What if his life depended on it?
Only a few all-time greats come close to MJ in terms of crunch-time performance -- according to ESPN's Henry Abbott, Jordan was 9-of-18 for his career in postseason go-ahead or game-tying shot attempts in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. But surprisingly, he's not the one Riley would go for if his life depended on it.
"If I had to choose a player to take a shot to save a game, I’d choose Michael Jordan," Pat said. "If I had to choose a player to take a shot to save my life, I’d take Larry Bird."
Bird vs. Jordan in the clutch
Unfortunately, Bird's impact in crunch time can't be measured through numbers. Aside from the aforementioned postseason stats, there is also no record of the rest of MJ's performance in the clutch, given that advanced statistics regarding the players' crunch-time efficiency only date back to his final two seasons with the Bulls. So instead of goggling at what would indubitably be impressive clutch resumes, the best we can do is go by their most iconic game-decisive moments.
Bird's case starts with his NBA Finals performances, most notably the series-clinching Game 6 of the 1986 NBA Finals, when Larry recorded a triple-double, leading the organization to its 16th NBA title. He also might have the most impressive resume in Game 7 situations -- 27.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists -- where the Celtics came out on top six times. Add to that Bird's unmatched mentality, and the upshot is clear -- Larry Legend is arguably the greatest clutch time performer ever.
"When I played, Larry Bird was the only one I feared," Magic Johnson said. "A lot of black guys always ask me, 'Did Larry Bird really play that good?' I said Larry Bird is so good it's frightening."
Playing Bird might've been frightening, but Michael Jordan was the fear itself. Plus, he has a plethora of iconic clutch moments that show he knew how to capitalize on that mentality -- his last shot for the Bulls in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals against the Jazz is the obvious example.
Clutch numbers available to us still put Michael on top as the most efficient postseason crunch-time performer. The likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant are all in the conversation, but none of them have been able to match MJ's performance in the clutch. However, Larry Bird might've.
Until we get all the stats -- hopefully that happens -- the two remain neck and neck in a competition for the NBA's ultimate closer. In the meantime, there's no wrong answer when deciding between the two. Riley went with Bird; most NBA fans would still go with Jordan.