The NBA's Coldest End-of-Game Closers of the Last 10 Years
An NBA game lasts 48 minutes. And while plenty happens in the first 46, a lot of contests are ultimately decided in the last two.
Like the ninth inning in baseball, it's in those waning moments when you want a guy who slings fire. And over the last 10 years, the league has seen some flamethrowers.
It's often in that "closing time" when stars are made. For the purposes of this slideshow, we'll define it as the last two minutes of a fourth quarter or overtime when the score is within three points.
To determine who performed best in those limited situations, I looked to play-by-play data available at Basketball Reference.
Using the site's Shot Finder, I compiled total shots made under the above "closing time" parameters, then took the top 25 there and sorted them by effective field-goal percentage (eFG%, defined by Basketball Reference as a number that "adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal.").
It's not a perfect method for determining the league's best closer over the last 10 years, but it makes both volume and efficiency part of the conversation.
Nos. 25-11 can be found below:
And the top 10 follow.
10. Damian Lillard
"Closing Time" Numbers: 66-of-171 from the field, 17-of-68 from three, .436 eFG%
The subheading on the slide for Damian Lillard could probably be modified to read "Lillard Time," a subject that was explored by Oregon Public Broadcasting's Anne M. Peterson: "'Lillard Time' has become a phenomenon in Rip City, with a clever entrepreneur even selling a watch that has the phrase on its face. One fan painted a mural of Lillard tapping his wrist on his garage in Southeast Portland a couple of years back."
The signature tapping of the wrist has marked Lillard Time for years now. It's a signal to fans, teammates and opponents that the Portland Trail Blazer has answered the call once again. And it's something he's been doing for the bulk of his career.
Data dating all the way back to the 2007-08 season was collected for this slideshow (10 seasons). Lillard only needed five (he was a rookie in 2012-13) to crack the top 25 in "closing time" makes. Slightly better efficiency over the next year or two would help him climb this list even further.
9. Rudy Gay
"Closing Time" Numbers: 91-of-227 from the field, 16-of-52 from three, .436 eFG%
If we tightened up the parameters for this study just a bit, the Sacramento Kings' Rudy Gay might find himself even higher on this list.
Just over a year ago, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted, "Over the last 10 years, the BEST FG pct in last 5 sec of 4th qtr/OT belongs to Rudy Gay"
On such shots, Gay was 17-of-38 at the time. Unfortunately, he didn't have much of an opportunity to add to that total this season.
Gay ruptured his Achilles tendon in January, ending his season, Sacramento's playoff hopes and ultimately DeMarcus Cousins' time with the Kings.
There's no saying for sure if this season would've turned out differently without that injury, but having one of the game's top closers certainly could've helped.
8. Kobe Bryant
"Closing Time" Numbers: 119-of-301 from the field, 28-of-77 from three, .442 eFG%
No follower of the NBA over the last 20 years, casual or diehard, should be surprised to see Kobe Bryant on this list.
Cases have been made that he's not clutch by ESPN.com's Henry Abbott, SB Nation's Tom Ziller and others. But these numbers show what's often been true of this polarizing player's career: There are two sides to the story.
Sure, as Abbott and Ziller point out, Bryant missed his fair share potentially game-tying or go-ahead shots, but that potentiality wouldn't even be there without the work he did in closing time.
And what perhaps doesn't have enough weight here is what Bryant did in the playoffs, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to titles in 2009 and 2010.
7. Monta Ellis
"Closing Time" Numbers: 103-of-253 from the field, 19-of-60 from three, .445 eFG%
Weren't expecting to see Monta Ellis here? You're not alone.
Ellis' reputation as a go-to scorer has fallen apart since the Golden State Warriors traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks. But in those earlier years, there was actually some evidence to back up his now-infamous claim: "Monta Ellis have it all."
In the previous two full seasons before the trade, Ellis averaged 24.7 points and 5.5 assists for the Warriors. In the 2010-11 campaign, Ellis went 13-of-27 on the way to a .556 eFG% in closing time.
Over the next two seasons, Ellis hit 27 shots and had an eFG% of .526 in closing time.
6. David West
"Closing Time" Numbers: 70-of-156 from the field, 2-of-10 from three, .455 eFG%
Does two unexpected names in a row make it a trend? David West may have gladly accepted a smaller role with the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors over the last two seasons, but he was a cold-blooded closer for the New Orleans Hornets and Indiana Pacers.
And while nearly 70 percent of his makes in closing time over the last 10 years were assisted, West was still the one who had to hit the shot. In 2008-09 alone, he went 11-of-17 from the field during closing time.
5. Al Jefferson
"Closing Time" Numbers: 86-of-190 from the field, 1-of-5 from three, .455 eFG%
OK, now it's a trend.
Like Ellis and West, Al Jefferson has settled into a much smaller role now. But over the years, he was a go-to option for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets.
And he did his late-game damage in a different way than most of the other players on this list. Almost everyone else here is a guard or wing who can isolate a defender on the perimeter and get his shot as the clock winds down. West was a big man who was a deadly catch-and-shoot threat from the midrange.
Jefferson, though, was a throwback to the 1990s, when post players ruled the game. And his footwork, creativity and touch made him a nightmare during his prime. His former coach, Steve Clifford, described Jefferson's game well, per Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling:
I would say that the biggest thing when I watch him play is that he has great balance; he can pivot on either foot. He's very quick and very strong with his moves. He has a variety of fakes at different levels, and he can deliver shots from different angles. So he's really—when you just sit and watch the film some nights—just textbook with those fakes. But I think a lot of it goes back to his balance, and then his strength and quickness. His moves are so quick in (the paint).
Jefferson doesn't get as many chances to showcase those abilities now, but for years, a deep post catch was one of the last things his opponents wanted to see in closing time.
4. Tim Duncan
"Closing Time" Numbers: 66-of-142 from the field, 0-of-1 from three, .465 eFG%
West picked his opponents apart from the midrange. Jefferson did tons of damage on the low block. Perhaps it's fitting that a hybrid of those two, San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan, follows.
The five-time NBA champion hit plenty of memorable shots in his career, but what may be most impressive is his efficiency in closing time with only one three-point attempt there in the last 10 years.
The eFG percentage of most others on this list is bolstered by threes, but Duncan finds himself here the same way he generally he finds himself among the greats: his old-school game.
The Big Fundamental's footwork, pump fakes and, of course, bank shots, were barely affected by time and score.
3. Joe Johnson
"Closing Time" Numbers: 105-of-249 from the field, 23-of-57 from three, .468 eFG%
Unlike some of the others on this list, "Iso Joe" Johnson is still hitting big shots despite falling into a smaller role this season. Between January 16 and the playoffs, he hit three "closing time" shots for the Utah Jazz. And his buzzer-beater that upended the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of that series was the highlight of the playoffs so far.
In the regular season, Johnson saved his best work for when it mattered most. On the year, he shot 40.4 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three in first halves. Those numbers jumped to 46.9 and 45.8 in second halves.
"It's been fun for me to figure out how to use him," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his new closer, per Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune. It seems like he's figured it out just in time.
For most of the last two months, Johnson has played almost exclusively as a small-ball 4, where he can be in matchups that allow him to resurrect Iso Joe, particularly when the game's on the line.
2. LeBron James
"Closing Time" Numbers: 141-of-321 from the field, 28-of-99 from three, .483 eFG%
As if we needed another illustration of LeBron James' greatness.
Among the 25 included here, LeBron's first in field goals, second in threes and second in eFG percentage. But what may be most impressive is the fact that only Chris Paul, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook (all guards) were assisted on a lower percentage of their " closing time" buckets.
Pressure rises and defenses intensify in the final minutes of close games. And the guy with the ball almost always gets the most defensive attention (LeBron's probably one of the only players who'd get more attention than another player handling the ball).
But those factors have little effect on James, who's risen to the occasion time and again for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat.
1. Tony Parker
"Closing Time" Numbers: 76-of-166 from the field, 13-of-27 from three, .497 eFG%
Even as Tony Parker moves into the twilight of his career, it's not hard to remember a time when he dominated the end of close games.
And despite the fact that he shared the ball in those situations with two other legends in Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker still drilled enough "closing time" shots to make this list. And he was more efficient than any of the other 24 closers.
His "closing time" eFG percentage of .497 is barely lower than his overall eFG clip of .510 since 2007-08. And his three-point percentage of 48.1 is actually higher than his overall percentage of 33.9.
With Parker, Duncan and Ginobili (47 "closing time" makes in the last 10 years) all on the same team, it's no wonder the Spurs were in the title hunt every year.