The conversation had come up many times prior to last night. "If the game is on the line in the final seconds, who is taking the last shot?". Many sports writers, analysts, and fans all agree on Kobe, while many more would dissent to someone like Michael Jordan. A few years ago when I was more of a Kobe fan than anything else, I would have agreed with this sentiment unquestionably.
But in these past couple years as I've become more of not only a Laker fan, but an NBA fan, I started to question. Why do we want the ball automatically in the hands of Kobe Bryant? He makes great, albeit very inefficient shots. You know teams are going to double and try to do everything they can to stop Kobe. Why not try to set up Gasol on the block, one of the most deadliest, efficient offensive weapons in the NBA? Why not set up Derek Fisher in the corner? He's hit plenty of big shots himself.
The answer came to me in the final minutes of last night's exciting win against the Heat.
It's because those kind of looks are everything but impossible in the final seconds of a close game. Remember a play slightly earlier in the clock (maybe 30-35 seconds) where Kobe tried to post Gasol? The play ended with a wild Kobe airball, but it really wasn't his fault. What happened there was Beasely used a ridiculous amount of physical force to keep Gasol OFF the block and out of position. This led to a weak pick-and-roll attempt by Gasol too late in the clock and a very bad look for Kobe. Now, was it Gasol's fault for being "too soft"? Quite frankly, no. If you watch replay, you can see that Gasol was battling for position, but Beasely was bodying him up quite hard and literally sliding laterally to keep him out of position. About the only thing Pau could have done would have been to bulldoze over his defender. Essentially, Beasely fouled Gasol. It's not the type of foul, however, that the referee wants to determine the outcome of a game. It's that grey area of refereeing: where stringent right or wrong rules don't exist and the referee must make interpretations of his own.
And that's the way it should be. The outcome of a professional basketball game should not be determined by grey area. The officials should instead do whatever they can possible to let the players determine the outcome within the practical limitations of the rules. It's why KG gets away with ridiculous illegal screens in crunch time. It's why MJ can give a little push for the buzzer beater. It's why Kobe is maybe allowed an extra half step in the final minutes. The refs are just going to let players one bend the rules a little bit and two (especially two) be extra physical.
That icreased leniency on physicality coupled with the fact that, in the waning seconds, the defense is going to do everything they can short of killing a baby to stop you leads often to very very bad, broken, tough to make shots at the end of the game.
And that's really where you can draw the conclusion about what you do in the final seconds. Sure it would be nice to get a clean, spot on look from three or a turn around hook in the post, but there's a very very good chance that you're not going to get something so nice. What you have to do is put the ball in the hands of your player who is going to have the best chance at making the tough, sometimes ridiculous shots. Who's that? The answer, regardless of team or generation, in the NBA: