Crunch time in the NBA is the most obviously entertaining part of the game. Just on a basic level it is pure unadulterated awesomeness. What could be more fun than watching two teams go back and forth, make plays and fight to the last second?
It’s not all about buzzer-beaters and game-winners, but more about precision and having the discipline to execute your schemes possession after possession. Teams like the Spurs will just pick you apart at the end of games if you don’t have all your ducks in order. If you’re shaky with some of your rotations on defense, they will destroy you. The game is over and you’re going home with a loss.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a good example of why you have to be ruthless and precise in executing your game plan. They have two of the top 10 players on the planet in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and both are amazing shot makers at the end of games.
Yet neither of them have done well in “clutch” situations overall. Durant only shot 37.9 percent and Westbrook 35.8 percent from the field with less than five minutes to go and the score being within five points.
Westbrook tends to be out of control, taking bad pull-up jumpers with 20 seconds on the clock and making poor decisions with the pass. Durant’s efficiency clearly suffers because of how uncreative the Thunder offense is, and he’s often forced into isolating way behind the 3-point line and then driving and pulling up with the opposing teams best wing defender on him.
Kevin Durant is a great player and he can make a lot of those shots, but you can only be so-so efficient when you don’t have a great offensive system you can fall back on to create good looks, especially when defenses are focused and locked in.
Crunch time is what dominates NBA coverage. People talk about the “clutch gene,” who has it, and more often– who doesn’t. “Should LeBron James have passed to Chris Bosh in the corner?” and “Does James Harden shrink in big moments?” are some of the storylines that have emerged in these playoffs alone.
So what’s the truth? Here are what the stats say.*All stats per NBA.com. Differential in game +- 5 points with under 5 minutes left in the game.