Closers are the proverbial cream of the NBA postseason.
The time to shine in the NBA is in the playoffs, and the time to shine in the playoffs is in the clutch. It’s where stars are made and where star status can be ruined. The closers are what make the playoffs special.
This season there are some players who would be expected to be here and some who are surprises.
First, though, a little bit about how the list was compiled.
As always, there has to be some statistical basis. The starting point was looking at what players did when the score was within five, with five minutes or fewer on the clock, either in the fourth quarter or overtime.
This has become the standard fare for “clutch-time” stats.
It can’t simply be a popularity list. And when you’re dealing with things like this, small sample sizes can skew things wildly. You end up with something like Nazr Mohammed being the top closer in the postseason, and you can’t have that.
So to avoid that, a minimum of 12 combined points, rebounds and assists has been set. As a result, players like LeBron James are not on the list because there just haven’t been very many close games the Heat have been in. You can’t really be a “closer” when you’re up by 15 or 30 points.
That knocks out the entire Heat team, so you won’t see them on the list because they just haven’t had enough games that came down to the wire. That also applies to the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
Other criteria taken into consideration were points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Plus/minus numbers were factored in (after all, part of being a closer is that your team is either coming back or shutting down the other team). Both accrued stats and per-minute stats were weighed.
In essence, if a player has 30 minutes of clutch-time performance and another has 11, and they are roughly the same, the player who sustained his level of production for more minutes was given the edge.
“Crunch-time field goals” which tied or took the lead with less than 24 seconds left (because at the point, it is potentially a last possession) were considered.
Finally, subjective analysis was also applied. How much did that player mean to the team? For this reason, a cap was put on two players from the same team. Did the team win or lose? Did the team win or lose the series? Not everything is visible in box scores.
For the purpose of this article, all stats listed are clutch stats unless otherwise stated. All clutch stats used were obtained from NBA.com (media account required).