Time is winding down on the clock. The Clippers have the last shot. What do they do?
Usually, and it’s this way with most teams, the answer is a 1-4 isolation — your basic clearout for a guard at the top of the key. There are a few reasons why this is so popular in the NBA.
If you run a high pick-and-roll, the chances that screen is hedged or trapped are extremely high. A trap increases the chances of a turnover, which is the last thing you want in that situation. Another reason you don’t run a ballscreen is because you it gives up the control of who will end up with the last look. In an isolation, you’re trusting your best player to beat his man and score, and if the defense wants to help or double-team, they’ll have to leave someone truly wide open.
It’s interesting that after running complicated sets with lots of movement during the game, most coaches will go to something you can see in your local pickup game in the final possession. Give it to the best player, and get the heck out of the way.
For the most part, that strategy worked out well for the Clippers last season, in large part because Eric Gordon was nails in the clutch. In the last five minutes of games within five points, Gordon shot 55 percent from the field, 53 percent from 3-point land, and 93 percent from the free-throw line. Those are great numbers, hindered only by the way Gordon would dribble off his own foot and turn over the ball (6.2 turnovers per 48-minutes according to 82games.com).
Although they provide some value, individual clutch statistics can vary wildly because of the small sample size (about 150 minutes). If a guy has a few bad shooting nights down the stretch, that can really submarine his clutch numbers.
To really get a good sense of things, it’s important to look at team clutch statistics over an extended timeframe.
When you do that, there is no one in the league even close to Chris Paul’s former team, the New Orleans Hornets.
With Paul at the helm the Hornets became a drastically better team in crunch time situations.
Hornets’ efficiency, since 2005-06
|Situation||Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||Diff.|
Here’s more great stuff from John Schuhmann at NBA.com on the Hornets’ total efficiency numbers at the end of any quarter. Note that the only team better than Paul’s Hornets was Gregg Popovich’s Spurs — a coach renowned for running actual sets in late clock situations, not just isolations.
Best teams, final 3 minutes of quarters (any score), since 2005-06
|Team||Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||+/- per 48|
More specifically, here’s Henry Abbott at TrueHoop.com explaining just how good the Hornets have been in those late clock, last possession type situations:
“Over the last five years, in the final 24 seconds of games his team trailed by a point or two, or were tied, the Hornets have scored 102 points on 86 possessions (as of a few weeks ago). That’s an offensive rating of more than 118 points per 100 possession.
Remember that number. 118.
Now, consider that most of the NBA is below 85, and 27 teams are below 100. That’s a blowout.”
The Clippers, obviously, are in great hands with Chris Paul at the end of games. And if they have a big lead? Even better. Billups, Paul, Foye and Williams all shot over 88 percent from the free-throw line last season.
We’ve seen it happen to the Clippers plenty of times before. They hang around for 43 minutes, then lose out in the last five. Good teams know when to step on the gas.
Guess what? With Paul running the show, the Clippers are now one of those teams.