Kobe, LeBron, Durant: Who do you want in Crunch Time?
Last night we saw both Kobe and LeBron come through with some big fourth quarter performances:
Kobe’s Lakers were down as much as 25 points to the Hornets, but a late-game surge turned things around. The Hornets were up 102-88 with just under 7 minutes left, before Kobe led the Lakers on a 20-0 run to close the game. In the midst of the run, Kobe scored 13 of his 42 points, including a fade-away go-ahead bucket with about 30 seconds left.
Meanwhile, LeBron was performing similar late-game heroics. Fending off a late-game surge by the Magic, LeBron put the game in his hands and drove past DeQuan Jones to lay in the game-winner with 3 seconds left. It was the first time in his Heat career he’d scored a go-ahead basket with 10-seconds or less in overtime in regulation.
Then there’s the third element in the equation, the NBA’s leading scorer and most dangerous 3-point threat, Kevin Durant. The only member of the trio without an NBA Championship ring, Durant was the recent winner of an interesting survey for NBA GM’s. In an annual questionnaire, which asks General Managers which player they’d most like to have in the clutch, Durant edged out Kobe 46.7% to 40%. It’s an honor that Bryant had won 10 years in a row, but the streak has finally been broken.
Now let’s get down to the bottom of this….
The most experienced and battle-tested of the trio, Kobe has a portfolio of clutch performances that matches anyone in the history of the league. Never afraid to put the game in his hands, Kobe effortlessly creates space for himself and has the ability to stop on a dime and pop his signature jump shot at any point in his drive - just ask Robin Lopez, the most recent victim of a Kobe game-winner.
On the downside, he’s not as physically imposing as either Durant or LeBron. We’ve seen throughout this season that he can still throw down the highlight reel dunks, but he lacks the size and strength of LeBron and the length of Durant.
In the midst of one of the most dominant seasons in NBA History, LeBron has pretty much shut the door on ‘Best Player in the NBA’ discussions. Shooting 56% from the field while scoring 27 a game and filling the stat sheet, LeBron’s Heat are surely looking like the frontrunners for the title once again.
Now for the negatives. Even though his jump shot has greatly improved, and he’s shooting a career-best 40% from behind the arc, LeBron still isn’t as pure of a shooter as Kobe and Durant. He’s also had a history of being a little too reserved in the clutch, particularly in his Cavaliers days when he’d too often pass the ball off to teammates in the game’s final seconds and in the 2011 NBA Finals when he posted some uninspiring 4th quarter statistics. But in the last year and a half, we’ve seen a new LeBron James, willing to take more of a load on his shoulders.
How do you defend a 6’10” shooter that also has the quickness to blow by defenders? The NBA is still working on that one. Averaging 28.6 points per game, Durant is on pace for his 4th straight NBA Scoring Title and all-around, Durant is having his best season to date. With career bests in FG% (50.7), assists, (4.6), steals (1.6), and blocks (1.3), Durant has elevated his game to another level. With such a heightened release on his jump shot, Durant is an extremely difficult shooter to disrupt.
He’s had some big playoff scoring bursts and some regular season game-winners to add to his resume, but he doesn’t have quite the experience in clutch situations as Kobe and LeBron, who have played in 7 and 3 NBA Finals Series respectively. Additionally, Russell Westbrook takes some weight off Durant’s shoulders in the clutch from time to time and Durant has failed to be more assertive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Honestly, you just can’t go wrong. But for me, the answer has to be Kobe. Durant and LeBron are the more athletically able players at this point in their careers, but Kobe’s just got that late-game confidence, the determination to always have the ball in his hands when it matters most as well as the proven track record of playing his best basketball when his team needs it most.
So who are you going with?