The playoffs are approaching. The top 8 teams from the east and west are preparing to do battle in order to decide who will reign supreme as Champions in the NBA for 2011. This year is especially exciting because many of the superstars in the league will be in the playoffs for their respective teams. Even the New York Knicks, with their dismal eastern conference record look to make the playoffs this year so Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony will get to showcase their abilities as well. Having a good team is great; however, having a player that can put a game on ice is invaluable. When it is late in a game between two teams that just can’t seem to get the upper hand, some players just have a knack for making big buckets when it counts the most. I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 closers in the game today, if you haven’t seen them yet….then something is terribly wrong because they are mega stars. Just be sure to keep an eye on them during the playoffs because they are sure to provide plenty of excitement.
5. Lebron James makes the list in my number five slot because he is a phenomenal basketball player. Controversy has surrounded him and the Miami heat this year but as the dust begins to settle it looks like they will be in good shape for the playoffs and I am expecting a great showing. Averaging 26 points a game this year look for the ball to be in his hands often late in games. While he has struggled to close out games this season, he has been brilliant during the regular season and playoffs in the past. I expect some incredible finishes between the heat and their opponents this post season, look for Lebron to be on the winning side of many of them.
4. Kevin Durant still on the rise in the NBA, Kevin Durant burst on the scene last year as a bonafide all star. This guy can get on a roll and just devastate a defense. He scores seemingly at will, averaging just under 28 points a game this year his Oklahoma City thunder gave the Los Angeles Lakers all they could handle in the playoffs last season. He is not afraid to take the big shot and he is still getting better! He may be young, but he is already one of the best finishers in the game today.
3. Dirk Nowitzki As much as I hate to admit it, Dirk is arguably one of the best jump shooting big men ever to play the game. He consistently hits jumpers from 12 to 20 feet as if they were pre-game lay-up’s. Year after year his team is in championship contention due in large part to his offensive and defensive capabilities. His scoring numbers may be down this year, just over 23 points a game, but if the ball is in anyone else’s hands with the game on the line I would be shocked. He has been making clutch shots for the mavericks for over a decade; I look for it to continue this year in the postseason.
2. Paul Pierce As a diehard Lakers fan, this admission is akin to poking a life size voodoo doll with my own name on the back. Paul Pierce thrives on taking big shots in big games. He has been doing it for quite some time, and with the addition of KG and Ray Allen a few years ago he was blessed with even more freedom on the court to make big buckets. While not posting gaudy numbers, around 18 points per game this year, he makes baskets down the stretch that elevates his team in key situations. He continuously stopped key runs by the Lakers in the 08 finals by making huge shots and getting to the free-throw line. As long as he is healthy you can count on the Celtics making a run in the playoffs against anyone in the east.
1. Kobe Bryant what other active player can hold the title of the number one closer in the game today? Kobe’s resume is stuffed with clutch shots during the regular season, playoffs, and championship games. At just under 25 points a game Kobe has admittedly focused on getting through the regular season healthy and in shape for the playoffs. The leader of a veteran Lakers team with a ton of playoff experience, look for Kobe to drop key baskets late in games as if it were an exhibition. The “Black Mamba” has built his career around deflating his opposition with difficult shots and big dunks at the rim. My favorite to repeat as champions this season, Look for Kobe to take his game to a level that some speculate he may no longer be able to reach.
That rounds out my top 5. Of course there are several other players that deserve to be mentioned, Stevie Nash, or Carmelo Anthony are just a couple of NBA stars with legitimate closing ability. The deciding factor for me was what the five guys above bring to the game on the defensive side of the ball. They are all well respected for their on-ball defense, as well as their rebounding abilities. making the big play on defense or on the glass is another aspect of what makes a player “clutch.” Either one of them on the court during a late game situation gives their team an edge. It will be interesting to see what happens when they are matched up against each other this year in the playoffs. It is sure to be a great finish to this year’s NBA season with one or more of these guys on the court.