random, well-meaning spitwad’s chance in Prayersville.
Addendum of sorts: There was a low-level coup raging in the comments section this weekend over whether the Spurs could ever overcome their oppressive reputation for boringness and boredom, and, implicitly, if the Jazz could ever not seem so “white.” There are two things at issue here: first, to retool a franchise’s image like that, you’d have to do away with nearly all of the perceived liabilities. In the Spurs case, this would probably involve getting a new coach, making Duncan the secondary figure on the team (at least symbolically), and ceasing to be a dumping ground for cagey vets on the verge of collapse. For Utah, no more Sloan might well do the trick. But the other, far trickier, proposition requires by law that you bring in the raw goo of promise to take the place of the dross. As in, maybe Manu is the shit, but Parker, speedy as he is, is about as indelicately bland a guard as you’ll find creating that much on the floor. And where the fuck are you going to get an entire roster’s worth of dudes to run with those two? Same goes for the Jazz—dump Sloan, fine, but then who takes the helm to mount the gargantuan task of changing that team’s style? Plus, again, where do all the pieces come from? Just some knowledge for thought. . . there’s a reason why identity is such an easy sell for organizations, on both an operational and a commercial level.