Clutch or Coin Flip? What are the Blazers?

Clutch or Coin Flip? What are the Blazers?
March 20, 2014, 12:45 pm
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(Andrew Richardson | USA Today Sports Images)

There really is no consensus on the concept of “clutch” in the statistics community.

It does seem that labeling a team or player as “clutch” becomes difficult as the sample size grows.

This season, the Blazers won 5 of their first 6 games decided by 3 points or less. It began to elicit a lot of “clutch” talk.

Since then, they’ve lost 7 of 8 in those scenarios. Did they suddenly lose their “mojo” or is it a coin flip scenario that is merely balancing itself out?

I’m inclined to lean toward the latter.

I took a look at every NBA champion from 1991 to the present and compared their overall record to their record in games decided by 3 points or less.

On average over that time period, the NBA champ has won 73% of its games in the regular season; 60 wins a year.

Over that same span, the eventual NBA champ has won 59% of its games decided by 3 points or less (168-118). That’s almost 15% less than their average winning percentage and equivalent to a team that would win 48 games over the course of an 82 game season.

There may very well be such a thing as “clutch” in a particular moment but, as the same scenarios present themselves over time, it would seem apparent that the best teams aren’t necessarily clutch. The top teams beat their opponents by bigger margins, making sure the outcome is no longer in doubt by the time we get to the final minutes of the game.