Within days of Grant Hill announcing his retirement, Jason Kidd did the same. Hill and Kidd were the co-winners of the 1994-95 Rookie of the Year Award and had long careers in the NBA. Here’s my HoopsHabit article with the top 10 moments and plays from their careers, complete with video clips of two Hall of Famers in their primes!
For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!
This headline should look old and almost foreign to anyone who’s followed LeBron James over the past few years. But after last night, it’s the most accurate one to describe how the Heat got such an improbable win over the Nets after trailing for the majority of the game: LeBron’s clutch fourth quarter performance lifts Miami past New Jersey. Wait, what? Is this an evergreen story somebody wrote when LeBron was back in Cleveland? King James hasn’t shown up for the fourth quarter in Miami….ever!
But it’s true. Last night, LeBron James was the definition of clutch. You can chalk it up to Dwyane Wade being out. You can say it only happened because it was against the Nets. You can even just call it a fluke and say it won’t happen again. But the fact remains: when LeBron James attacks the basket in the fourth quarter and in the final minutes of most games, something good usually happens for his team.
I’m not foolish enough to say that LeBron James scoring the last 17 points for his team in a game against the lowly Nets excuses him for the past year and a half of vanishing and deferring to teammates in the clutch. It doesn’t even qualify him as a good crunch-time player. But if all of ESPN’s sportswriters aren’t going to give LeBron enough credit to put this on paper and point it out for the world to know, somebody’s got to: LeBron James can be a clutch player again if he just keeps attacking the basket.
There’s no denying statistics; often, when a so-called “clutch player” gets the ball on the final play, goes one-on-one with his defender and takes some ridiculous fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face to win the game in dramatic, memorable fashion, his team’s chances of winning go way down. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chauncey Billups and even guys like Derrick Rose and Chris Paul have reputations of being great clutch players for some of the fantastic game-winners they’ve hit in their time. But how many do they miss? How many times does their team lose because of that one-on-one, last-second-heroics BS? The fact is, when the game is on the line, if the guy with the ball in his hands attacks the basket (instead of dribbling around for five seconds and then launching some hopeful fadeaway jumper), his team’s odds of winning go way up.
If a clutch player goes to the rim and tries to draw contact, one of four things happens: 1) The guy gets by his defender and makes a game-winning layup/dunk or at the very least, drains a short-range shot. 2) The guy gets enough speed going and draws enough contact to get to the free throw line. 3) The defense commits to stopping the drive with help, leaving shooters on the perimeter wide open. 4) The defense makes a great play and actually earns the victory. Ask any defender late in the game what’s easier to stop: a guy full of steam attacking the basket and possibly finding open shooters after penetrating, or a proud superstar wasting valuable seconds (that could be used for a rebound and put-back on a miss) and jacking up some stupid contested jumper? They’ll tell you it’s the guy attacking every time. It’s just good team basketball. Instead of running some isolation play and putting the fate of the game in one guy’s hands, why not do the intelligent thing and go to the hole, increasing your chance of scoring, getting fouled or freeing up teammates? It’s just the smart basketball play and that fact doesn’t change just because we’re talking about the NBA. As much as we wish there were, there won’t be another clutch player like Michael Jordan.
So going back to LeBron, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he didn’t make every lazy jumper he took in fourth quarters and we rightfully labeled him as a disappearing act. “This is still Dwyane Wade’s team; D-Wade is the one making the big shots in the fourth quarter and keeping his team alive in close games down the stretch. Hell, Chris Bosh seemed like a better option than giving LeBron the ball in the fourth!” But did anyone stop to think about why LeBron seemed completely absent in the fourth? I’m sure some of it has to do with LeBron and D-Wade struggling to work out who is the alpha dog with the game on the line. And in the NBA Finals last year, it was true that he was vanishing because he was flat-out not shooting the ball. But the other part of it is shot selection. While LeBron spends the first three quarters attacking the basket and making pressure-free jumpers, once the fourth quarter rolls around, he settles for easy jump shots he can get at any time. And it’s true, sometimes he’s had games where he’s attacking the rim but doesn’t get results and so we still label him as a disappearing act. And there’s also nights were he finds wide open teammates for game-winning shots, but nobody praises him for drawing double teams and finding wide open guys because his teammates miss the shot and all we remember is that LeBron is adding to his developing legacy of disappearing in the fourth. But when he attacks the rim throughout the final period like he did last night, he’s nearly impossible to stop. There’s a reason he scored those 17 points straight: he went hard to the basket, made contested layups because of his size, speed and strength, and drew contact and got to the foul line.
LeBron James’ legacy is still developing. There’s no question we think less of him for losing a championship by himself and then another one once he had D-Wade and Bosh on his side. It definitely didn’t help that the second lost Finals had a lot to do with his blatant absence in the clutch. He’s failed so many times in the fourth quarter for the Heat that we forget that just a few years ago, we would have given Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron the ball with the game on the line over about 95 percent of the guys in the league. Hopefully LeBron takes last night’s game to heart and understands why he was so successful in closing that game. Because if he does, can you think of anything more terrifying than watching your team play the Heat in a close game with LeBron James driving hard to the basket like a runaway freight train? I can’t.
Reggie Miller, the star of a frequently competitive Indiana Pacers squad in the 90’s, will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year. Miller played for the Pacers for his entire 18-year career, leading his team to the NBA Finals once and the Eastern Conference Finals numerous times. Miller was never able to win himself a ring, losing to Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers in 2000, but his battles with the New York Knicks in the 90s, his crunch time play, and his ability to take over games and demoralize opponents with 3-pointers will never fade and make this a well-deserved induction.
Miller’s legacy has a slight blemish in that he never won a championship, but his determination, competitive fire, pure shooting ability and many memorable clutch performances will ensure that Indiana’s most beloved basketball superstar stands the test of time. Most memorable were Miller’s intense battles with Patrick Ewing’s Knicks in the mid-90s, which included two of his most historic moments. The first came in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, when Miller swung momentum back to the Pacers with an incredible shooting performance in Game 5, leading Indiana with 39 points, 25 of which came in the fourth quarter. Miller’s performance and animated trash-talking with Spike Lee was on the NBA’s most memorable trash-talking sequences of all time, as Lee’s taunting pumped Miller up and set off the incredible hot streak that buried the Knicks. Unfortunately, the Pacers were unable to finish New York off and lost in seven games.
Miller’s other incredible performance came in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Miller miraculously scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to give Indiana an improbable win in Madison Square Garden. With 18.9 seconds left, Miller hit a three to cut New York’s lead to 105-102, stole the inbounds pass, backed up and hit another three to tie it. Indiana’s Sam Mitchell made the poor decision of fouling John Starks to send him to the free throw line, but Starks and all of Madison Square Garden were so stunned it was no surprise that he missed them both. Miller eventually got the rebound and was fouled with 7.5 seconds left, sank both free throws, and gave the Pacers one of the most unlikely and impossible last-minute wins in NBA history. Miller and his Indiana team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost to the Orlando Magic.
Miller had many other significant moments, such as his game-winner against Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals (the Pacers took the Bulls to Game 7 and gave them everything they wanted before Jordan won his final title) and his heroic performance against the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the 2002 playoffs (a ridiculous 3-point bank shot to send the game to overtime and a dunk over three Nets to send it to double-overtime). Miller received the respect of his teammates even near the end of his career, most evident when Pacers’ star Jermaine O’Neal agreed to be taken out of a game with 1:43 on the clock after scoring 55 points against the Bucks in order to preserve Miller’s franchise record of 57 points. Miller remained a go-to guy at crunch time and became a great NBA commentator for TNT. He held the record for most 3-point field goals in league history (2,560) before Ray Allen broke it in 2011.
Miller will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with coach Don Nelson, four-time NBA champ Jamaal Wilkes, and Ralph Sampson.
The Sixth Man of the Year Award is an interesting NBA award because while it might be very revealing about a season, that doesn’t necessarily mean it says a lot about the recipient’s career or even the recipient’s team that year. For example, Lamar Odom won the award last year as a Laker; but LA was swept in the playoffs and now Odom hardly sees the floor as a Maverick. However, this year there are four main candidates that have made their case known as the Sixth Man of the Year Award, exemplifying great team and individual play while coming off the bench. And if the award goes to who I believe should win it, the Sixth Man of the Year Award will not be awarded to a one-year-stint-of-a-player. Here are the main candidates:
1) James Harden – In my mind, James Harden is a lock for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Similar to former award-winner Jason Terry, Harden comes off the bench because he prefers doing so, despite the fact that he easily could start for his team. Harden is averaging 17.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 3.8 apg and is the third-leading scorer for the West-leading Thunder. He leads the offensive attack while the starters get a breather, making the Thunder a constant threat to make a run even without Durant or Westbrook in the game. His 3-point shooting, knack for attacking the basket and his epic beard have helped him become a fan favorite in Oklahoma City. Little talked about is his much-improved defense that has helped lock down scorers and quietly given his team multiple victories. Harden leads the NBA in points off the bench and has transformed himself into the third member of OKC’s Big Three. I really don’t see this award going to anyone other than the black King Leonidas.
2) Lou Williams – Williams is probably Harden’s closest competition for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He leads the Sixers in points at 15.8 ppg while chipping in 3.5 apg as well. Williams has also been Philly’s best offensive threat in close games in the 4th quarter this season. Like Terry and Harden, Williams has developed a flow coming off the bench with fellow bench factor Thaddeus Young, but unfortunately for Williams, his stats don’t measure up to Harden’s. The whole “leading scorer of the Sixers” thing sounds nice on paper, but you also have to consider that this Philly squad only averages 93.8 ppg, which is 22nd in the league.
3) Jason Terry – You can never really count Jason Terry out of the running as Dallas’ big-time sixth man. The Jet is putting up 15.3 ppg and 3.5 apg, shooting 38% from beyond the arc and coming up big in the fourth quarter for an inconsistent Mavs team. Dallas’ inconsistencies plague Terry in his case for winning this award again, as the Mavs look like world-beaters one night and old, frail men the next. However, you can’t ever count out this 2008-09 Sixth Man of the Year, who might have just enough magic left in the tank to help the Mavericks make another unpredicted playoff run.
4) Al Harrington – Harrington has been a pleasant surprise for Nuggets fans this year, averaging 14.4 ppg and 6.5 rpg off the bench. The Nuggets really should be more successful than their record and current standing in the West suggests, but injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Nene (while he was still there) created problems in Denver. Harrington was relied on heavily during that stretch and proved to be a valuable asset off the bench that the Nuggets still take advantage of regularly.
Honorable mentions: Thaddeus Young 12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg (Sixers), Jamal Crawford 13.8 ppg (Blazers), Mike Dunleavy 12.2 ppg (Bucks), Nate Robinson 10.5 ppg 4.1 apg (Warriors), OJ Mayo 12.1 ppg (Grizzlies), Anthony Morrow 12.6 ppg (Nets), Leandro Barbosa 11.7 ppg (Pacers)
Derrick Rose – Rose returned to practice but was limited and is unlikely to play tonight in the Bulls’ contest with the Raptors. Rose has missed the past five games for Chicago with a pulled groin but is still listed as day-to-day. Chicago has been successful without their star point guard on the court, but I’ve already written about how much D-Rose means to the Bulls and that sentiment grows with the playoffs looming.
Brook Lopez – Lopez’s ankle injury has been reevaluated and the New Jersey center will be out for at least another two weeks, putting his return date in mid-April. Because the Nets are not exactly contending for anything, they may consider just sidelining him for the rest of the year.
Kyle Lowry – Lowry’s bacterial infection that sent him to the hospital will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period of time. Lowry was initially projected to return in two to four weeks but The Houston Chronicle reports that his return could still be weeks away. This is a critical stretch for the Rockets, who currently hold on to the number eight seed in the West.
Kevin Martin – Martin’s MRI showed a tear in the labral of his right shoulder, an existing injury he aggravated February 2 and then became a major problem March 11 after running into a screen against the Cavs. Although he is listed as day-to-day, expect him to miss a more substantial amount of time now.
Michael Pietrus – Pietrus left Boston’s matchup with Philly yesterday on a stretcher in the first half. He was hospitalized and was diagnosed with a closed head injury after landing hard on his back in a collision with Lou Williams. The game was delayed for 10 minutes while medical trainers looked on. Fortunately, it was reported this morning that Pietrus was lucky enough to avoid a serious head injury, though he may have a concussion. Pietrus could return to the court sometime this season.
Andrew Bogut – Despite reports that Bogut could make a late-season return, Golden State’s new center will not be making his debut for the Warriors this season. In fact, Bogut may not even be ready to play for Australia in the Summer Olympics.
Al Horford – Horford will not play for the remainder of the regular season, but could possibly return during the postseason. Atlanta’s skilled big man tore his pectoral muscle January 11 and has not played since.
Eric Gordon – Gordon is set to return to practice next week. Although the Hornets didn’t give an expected return date, this is a good sign for New Orleans’ injury-plagued guard.
Tony Parker – Parker missed the Spurs’ game yesterday with a mild hamstring strain he sustained in Wednesday’s victory over Minnesota. For now, consider him day-to-day.
Stephen Curry – Curry’s ankle is set to be reexamined by the Warriors’ medical staff this weekend. His status for next week and perhaps the rest of the season will depend on what the medical staff determines, as the Warriors have said they will not play Curry until he is 100 percent.
Anderson Varejao – Varejao is expected to return to practice in one or two weeks after sitting out since February 10 with a wrist injury. However, the Cavs are starting to slip away from playoff contention, which means they will not rush Varejao’s return.
Rodney Stuckey – Stuckey missed yesterday’s game with a strained toe injury. It was the second game he has missed for the Pistons, but he is still listed as day-to-day.
Danilo Gallinari – After suffering a fractured left thumb against the Mavericks, Gallinari could miss up to four weeks. This is a tough break for Denver’s talented small forward, who already missed considerable time earlier this season and was just getting back into rhythm. However, the Nuggets should be okay and do not need to rush his return thanks to Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee.
Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic’s ankles, which have been a recurring problem over the past few weeks, might keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. Pekovic is hopeful to return for Minnesota’s matchup with Denver, but T-Wolves fans shouldn’t hold their breath until he has played (and stayed) on the court for an entire game.