There has been a big emphasis in the basketball public lately upon what happens in crunch time. There was a buzz last month about Kobe Bryant's crunch time myth, started by Henry Abbot at TrueHoop. Essentially, he pointed out the numbers in the clutch in recent years, showing that Kobe's "late game assassin" reputation may be overstated. Now, this week, everyone is all over LeBron James and the Miami Heat for how they have failed to produce in crunch time of late. The interesting thing is that LeBron's clutch numbers actually look relatively good this year, but he's failed very visibly in some very marquis games and the 1-for-19 (or whatever the exact number is) that the Heat are shooting in the last 10-seconds of one possession games looks pretty terrible.
But all of this talk has got me thinking again about how the Celtics perform in the crunch. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics have two players historically known as great closers. Kevin Garnett's clutch reputation is a bit shakier, though those that have followed his career closely know that he's actually been one of the better crunch time bigs in the league, very comparable to rival Tim Duncan late in games. And Rajon Rondo is a lightening rod, even among Celtics fans. He has his supporters and his detractors, but one of the main criticisms he faces is that his poor free throw and jump shooting make him a crunch time liability.
So, I decided to take a look at how the Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Rondo have performed in crunch time during the almost 4 years that this Celtic squad has been together. For today, I'll focus on the clutch numbers from 82games.com (defined as the last 5 minutes of a game within 5 points). Here are the totals since October of 2007, per 48 minutes played:
Now, here are the per-48 minute clutch stats for the 2010-11 season thus far:
Here are some of the things I take away from these numbers:
First, just like over the rest of the game, in crunch time the Celtics still preach Ubuntu. Unlike the Heat or the Lakers, the Celtics' crunch time offense doesn't consist of giving one player the ball and getting out of the way. Instead, our main players maintain roughly the same roles as they always have. The scoring is relatively equal opportunity, with Pierce and Allen scoring a bit more than Garnett and even Rondo getting his shots as well. Pierce draws the fouls best, Ray is nails from downtown. Rondo is the main distributor, though Pierce and even Garnett get their fair share of crunch time assists. Garnett is the rebounder and help defender, though Rondo, Pierce and Allen all do a good job crashing the board for their positions. All in all, in crunch time like the rest of the game, this Celtics team knows their roles and performs them at a high level.
Looking at this year, it's remarkable how similar most of the numbers are when compared to the previous four years. This team is essentially locked in...in the clutch, they know what to do. Pierce and Allen are shooting a bit better this year, KG maybe crashing the boards harder, but really...they are who they are at this point. I was most interested in Rondo, though, as my impression would be that he's taken a larger role on the team this year than in years past. Interestingly, while he's getting a similar number of shots he seems to be really struggling from the field in the clutch this year as opposed to in years past. On the other hand, he's taken a much larger role as a clutch distributor this year, with over 14 assists/48 min (almost twice his average over the past four years).
Anyway, this was just a quick snapshot. Make of these numbers what you will, but they suggest to me that this Celtics squad isn't about any one late-game assassin. There's no one "closer" on this team. Instead, we've got 4 high-caliber options that specialize in what they do best. In closing time we don't have to put the burden on any one person's shoulders...instead, we've got a clutch TEAM. On the whole, seems like that's a much better position to be in.