Those who take clutch shots, and those who don’t

basketballPrinceton’s Devin Cannady could have been the hero last week, but he missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds of an upset bid against Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He had a relatively open shot; the ball clanged off the rim.

“It was a good look,” Cannady told reporters. “It’s a shot I’ve taken before. But the ball didn’t fall like I wanted it to.”

And what now for the Princeton sophomore?

Will that missed shot haunt him for the rest of his life? Will he use failure as fuel for success? Will he shrug it off with a win-some, lose-some mentality?

The impact of buzzer-beating shots on players’ lives was explored in a half-page article in the New Yok Times Sunday.  Even a clutch shot in childhood can have long-lasting impact.

Arkansas guard Daryl Macon was 14, a freshman at Parkview High School in Little Rock, when he hit a 3-pointer to send a game into triple overtime. He was not a starter, and he did not even play in that third overtime. But he said he leaned on that moment throughout his high school career.

“I was just 5-foot-5 as a freshman,” Macon said. “I had my doubts whether I was going to be a player or not. I made that shot and I remember thinking: Maybe I have something. Maybe I have what it takes.”

Although the focus falls on the crunch-time shooter, I also wonder about players who decide not to take the big shot. In the Princeton game, Cannady’s teammate Amir Bell, a junior, seemed to have an opportunity for a pull-up jumper from 15 feet despite close guarding. He might have made the shot or gotten fouled. Instead, he chose to pass off to Cannady for a long-distance shot. Was it pure basketball reflex on Bell’s part or fear of taking the big shot?

In the NCAA championship final last year, Villanova senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono dished off to teammate Kris Jenkins in the final seconds. Jenkins made an electrifying three-pointer to win the game. If Jenkins had missed, Arcidiacono’s decision might have looked questionable. He was the senior, he had the opportunity, and yet he passed on it.

Even the great Michael Jordan might have been second-guessed for passing off to Steve Kerr in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan was Mr. Clutch for the Chicago Bulls and had already made two game-winners in the series against Utah. Fortunately, Kerr made the buzzer-beater, giving the championship to the Bulls.

I had only one buzzer-beating moment in all of my grade-school and high-school playing days. I can still see the small fifth-floor gym at P.S. 33 in Queens Village. I was an eighth-grader on the Our Lady of Lourdes team, and we were playing St. Mary’s for the CYO league championship. We were down by two points and called a timeout in the frantic final seconds. The coach said there was a split second left on the clock.

“Just get the ball and heave it,” he told me. “You don’t have time for a real shot.”

I did exactly that from about 25 feet out. The ball hit the backboard and went into the basket, tying the game. ( No three-pointers back then.)  We won easily in overtime.

I felt no emotion at all. I just stared at the ball hanging in the net. It was a lucky heave I couldn’t duplicate in a hundred later throws at the playground. It wasn’t my skill and practice paying off under pressure. Still, the shot gave me confidence that good things would happen if I stuck with the game of basketball.



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4 Responses to Those who take clutch shots, and those who don’t

  1. Tom Quinn says:

    As a high-school frosh yet to hit my growth spurt, I stood about 5’4″ but was a good enough shooter/athlete to make the team. I had the ball about 10 feet beyond half court with just a few seconds on the clock. I took a single dribble and heaved it with all my miscalculated might. I watched the Voit soar over the backboard and crash into the electric scoreboard. I had totally clocked the time clock, which got stuck at 1 second. I wryly asked my coach if that counted as a buzzer beater. Seemed he sought a game-winning play more so than a play on words. Who knew?

  2. Jim Clegg says:

    One for this Clegg also, vs Kalamazoo College…A simple ‘bunny’ that my point guard dumped off to me as time ran down. I don’t remember feeling overly excited….The point guard was jumping into my arms like we just won something big – when it was just a Saturday afternoon MIAA conference game in front of 500 people at Kresge Gymnasium!! #glorydays?!

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