It's easy to dismiss a somewhat contrived stat such as this except for the Spurs' own history: In San Antonio's '02-03 title season, the Spurs had a solid +52 "clutch plus/minus" but when they were ousted by the Lakers last season, they were in the red at -1 in the clutch. Could it be that San Antonio is genuinely a tad shaky these days when a game goes down to the wire?
Last season the top five clutch plus/minus teams were the Pacers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Knicks and Pistons. All four conference finalists made the cut, whereas the playoff teams with negative clutch tallies were just 1-5 in playoff series. This season the ledger reads as follows:
2004-05 Clutch Plus/Minus
Last five minutes of the 4th quarter/overtime,
where neither team is ahead by more than 5.
Obviously the Rockets have already put the Mavericks in a deep hole, in no small part due to some great clutch play on Monday night in Game 2. Moreover, from a standpoint of statistical significance, the sample size leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, if you're looking for the weak link in the Spurs' armor, this may be it.
Surprisingly, the problem for the Spurs in tight moments has been on defense. While the league as a whole saw field-goal percentages drop when games got to the "money minutes," the Spurs' defensive field-goal percentage allowed went up! In addition, the number of shooting fouls they have been called for has also increased in the final minutes of games up for grabs.
There is a tendency to overreact to the outcome of one game and the Spurs may yet show they were deserving of the high expectations being placed on them. Perhaps they will roll through the remainder of the series with Denver after the needed wake-up call. However, if you're a San Antonio fan you might want to hope for one thing ... that game two doesn't come down to one last possession!
Roland Beech is the founder of 82games.com, a Web site that covers the NBA with an intense statistical focus.