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Kobe Bryant sarcastically claims he's "not clutch."

May 3, 2011 |  6:42 pm

One curl off a screen, one catch at the top of the key and one game-winning three-pointer could've continued the narrative of Kobe Bryant showing how he's a clutch player and how the Lakers are poised enough to win close games.

Instead, Bryant's potential game-winning shot hit off the front rim, the Lakers lost Game 1 to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals and Bryant is dripping with sarcasm about his late-game shooting.

"I'm not clutch," Bryant said.

In fact, there is data to support that argument. Bryant missed two of his final three shot attempts and committed a turnover in the final 2:42 of the game. Ever since Game 3 of the Lakers' first-round series against Utah in 2009, Bryant has missed five consecutive game-tying or go-ahead attempts in the final 24 seconds of a playoff game. And according to NBA Statscube, Bryant has gone shot six for 30 (20%) from the field in what the site calls "clutch moments," the last five minutes of games when the margin is within five points.

Stats don't lie, but that doesn't suddenly bolster why Bryant was warranted to finish in fourth place for regular-season MVP and it doesn't invalidate preseason surveys that indicate the majority of general managers would prefer Bryant take the final shot. Citing his seven game-winners last season as a rebuttal clearly misses the point. The numbers indicate there's a problem with how the Lakers run their offense in the final moments of a game, but it has nothing to do with Bryant's clutch shooting. If it did, the Lakers wouldn't heavily depend on it when they need to secure a close victory. 

Bryant's pull-up jumper that gave the Lakers a 92-87 lead with 3:42 remaining revealed Bryant's effective lift and jab steps. But it also featured everyone else standing motionless while Bryant ran in an isolation set. Bryant's off-the-backboard three-pointer with 2:48 remaining looked ugly, but how the Lakers ran their offense looked even uglier. Bryant established position and didn't even receive a look until eight seconds remained on the shot clock. Meanwhile, no one else established post position or set a screen for any other teammate to get open. 

Bryant's initial defense on his high volume of shots may have put too much blame on the second unit. It also ignores,, as ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetky explained in great detail, how Bryant's shots, even when some were warranted, fundamentally changed the offense of the game. But it at least explains why what happens on the floor instead of statistical trends should dictate decision making.

"It had nothing to do with me," Bryant said. "I had games where I shot the ball 30 times and Pau had big offensive games those games. I'm going to do what I do. The second unit and crew has to get a conscious effort to get the ball into Pau and the ball into Andrew. I had games where I shot the ball 10 times and Pau and Andrew didn't contribute that much. I had games where I shot the ball 30 times and they had big games. It has nothing to do with my shots."

--Mark Medina

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