NBA Players Who Are Stepping Up and Stepping Down in 'Clutch Time' of Playoffs

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2013

NBA Players Who Are Stepping Up and Stepping Down in 'Clutch Time' of Playoffs

0 of 11

    The 2013 NBA playoffs have featured no shortage of clutch heroics...just not from the usual suspects.

    While stars like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry struggled at the end of close playoff games, the 5'9" Nate Robinson took over and dominated.

    Nate Rob isn't the only surprisingly clutch player through the first few weeks, either. Through two full rounds, it's been a postseason of nontraditional stars stepping up in clutch situations.

    Only 34 players have taken at least five field-goal attempts within the final five minutes of a game with their team ahead or behind by no more than five points. Of the 10 with the most clutch shot attempts, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah and Robinson, respectively, have been the most efficient.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at which players and teams earn the "clutch" and "choker" labels through the second round of the 2013 playoffs. 

    Note: This is not a referendum on a player's overall career. I'm looking strictly at clutch stats in the playoffs here, nothing more. "Clutch time" means the final five minutes of a game in which neither team is ahead or behind by more than five points. All advanced statistics come from, unless otherwise noted. 

Honorable Mentions: First-Round KOs

1 of 11

    Clutch: Chris Paul

    Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers couldn't make it past the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, but CP3's clutch play wasn't the reason why.

    In only four minutes of clutch time against the Grizzlies, Paul scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed one rebound. He drained clutch baskets from all over the floor, with his only missed attempt coming from three-point range.

    Paul finished the series averaging 22.8 points on 53.3 percent shooting, 4.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists compared to only 1.5 turnovers per game. Despite the early playoff exit, CP3 still holds dibs on the "best point guard in the world" title for the time being.

    Choking: Ty Lawson

    Ty Lawson spent the second half of the 2012-13 regular season looking like a potential superstar for the Denver Nuggets, but he fell apart late in close games during the 2013 playoffs.

    Lawson only converted one of his six clutch-time field-goal attempts against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the postseason, with his only make coming right at the rim. As the icing on the cake, he finished the series shooting 4-of-21 from three-point range.

    With Danilo Gallinari out with a torn ACL and Kenneth Faried hobbled with a sprained ankle, the Nuggets needed dominant performances from Lawson to stand a chance in the series. Instead, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors used their length to neutralize the threat of Lawson's outside shooting.

    Clutch: Brook Lopez

    How clutch was Brook Lopez in the 2013 playoffs? How's hitting two of his three field-goal attempts in the last minute of games where his Brooklyn Nets trailed by five points or fewer?

    Lopez appeared in 27 clutch minutes during the first-round series against the Chicago Bulls and scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He also finished with seven rebounds and four blocks compared to only two turnovers in clutch time.

    If there's any bright spot in the Nets' first-round loss to the Bulls, it's how well Lopez played against a hobbled Joakim Noah. His field-goal percentage (42.5) wasn't great for a big man, but you'll take his per-game averages of 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds any day.

    Choking: The Brooklyn Nets' Starting Backcourt

    The Brooklyn Nets' starting backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson both largely failed to get going at the end of close games against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. 

    Williams was particularly awful, converting only two of his 11 field-goal attempts and going 0-of-5 from three-point range during clutch time. He was a minus-16 in the clutch over the course of the series.

    Joe Johnson wasn't much better, finishing 5-of-14 from the field and 0-of-5 from downtown during clutch time against the Bulls. Johnson hit two game-tying jumpers in Game 4 at the end of the first overtime, but he otherwise struggled in the clutch against Chicago. 

Clutch: Jarrett Jack

2 of 11

    What, is Jarrett Jack not the "clutch" Golden State Warrior you expected to see featured here?

    Jack may have led the Warriors in "No, no, no, YES!" shots during the 2013 postseason, but he also came through in the clutch time and again.  

    He finished his playoff run shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 0-of-2 from three-point range in 34 minutes of clutch time. Of the 34 players with five or more postseason clutch shot attempts, Jack trails only Chris Paul in terms of field-goal percentage (66.7).

    Only Kevin Durant (25) and Nate Robinson (24) scored more clutch points this postseason than Jack (20), largely thanks to his free-throw magnetism. Zach Randolph (11) is the only player in the league who's taken more clutch-time trips to the charity stripe this postseason than Jack (10).

    Throw in five rebounds, three assists and two steals compared to only two turnovers in those 34 minutes, and you've got one of the postseason's standout clutch-time performers.

    As for Stephen Curry...

Choking: Stephen Curry

3 of 11

    Stephen Curry may have been the breakout star of the 2013 playoffs, but his clutch-time performances often left much to be desired.

    Curry leads all players in the postseason with 25 clutch-time attempts, but he only converted six of those 25 shots. Of the 34 players with at least five postseason clutch shot attempts, Curry ranks 28th in field-goal percentage (24.0).

    His trademark three-point shooting betrayed him in such situations, too. The player who broke the single-season record for made three-point shots this season only finished 1-of-9 from downtown during his 34 minutes of clutch time in the postseason.

    Granted, Curry did have a tendency to go absolutely nuclear in the third quarter, as evidenced by his green-all-over third-quarter shot chart. While that mitigated some of his fourth-quarter struggles, there's no ignoring Curry's lackluster clutch-time play.

    To make matters worse, he distributed only three assists during his 34 clutch-time minutes, the same number as teammate Jarrett Jack. The Warriors will need more from Curry during late-game situations in the coming years if they hope to build on this year's postseason success.

Clutch: Tony Parker

4 of 11

    Even when Tony Parker struggles, he's still often able to pull it together and come through in the clutch.

    In Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, Parker did exactly that, overcoming a brutal shooting night to drive the final nail into the coffin of the Golden State Warriors.

    He entered clutch time having shot 1-of-14 from the field, but he drained a momentum-reversing three-pointer with 3:35 left to give his San Antonio Spurs a five-point lead. As the Warriors attempted one last furious rally, Parker drilled another three-pointer to put the Spurs up nine with 75 seconds left.

    Through the first two rounds of the postseason, Parker knocked down seven of his 15 clutch-time attempts, including 1-of-2 three-pointers. He also didn't turn the ball over a single time during his 21 minutes of clutch action.

    The Spurs need Parker to continue producing at a high level during clutch time if they hope to advance past the Memphis Grizzlies and make it to the NBA Finals. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley will make life difficult for Parker on both ends of the court in the Western Conference finals. 

Choking: Carmelo Anthony

5 of 11

    No NBA player better personifies the ongoing debate about "hero ball" than Carmelo Anthony.

    Without question, Anthony is one of the most feared scorers in the league. When he gets into a shooting rhythm, there's virtually no stopping the carnage that's about to ensue.

    That scoring ability causes Anthony to often jack up questionable shots, though. In the postseason, only two of his 14 clutch shot attempts came in the paint, as the Indiana Pacers goaded him instead into taking a bevy of mid- and long-range jump shots.

    In the last five minutes of playoff games where his New York Knicks trailed by no more than five points, Anthony shot 2-of-11 from the field and 0-of-4 from three-point range. He didn't score a single point in the final minute of a game where his team trailed by five or fewer points this postseason.

    J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler shouldered most of the blame for the Knicks' collapse in the conference semifinals, but Anthony wasn't always superstar-caliber material, either. If you want to know why the Knicks got sent home one round earlier than expected, look no further than their offensive struggles late in close games, starting with their leader.

Clutch: Mike Conley

6 of 11

    Mike Conley isn't only one of the main winners from the fourth week of the 2013 postseason; he's also one of the best clutch performers through the first two rounds.

    The Memphis Grizzlies point guard knocked down four of his nine clutch shot attempts through the conference semifinals, and that hardly begins to describe his impact in late-game situations.

    In the final five minutes of games where the Grizzlies trailed by no more than five points, Conley knocked down all three of the shot attempts he took in the first two rounds. He averaged 132.3 points per 100 possessions in those situations while boasting a defensive rating of 85.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Conley also chipped in three rebounds and three assists compared to only one turnover with the Grizzlies trailing by no more than five within the final five minutes of games in the first two rounds.

    Overall, in 29 minutes of clutch time, Conley managed to post 16 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and only three turnovers. Rudy Gay's absence has freed up the Grizzlies offense in the clutch, an effort led by their breakout point guard.

Choking: The Entire Oklahoma City Thunder Offense

7 of 11

    It's wrong to label Kevin Durant as a "choker" in these playoffs, despite what the stats might otherwise suggest.

    If you didn't watch the games, you didn't see the double- and triple-teams Durant routinely faced during clutch time against the Memphis Grizzlies. Instead, the entire Oklahoma City Thunder offense earns a "choker" label for its clutch-time performance after losing Russell Westbrook to a torn meniscus.

    Durant's clutch performance wasn't great by any means, of course. He finished the playoffs only shooting 9-of-24 from the field, 2-of-6 from three-point range and 5-of-9 from the free-throw stripe during the final five minutes of close games.

    With 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in 39 clutch-time minutes, it's tough to find too much fault with the Thunder superstar. His teammates, however, can't avoid such scrutiny.

    Serge Ibaka (4-of-9 in clutch time) and Kevin Martin (0-of-2), in particular, couldn't provide Durant with the type of consistent help he needed to ward off the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semifinals.

    As a result, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has some extra time to go back to the drawing board to develop new late-game offensive strategies beyond "bail us out, Kevin."  

Clutch: Joakim Noah

8 of 11

    Despite an ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah was an absolute monster in the clutch during the 2013 postseason.

    Noah knocked down eight of his 15 clutch-time shot attempts in the playoffs, giving him the highest field-goal percentage (53.3) of any player with at least 15 clutch attempts. Seven of those eight makes came with his team trailing by no more than five points in the final five minutes of a game.

    He's also by far been the best clutch rebounder of the 2013 playoffs, having grabbed nine offensive and nine defensive boards in 35 minutes. The next closest player, Kevin Durant (10), barely snared half as many total clutch-time rebounds as Noah did.

    The Chicago Bulls big man only grew more stringent defensively as clutch time progressed. He allowed 98.4 points per 100 possessions with his team down no more than five during the final five minutes of games, but he gave up only 76.8 points per 100 possessions down no more than five in the last three minutes.

    Few players made their impact felt on both sides of the court like Noah did during clutch time through the 2013 conference semifinals.

Choking: Tim Duncan

9 of 11

    Tim Duncan has been largely sensational throughout the postseason, but clutch time wasn't too kind to him during the first two rounds.

    Duncan only played eight clutch minutes through the conference semifinals and shot only 1-of-5 from the field in that time. His offensive rating of 54.2 in traditional clutch-time minutes is cover-your-eyes bad.

    Defensively, he's also been a relative non-factor in the clutch. In the final five minutes of games where his team is up or down by no more than five, he's allowed opponents to score 108.7 points per 100 possessions through the first two rounds of the playoffs. 

    That issue bubbled to the surface during the San Antonio Spurs' Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich benched Duncan for the final four-and-a-half minutes of the closeout victory after the Big Fundamental struggled to guard the Warriors' pick-and-roll attack in the fourth quarter, as noted by Mike Prada of SB Nation.

    With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies awaiting in the conference finals, the Spurs will need Duncan to snap out of his clutch-time funk.

Clutch: Nate Robinson

10 of 11

    There's no mentioning clutch performers in the 2013 playoffs without addressing Nate Robinson, the little engine who kept the Chicago Bulls alive despite a litany of injuries.

    The Bulls trailed the Brooklyn Nets by 14 points with three minutes remaining during Game 4 in the opening round of the playoffs, but Robinson wasn't fazed. Instead, he ripped off a personal 12-0 run in the next two minutes, helping send the game to overtime.

    With 10 seconds remaining in the first overtime and the game tied at 119, Robinson fired up what looked like a 20-foot prayer of a floater. It banked in off the backboard, and the Bulls would go on to win the game in triple-overtime, 142-134.

    Nate Rob only upped the stakes of his heroics in the conference semifinals, guiding the Bulls to a Game 1 upset over the defending champion Miami Heat. After receiving 10 stitches for a cut in the first half, Robinson played all 24 minutes after halftime and scored or assisted on the Bulls' final 12 points of the game.

    Robinson finished 9-of-19 from the floor during clutch time in the playoffs, and with 24 total clutch points, he trails only Kevin Durant (25) in terms of postseason clutch scoring leaders.

    With the diminutive point guard set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, his agent must be smiling from ear to ear after seeing how well his client played during clutch time in the 2013 playoffs.

Choking: Manu Ginobili

11 of 11

    With one glaring exception, Manu Ginobili hasn't yet made his impact felt during clutch time in the 2013 playoffs.

    Ginobili's one heroic moment came during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, when he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer with seconds left in double-overtime. Before hitting the game-winner, however, he was shooting 4-of-19 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point range that game.

    Three games later, Ginobili fell short in a similar situation. With the game tied at 84 and 20 seconds remaining in regulation, the Argentinian bricked a three-point attempt, giving the Warriors the ball one last time with a chance to win.

    Manu largely struggled in the series against the Golden State Warriors, shooting only 34.2 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three-point range. He was even worse in the clutch against the Warriors, knocking down only two of his seven shot attempts and 1-of-4 attempts from three-point range.  

    In the final five minutes of games in which the San Antonio Spurs trailed by no more than five, Ginobili finished 1-of-5 from the field against the Warriors.

    The one game-winning shot can't be understated, of course, but the Spurs will need improved clutch play from Ginobili during the conference finals against the Memphis Grizzlies.