The Top 10 Closers in the NBA This Season
Who gets it done at the end of games? What NBA star is the best closer? The waning minutes are when every NBA game is won, say some, so that is all that matters.
The truth is that there is way more that goes on in a basketball game than that, and the first 43 minutes can be just as important as the final five. But when it comes to the league's most memorable moments, enduring legacies are created in crunch time.
The following players have been the league's best performers in the clutch so far in 2012-13.
("Clutch" performance is defined as anything that happens the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a team ahead or behind by five or fewer points. Players on the list are ranked by eFG%—effective field-goal percentage—and must have scored at least 35 clutch points this season to qualify. All stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats and updated as of 12/23/12.)
10. Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson's statistics this season have not impressed. His 37.3 percent shooting—the lowest since his rookie season—has been downright embarrassing. In the clutch, however, he has stepped up.
The Brooklyn Nets have gone just 7-7 in games in which he has played crunch-time minutes, but that record might be even worse if he hadn't stepped up his play so consistently so far this season.
9. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is the type of player who spends more of his time running the offense in crunch time than playing the hero. Of everyone on this list, he has taken the fewest shots.
However, the Clippers' 6-4 record in closely contested games speaks to how well he can help his team when it's all on the line.
8. Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari's shooting touch has been amiss all season, except in the end of games. It's not as if Danilo Gallinari turns into a sniper, but his willingness to take charge late has helped him amass a high crunch-time point total, and his clutch shooting—especially from three-point range—has far outpaced his numbers during the first 43 minutes of games.
7. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan has been the gold standard of NBA players over the past 15 years, and his performance in the clutch so far this season has done nothing to tarnish that luster.
Not only has his team gone 10-5 during games in which he has played his 74 clutch minutes, but he is also knocking down his free throws. His 80 percent free throw-shooting is six percentage points higher than his career average.
6. Tony Parker
Few guards have hit more of their shots this season than Tony Parker. Predicated on his ability to get to the rim, Parker has somehow been even more accurate late in games (52.9 percent) than he has been during the entire season (50.5 percent). The team's slash-and-kick game and focus on knocking down shots from three-point range is devastating throughout any matchup.
But if it weren't for Parker pouring it on late, the San Antonio Spurs wouldn't be nearly the team they are.
5. LeBron James
As with the entire season, LeBron James is among the league leaders in every clutch stat. He has made more than half his shots and consistently done the thing that he has been much maligned for in the past: dishing to open teammates when the game is on the line.
With an 8-2 record closing out games this season, however, he is finally receiving the free pass (no pun intended) he deserves for allowing others to knock down open shots in the clutch. Rightly so, as nobody else on this list has even half as many as his 15 clutch assists.
4. Al Jefferson
1-for-2 3 PT
Al Jefferson is probably going to get traded this season, but it won't be for his lack of clutch play. Only three players in the NBA have scored more late-game points than he has while also shooting so accurately.
And a 9-6 record in games in which Jefferson has played clutch minutes is impressive for a Utah Jazz team that is just 15-14 this season.
3. Damian Lillard
Nobody on this list has made more clutch three-pointers than the little rookie that could. Damian Lillard's team has gone 9-4 in games where he has mounted 67 total clutch minutes already this season.
On a .500 squad with no bench, it is safe to say that the Blazers would be nowhere without their fantastic point guard.
2. O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo's season has been epic so far. He is still second among qualified leaders in three-point accuracy (48.6 percent), and he is posting a career-high shooting percentage of 47.0 percent. It is little surprise, then, that his late-game numbers are just as good.
Mayo's team may have lost in a back-and-forth overtime game on December 12 against the Boston Celtics, but he was not the reason, as he repeatedly got to the rim to give the Dallas Mavericks a chance to win while playing 52 minutes total in that contest.
1. Kevin Durant
3-for-8 3 PT
The league's second-best player has arguably been its best player with the game on the line. While LeBron James has been equally brilliant, his willingness to pass off to others in the clutch stands in stark contrast to Kevin Durant's ability to simply pour in points.
Only Steph Curry (58 points) has scored more in the clutch this year, but it has taken him 14 more shots to get just two more points. Early-season statistics—especially small-sample-size numbers like these—can often be misleading, but nobody doubts that Durant is at the top of the league when winning time begins.
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