Who’s Mr. Clutch?
In case you haven’t noticed, The Clutch Gene is the purported most important thing ever.
LeBron James (despite a career postseason shooting percentage of 46) apparently doesn’t have it, and has absolutely no excuse for it (cough, Rashard Lewis, cough, Delonte West), thus making him the choke of all playoff basketball chokes.
Derrick Rose is supposed to have it, at least according to Kobe Bryant and the general consensus. That's what makes his free throw ofer so baffling during last night’s tear-jerking loss to the Heat, in which he also missed a potentially game-tying field goal. It's tough to make sense of.
What it probably means? We’ll soon find out that he’s a scrub, and that beaucoup bucks coming his way from the Bulls ($94.8 million over five years) and Adidas ($250 million for the rest of his useful life as a potential pitch man) are patent wastes of cash.
Whether players do, why, and the implications therein are all (fluffy) subjects of (hollow) debate. But however irritating, it’s a pretty sweet problem to have.
Though I’m not so sure the Sixers do.
Think about it: Can you name a single player on the team who you'd endorse?
Jrue Holliday? Jodie Meeks? Does either player’s demeanor or experience just scream “KILLER INSTINCT!!!”?
Lou Williams? Thaddeus Young? Evan Turner? Really want a player who didn’t start the game to finish it?
We know who you don’t want, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Be it by virtue of untrustworthiness (great as he is in a number of roles, his skills and that role’s requirements just don’t mesh) or creakiness (both Brand and Hawes aren’t in the lineup consistently enough to build a late-game scheme around), none seem options.
But is there someone who is?
This Sixers team – really the only one that matters, given that it’s so unlike what those before them conditioned us to expect – hasn’t really had the opportunity. Save for once, on that Jan. 20 overtime thriller against the Nuggets. Despite reputable individual performances on the whole, the offense seemed to stagnate when it came time for punctuation. Holliday answered Andre Miller’s jumper with a through-a-double-team runner to take back the lead with 7.9 seconds in regulation.
But the whole thing kind of stalled in OT. Felt forced. Unnatural. Inorganic.
Not the way it’s supposed to. Not the way it does when there’s a clear-cut go-to guy.
“Wе јυѕt couldn’t mаkе shots,” Young ѕаіd. “Wе hаd еνеrу opportunity. Wе hаd gοοd looks. Wе јυѕt couldn’t gеt іt tο gο іn.”
So who’s it gonna be?
Someone who hasn’t quite yet emerged?
Maybe. Maybe the answer here is what’s been the story all along.
That’s what’s been so fun about this early Sixers emergence: our psychological recalibration. Philadelphians often thought the team plucky and bold, the consumate "nice player" types. But you'd never be sold on the championship chops of a team so resoundingly flawed individually and collectively. As a “watch every play” fan base, Phily fans so intimately knew it, this conversation serving as a case in point as to why.
Maybe that's about to change. Maybe this next batch of games -- peep this upcoming stretch, starting tonight with the Magic until Feb. 10 -- will serve as more than the counterargument to a strength of schedule detraction.
Maybe it will be the crucible of a the team's soon-to-be star.
Or maybe the answer – maybe the best and most appropriate, romantic and storybook answer – is that there won’t be anyone. However far this team goes – dare I say a three seed and second round playoff out? – maybe it will be the sum of its parts, in this case to their unique advantage.
Maybe they’ll be so dominant in games they’re bound to win, and so inadequate in those they won’t, they won’t play the close games that require a closer. (For record, the team’s average margin of decision is 12 points, also for record, in their favor.) Maybe that unpredictability makes them stronger and tougher to defend in those decisive waning moments. Maybe we’re sleeping on something spectacular, and won’t know it until it slaps us in the face with early summer brilliance.
Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.
But it'd definitely be a fun talk, if only the Sixers let us have it.