Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap didn’t ration the praise Saturday night in describing how backup point guard Ramon Sessions affects his team.
Dunlap called Sessions “fearless’’ offensively, then added, “He settles us down. He’s just so confident on the floor and he makes his free throws.’’
Sessions was all that in the fourth quarter and overtime of a 101-97 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. He made four plays in the game’s last 5 1/2 minutes – two drives to the rim, a lob pass to forward Byron Mullens and a pair of free throws – that were essential to this 15-point comeback.
Sessions seemed a fairly commonplace free-agent signing this summer, but he’s been key to a respectable 2-3 start. Signing him and trading for guard Ben Gordon were about finding veterans who aren’t afraid to decide a game down the stretch.
“I don’t really think about it,’’ Sessions said of game-deciding pressure. “It’s just part of the game: I’m going to take the shot if it’s there and the (pass) if it’s not. I think if you start thinking about it, it wears on you. If you think, ‘Oh man, only five seconds left!’
“Certainly I keep track of time and situation, but (pressure)-wise, I just play. ‘’
The statistics bear that out. The NBA keeps a “crunch time’’ statistic (defined as the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and potential overtime) of close games. Last season as a Los Angeles Laker, Sessions tied for 46th among the 300-some players in the NBA in “crunch time’’ efficiency.
The players ranked behind him form an impressive list of closers: San Antonio’s Tim Duncan. James Harden, then with Oklahoma City. New York’s Carmelo Anthony. Boston’s Rajon Rondo. Miami’s Dwyane Wade.
Sessions sees himself as a guy who handles pressure well. That’s certainly something the Bobcats needed. Among the last 22 NBA players ranked for “crunch time’’ efficiency last season, 14 were Bobcats.
“The difference between players who are good in practice, and the ones who do it the same in games, separates this league, really,’’ Sessions said.
Dunlap said Sessions and Gordon have been great for second-year point guard Kemba Walker, as far as relieving some of the pressure to constantly decide games.
Sessions sees that and also sees the possibilities when opposing defenses must account for two pick-and-roll ballhandlers late in games.
“I notice he looks to me, maybe more than some guys,’’ Sessions said of Walker. “I really respect what he does. And he respects what me and (Gordon) do.
“I can penetrate and find him open. And he can, too. When you have a two-guard who has to guard one of us, that’s tough. It’s a totally different defensive experience.’’
And like Dunlap said, it’s a relief.
“Ramon is definitely a closer,’’ Walker said. “That makes it easier on me.’’