Being “clutch” comes to define a superstar, for better or worse, and it can be hard to shake perception from reality once a reputation is built. Take for example LeBron James, who has become one of the NBA’s best players in crunch time over the past seven or eight seasons but still gets criticized by some fans for not being a clutch player in the mold of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, whether the stats tell a different story or not.
Like every stat, clutch stats have their flaws. The NBA lists clutch situations as any game that is within five points on either side (winning or losing) in the final five minutes. Obviously, some of those situations are more stressful or pressure filled than others, but it does offer a good look at who is their best when it’s closing time (or time for a comeback).
We are now at the midway point of the 2017-18 season, so it’s as good a time as any to look back and take stock of who has been the best this season in the clutch and who has struggled the most. First, we’ll look at the teams that have been the best and worst in games in which that clutch scenario, as defined earlier, come into play.
The Celtics, unsurprisingly, live at the top of this list. They have been the cardiac kids for much of the season, but have come out on top in 20 of their 27 games that have been within five points with five or fewer minutes to play in regulation. Boston is shooting a crazy 54.2 percent from the field during clutch situations (which leads the league) and their 16.1 net rating is seventh in the league.
The Spurs are tops in that category at +33.9, which is absurd, especially considering they’re doing so without the services of Kawhi Leonard for most of those games. San Antonio is 13-5 in games that feature clutch scenarios and their 85.7 defensive rating in those times is by far and away the league’s best. Cleveland and Golden State are also near the top in that category, which comes as no surprise, but the presence of the Heat (18-7, +26.2 net rating) and the Kings (11-8, +19.5 net rating) is very interesting to see.
On the flip side, the bottom of the list features few surprises as Dallas (7-21, -26.8 net rating), LAC (9-12, -22.3 net rating) and Atlanta (6-15, -20.2 net rating) are the bottom dwellers. Of playoff contenders, Washington (11-13, -12.0 net rating) and Oklahoma City (10-12, -11.1 net rating) have been the worst in the clutch.When you look at individuals, you’ll see why the Wizards and Thunder have struggled so much in close games and why those at the top are where they are.