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They Are What We Say They Are? - Players and Their Reputations

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I caught game 7 of the Spurs/Hornets series and was struck by Tim Duncan’s performance. He finished with 16 points (5-17 from the field) and 14 rebounds. Furthermore, his last points came from the free throw line with 6:27 left in the 4th quarter. The Big Fundamental then missed his final three shots and saw Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili carry the scoring load down the stretch. Contrast that to Kevin Garnett’s game 7 against the Cavaliers when he scored 13 points (5-13 shooting), grabbed 13 rebounds and watched Paul Pierce have the game of his life.

I am not saying KG is a better player than Duncan or that the Spurs superstar is not clutch. But it’s easy for us to assign reputations to individuals and teams and then view events with those reputations in mind. It’s a crutch we fall back on because it is incredibly useful when formulating stories. For example Rasheed Wallace’s performance Tuesday night – 11 points (3-12 from the floor), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a turnover – was not a question of clutch play. Rather Wallace is known as someone who may or may not show up to play on any given night. Now Wallace and KG have both earned their respective reputations – disinterested and anti-clutch. My concern is that we tend to ignore performances that do not fit with our pre conceived story lines. When KG does step up what do we say? If Duncan puts forth a pedestrian performance by his standards and yet it only adds to his legend and that of his team’s, is there something wrong? Is there a self-fulfilling prophecy at play here? If a player answers enough questions on the same topic, sees that opinion on TV constantly and in general can’t escape it, does it eventually impact his game?

The fact is no player is as good or bad as his reputation. And if those reputations are built without all the facts something is amiss. Ultimately the margin between winning and losing is a lot smaller than we like to admit. And yet we try to explain the outcome of events in the simplest of terms. This is something that has always bothered me. For example if a team goes to the Super Bowl, does not have a curfew and loses we'll talk about their lack of discipline and focus. But if that team acts the exact same way and wins then it is complimented for being loose and not getting caught up in all the pressure. Hey I'm guilty of it. By my count I've written two "Uh oh here goes KG in the clutch" posts in the playoffs already. My posts in general are littered with this type of lazy analysis. Something to think about...