It's unbelievable how many games have been nail-biters during the 2014 NBA playoffs. And when nails are bitten, legends are made.
Players are forced to step up as closers, ones who are capable of taking on heavy offensive loads and sealing the deal for their squads. We've seen Vince Carter and Damian Lillard knock down impressive game-winners, a pair of Oklahoma City Thunder stars hit crucial four-point plays and so much more.
But which standouts have emerged as the premier closers? That's where math comes into play.
For the purposes of this article, "clutch" or "crunch-time" situations, the ones when players can start closing, will be defined as the last five minutes of games separated by five points or fewer. That's enough time left for teams to put games out of reach or draw closer during a tight contest, but it's also close enough to triple zeros that the pressure is truly on.
Blake may have claimed in Glengarry Glen Ross (NSFW language in the link) that you should always be closing, but that's simply not possible in the NBA.
Unfortunately, our minds often lie to us when we're figuring out which players perform at the highest level in the clutch. We're swayed by volume rather than effectiveness, which tends to create warped and inaccurate perceptions.
To counteract the misleading attempts of our brains, it's time to turn to the numbers. That's why I'm using what I call "closer rating," a new metric that combines efficiency with time on the court.
To calculate it, three steps are required:
- Make sure the player in question qualifies for the rankings. To avoid the effects of small sample size (which are inevitable with this little action in the books), I'm arbitrarily setting cutoffs as follows: at least five minutes played in crunch-time situations and at least 10 shots attempted.
- Calculate points produced per possession finished, which you can do by multiplying assists by two, adding points, subtracting turnovers and then dividing that result by the sum of field-goal attempts, turnovers and assists. Unfortunately, there is an inherent flaw—assists leading to three-pointers and passes leading to free-throw attempts don't get extra credit.
- Multiply the result by minutes played, which gives players their due for maintaining efficiency while spending more time on the court in high-pressure situations.
Remember, these rankings are objectively determined. Players aren't receiving bonuses for game-winning shots or anything of that sort, and only the numbers matter.
It's also worth noting that you will not be seeing LeBron James appear in these rankings. Again, you will not be seeing LeBron James appear in these rankings.
Please, for the love of my sanity, refrain from asking about him.
The four-time MVP has spent only two minutes on the court during crunch-time situations, thanks to the Miami Heat's penchant for blowing out the Charlotte Bobcats and Brooklyn Nets. Seriously, that's it.
Let him serve as the poster boy for the group of players who have stellar pasts, will likely stand out in the future but haven't done enough to qualify for these rankings, whether due to lackluster performances in small sample sizes or a sheer lack of minutes.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current as of May 10 and come from NBA.com's statistical databases. Large portions of this explanation were lifted—and subsequently adjusted—from a previous article of mine, one that ranked the season's most "clutch" players.