Getting it done in crunch time is what the playoffs are all about — just ask the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and Memphis Grizzlies, who all clinched Game 3 of their respective series by taking control of the game late in the fourth quarter, with the opposing team within striking distance.
So, knowing how important playing well in late-game situations is, especially in the playoffs, which teams have been the most productive during crunch time?
Note: All data is from NBA Stats. In addition, crunch time is defined as the last five minutes of a game, with a team ahead or behind by five points.
Not surprisingly, the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat are offensively head-and-shoulders above other playoff teams during crunch time. They both score more than 130 points per 100 possessions in the last five minutes of playoff games when they’re leading or trailing by five points. On the flip side, the Indiana Pacers score around 72 points per 100 possessions during crunch time and the Brooklyn Nets score only 81 points per 100 possessions. The reason why the Indiana Pacers are still in the second round of the playoffs (and also why the Brooklyn Nets aren’t still in the playoffs) is that they play incredible crunch time defense.
As mentioned earlier, the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers cannot execute offensively, but they have equal trouble defensively, giving up 106 and 112 points per 100 possessions in crunch time. However, their sub-par defense pales in comparison to the Los Angeles Clippers, who give up 174 points per 100 possessions in crunch time. Most surprisingly though is Miami’s terrible crunch time defense (they give up 145 points per 100 possessions), especially since the Heat have one of the best defensive players in the league in LeBron and had one of the better regular season defenses in the NBA, as well.
Combining the offensive and defensive efficiency of each team results in a team’s net rating, or point differential per 100 possessions. Having a high point differential means that a team performs well in crunch time, while having a low point differential means that a team struggles in crunch time. Five of the remaining eight playoff teams have positive net ratings, while three of the remaining eight playoff teams have negative net ratings. The most surprising thing is that one of the three teams with negative net ratings are the Miami Heat, who have struggled in crunch time during the playoffs after dominating crunch time situations during the regular season.