We’ve all heard the saying that in the NBA “every team makes a run.” It’s absolutely true — which is why the clutch situations are so important. It’s where games are won and lost and some teams are simply better than others. The clutch gene is a funny thing, because we tend to only remember certain situations (remember when LeBron James was labeled as a choker?), yet those assumed roles are often false.
For this piece, we’re going to look at teams and players who are the best in the last three minutes of the game, where the score is within five points (either ahead or behind). It’s not shocking to know that playoff teams litter the top of the list, but how they got there (and the players responsible) make it a totally different story.
BEST TEAM PLUS/MINUS
No. 1 (tied) – Portland Trail Blazers +59
No. 1 (tied) – Memphis Grizzlies +59
No. 3 – Miami Heat +46
The end-all-be-all statistic of any basketball game is the score. If you outscore your opponent, you win. There are a couple of interesting notes about each of these teams and their performance in the clutch. The Blazers are the worst shooting (38.8 percent) of the bunch, but they get to the free-throw line more than any team in the NBA (142 times) and have the best foul shooting percentage as well (87.3 percent). It’s much easier to close out a team when you can knock down those freebies.
The Grizzlies have the most wins in this situation (defined as scoring more than your opponent during the three minutes). They’ve been in the situation 43 times and are 29-14 during those games. They’re better from the field than the Blazers (42.9 percent) and also knock down their foul shots (84.8 percent)
For the Heat, it’s all about their shooting. Aside from the robots known as the San Antonio Spurs (54.6) and the outlier Philadelphia 76ers (46.9), the Heat have the best field goal shooting percentage (44.2) of anyone else. For you conspiracy theorists out there — the Heat have drawn the sixth-most fouls, behind the Raptors, Blazers, Hawks, Wizards and Bobcats.
The worst list: Milwaukee Bucks -89, Orlando Magic -75, Detroit Pistons -59
Most surprising: Minnesota Timberwolves, -39 (No. 26 in NBA)
BEST INDIVIDUAL PLUS/MINUS
No. 1 – Ray Allen +68
No. 2 (tied) – Zach Randolph +65
No. 2 (tied) – Damian Lillard +65
When I think about clutch players, there’s no question that Allen belongs on the list. This season, Allen is shooting 52.6 percent (10-for-19) from the field, 36.4 percent (4-for-11) from the 3-point line and he’s an 83.3 percent foul shooter. Also of interest, in 82 minutes of play, he’s pulled in 11 rebounds. Is this in large part due to playing with some terrific teammates? Sure…but ask yourself — who do you want taking that last jumper?
Randolph is a big surprise to me on this list. As a team, the Grizzlies are excellent in the clutch so I’m not shocked to see a player from Memphis here, but Z-Bo is a bit surprising. He’s scored 38 points in 85 minutes, shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line. His 23 rebounds are solid, with seven of those offensive.
Lastly, Lillard has been developing a reputation as a late-game performer and this list helps to prove that. Lillard has a terrific shooting line of .460/.407/.868 in the clutch, with 15 rebounds, nine assists and 25 fouls drawn (in 110 minutes). Only Kevin Durant (107/+13) and LeBron James (103/+51) have scored more than Lillard’s 102 points.