February 7, 2013

In NBA, clutch shooting not for the shy types

Whether it's MJ or Gar Heard, you have to want that last shot.

DALLAS -- When it comes to converting game-winning or game-tying shots with less than 10 seconds on the clock, no NBA player did it better than the iconic Michael Jordan.

For starters, there was Jordon's celebrated 17-footer at the buzzer over the outstretched and helpless arms of Cleveland's Craig Ehlo that won the series-clinching Game 5 for the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1989 playoffs.

Jordan, of course, topped that one when his very last shot -- with His Airness striking a pose -- as a member of the Bulls nestled in tthe net against the Utah Jazz and clinched Chicago's sixth NBA title.

However, when Jordan was only a mere 13 years old, Phoenix Suns forward Gar Heard connected on what became known as the NBA's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" when his dramatic 20-footer at the top of the key at the buzzer sent Game 5 of the Suns-Boston Celtic 1976 championship series into an epic third overtime.

That raises the question: What goes into the brain of those players who don't mind stepping up and taking a shot that could invariably not only change the perception of a franchise, but also the financial lives for vendors, hotels, restaurants, rental car companies and taxi cab drivers in that city?

"As you're growing up when you're either in your back yard or in the gym or in high school, you're always thinking about hitting the winning shot, and you want to take the last shot, whether it goes in or not,'' Heard said. "All through high school and college I was the main guy, so I took the last shot in high school and I did in college and I got an opportunity to do it in the pros."

Heard noted that players who have supreme confidence in making the big shot time after time are the ones who will be most successful, even if they missed three or four game-winning shots in a row.

But Heard also is fully aware that many, many players don't want any part of being the person called upon to take what is known as a clutch shot. And many players, such as Robert Horry -- who hit an inordinate amount of last-second shots in his career -- don't really mind having the game's outcome resting on their ability to make a clutch shot.

"You do it all your life and if you make the shot, you're a hero, and if you miss it then it's just a shot that you missed, but you can't be afraid to take it," Heard said. "A lot of guys don't want to be the goat, so they don't want to take the shot because they don't want people to say you missed the big shot.

"But I just think that's part of the game."

After Horry's miracle 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Sacramento 100-99 in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Kings center Vlade Divac said it was nothing more than a lucky shot. Horry, however, said at the time:

"That wasn't no luck shot. I've been doing that for all my career. He should know. He better read a paper or something."

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has taken, made and missed more than his fair share of last-second shots, agreed with Heard.

"I always like to take the last shot, because it's kind of fun to be the person who hit the shot that helped your team win the game and see the fans go crazy," Nowitzki said. "And you can't ever be afraid to take that shot, because that'll increase your chances of missing it.

"I know when we had Jet [Jason Terry] here, that guy lived for situations like that. And he was real good at it, too."

Among the current players who thrive on having the game's outcome depend on their prowess with a last-second shot include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

"Those type of guys are not afraid to take the shot and not afraid to miss the shot," Heard said. "They want the ball down the stretch.

"LeBron [James] is getting there. I think this year, maybe, he would want to take the shot, but before I didn't think he wanted to do it."

Players who are at their best in the clutch must be able to block out pressure.

Los Angeles Lakers great Jerry West did it when his incredible 60-footer at the buzzer against the New York Knicks tied Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals at 102-102 and forced overtime.

Magic Johnson did it in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals when his legendary "junior sky hook'' over Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Robert Parish with 2 seconds left gave the Lakers a 107-106 victory and a commanding 3-1 lead in that series.

John Stockton did it when his 3-pointer against Houston in the 1997 Western Conference Finals won the game for Utah 103-100 and clinched that series and catapulted the Jazz into their first NBA Finals.

"The thing about taking those type of shots is you've got to have confidence that they're going to go in every time," Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo said. "We all know not all of them are going to go in, but we have to think that they are."

Heard's magical shot came after the Suns inbounded the ball with 1 second left and was a high archer over the outstretched arms of Don Nelson. It was a play diagrammed by Suns coach John MacLeod, who also coached Heard in college at Oklahoma.

"I had played for MacLeod in college, so I had taken shots for him in college, so I wasn't afraid to take the shot and he wasn't afraid for me to take the shot," Heard said. "I took some shots in college to win games -- and lose games -- so that's just the way it is."

Mayo said players have to be cocky enough to want to take that last-second shot, and arrogant enough to think they can make it every time. That's the makeup of a true clutch player.

"Everybody said it was a lucky shot that I made, but as with all last-second shots you've got to have a little luck," Heard said. "The good shooters have good luck, the bad shooters have bad luck."

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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