Henry Abbott on TrueHoop has a post examining Kobe Bryant’s incredible run of clutch jumpers this season. Kobe is 7-of-12 from the floor on shots that could win or tie a game in the last 10 seconds of regulation or overtime. That is insane. The league average on such shots over the last decade has been in in the high-20 percent area; Kobe is now 26-of-89 (29.2 percent) over the last decade in this situation, a mark Abbott describes as “slightly above league average.”
Using numbers from the NBA’s Stats and Information Research group, Abbott tells us the following:
You see Paul Pierce’s name there? Add up those two bullet points, and you find that Pierce is 13-of-57 on shots that could win or tie a game in the final 10 seconds of regulation and overtime. That works out to 22.8 percent. That’s not good.
I am not arguing that Paul Pierce is a bad “clutch” player. That would be a tough argument to make, since he comes out fairly well in various other studies that define clutch a bit more broadly—as, say, the final five minutes of the 4th quarter or overtime with the scoring margin at five points or less. Those studies—by 82games.com—show that Pierce gets to the line and dishes assists in such games at well above average rates. His shooting percentages are also decent.
And I have defended Pierce in too many bar debates with friends to count. His performance in Game 7 against the Cavaliers in 2008 is arguably the greatest single-game clutch performance in Boston history. He won the 2008 Finals MVP. I once made a list of Pierce’s five greatest clutch performances ever, and I couldn’t limit the list to just five games.
But these numbers on game-winning/tying shots suggest that the Celtics could do better than isolating Paul Pierce in these specific situations. We have a decade’s worth of evidence—albeit in a relatively small sample of 57 shots—suggesting that Pierce makes these shots at a below average rate, and the average rate is very low to begin with.
Obviously, context matters. If Paul Pierce has a favorable match-up and the opponent fails to double him—think Game 5 against Chicago last season—then, yes, you go to him and let him work. But the broader picture suggests the Celtics can do better, and they have the talent to do better.