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2005 NBA Playoffs Scores Schedule Teams Stats History

Best in the clutch

Jones, Gordon among best when game is on the line

Posted: Friday April 22, 2005 1:59PM; Updated: Monday April 25, 2005 5:11PM

By Roland Beech, 82games.com; special to SI.com

Damon Jones
Damon Jones' 43 percent shooting mark from beyond the arc should help stretch any defense the Heat faces this postseason.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

There's a theory that the first three quarters of an NBA game bear little resemblance to the action in the waning minutes of a close game. Defenses get tighter and more physical, fast break baskets become a distant memory as grinding halfcourt sets take over and under pressure some players fold while others come to life.

Any basketball fan worth his or her hops loves watching a tight game that goes down to the wire. A worthy task for number crunchers then is to investigate which players excel when games are on the line.

The first issue is how do you want to define what a clutch moment of a game is? Some people go simply by fourth quarter stats regardless of the score, others like to use the last two minutes of a game, but we've settled on the following for our standard:

Clutch Time = the last 5:00 of the fourth quarter (or overtime) where neither team has a lead of more than five points.

The next thing to consider is how performance changes during clutch minutes on a league-wide basis. We need to have context for what stats mean during the "money moments." Indeed, there are noticeable differences between overall NBA stats and clutch ones.

For starters, field-goal percentages plummet in crunch time -- teams are shooting about 45 percent overall in the NBA this season, but only 41 percent during the most meaningful minutes. If you adjust shooting for 3-pointers made, the "Effective Field-Goal Percentages" (eFG) are 48 percent overall and 45 percent in the clutch. At the same time free-throw attempts skyrocket in the clutch, which comes from a few factors: intentional fouls, a greater effort to get an inside shot, the ball being predominantly in star-player hands and a boost from being in the bonus more often. Offensive rebounds increase (as desperate teams go all out to get the second chance), while turnover rate declines as players are urged to "play smart" by oh-so-worried coaches.

When you talk to the casual NBA fan on this subject, he will typically mention the names of the players who score a lot of points in the final stretch of close games, without regard to how many shots they may be taking to get those points! This kind of view is represented well in the "points per 40 min." table below, illustrating the league leaders in pressure time points productivity, if not efficiency.

Clutch-time Scoring Rate
Player Team FG% eFG Pts per 40 Min
M. Ginobili SA .383 .436 36.3
D. Nowitzki DAL .357 .364 36.0
D. Wade MIA .473 .478 36.0
B. Gordon CHI .476 .577 35.6
J. O'Neal IND .474 .474 33.0
G. Arenas WAS .435 .467 32.4
A. Iverson PHI .389 .416 30.8
Stoudemire PHO .710 .710 29.3
S. Nash PHO .447 .511 28.8
L.Hughes WAS .483 .526 28.8

So the players above would be scoring at a healthy clip if they played a "full game" (i.e. 40 minutes with eight minutes rest) of clutch time. However, you'll nopte that many of these so-called clutch guys have field-goal percentages that are well below league average. Many teams could be faulted for being too predictable in giving the ball to their go-to guy and expecting him to create something out of nothing.