Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Chris Herring points out that this season, Carmelo Anthony has actually not shot well late in the game, though over his career he’s been significantly better than just about everyone else.
But the Knicks have failed this season when relying late on Anthony, who has gone 1-for-10 on last-minute shots that would have either tied or won a game.
That isn’t to say that Anthony—a six-time All-Star who won his first NBA scoring crown this season—is incapable of hitting a big shot. In fact, he entered this season having hit 44.6% of his potential game-winning or game-tying shots in the final 24 seconds of games the past 10 years. That is the NBA’s highest mark in that span, according to Stats LLC. (The league average was 28%, a percentage that LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all hovered around.)
There’s a lot that could be said about this topic. Naturally, the amount Carmelo shoots matters more when he’s missing the majority of them, then it does on one of those sublime days when he’s simply making everything in sight. Days, it should be noted, that happen pretty frequently.
But the subject of so-called hero ball has not only been a topic du jour for many years now, but came up again during Monday night’s OKC-HOU clash when the two teams alternated going one-on-one in the closing minutes to equally dreadful results.
I don’t think there’s much dispute to the idea that playoff basketball slows down, and that the end of games very often result in isolation plays for each opposing team’s best players. I’m not going to get into the complete merits of either approach, since that would take a really long while and I’m lazy, but I do think that there’s a psychology to this type of ball come playoff time that makes total sense to me that I think a lot of people overlook.
In the playoffs, every possession is valuable, but naturally the possessions in the closing moments take on enormous significance. A large amount of pressure builds on these moments for the players, but especially for the coaches. In many ways, the coaches are more likely to feel the full effects of the pressure because they have much less actual control over the outcomes than even they want to believe. Sure, they can call plays, but they have no ability to make the players run them the way they’d like. They are in some sense just sitting on those sidelines like a couple of impotent boobs. It’s a trying time.
And given how much is riding on these moments for the coach — their job status, legacies, etc. — the allure of simply getting the ball to their superstar player and asking him to score has to be awfully hard to pass up. “Should I design a complicated set I’m not entirely sure will work, one that may be dependent on what the other coach draws up himself, or should I just get the ball to Carmelo Anthony and make him figure it out?” Or in other words, if I’m going to lose a game, a loss I know I’ll likely carry with me for the rest of my life, who can I live with missing the shot?
Which isn’t to say the Knicks aren’t relying a little too much on Melo’s isolation so far this postseason, I think they probably are, but I also think it’s still a huge advantage to have players like Melo who can create shots even on bad possessions, especially late in games, and I can understand why coaches are so reluctant to go to anything else when the game is on the line.