The common refrain among fans and media is that LeBron James doesn’t have a “killer instinct,” or can’t finish games or come up big in the clutch.
Combining the words “clutch” and “LeBron” immediately evoke thoughts of failure for most of us as we recall how he practically stopped playing against the Boston Celtics in his final game with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It also reminds us of how awful LeBron performed during the fourth quarter in last season’s NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
It turns out we have all been DEAD wrong.
ESPN TrueHoop has done the maths and come to a startling conclusion: LeBron James-led teams have been phenomenal during crunch time.
Instead of looking at individual player or team field goal percentage numbers in crunch time, the study looked at plus-minus (+/-) figures for every team from the last five years, from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. (For the uninitiated, +/- numbers reflect how many points you are winning or losing by at any given moment.)
This way defence is part of the evaluation.
What they found was that LeBron and head coach Mike Brown teamed up to lead the league in crunch time +/- by a HUGE margin during the last three years they were together with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Likewise, LeBron has helped the Miami Heat go from negative +/- from before he arrived to positive now that he’s there. For his part, Brown is having a great effect on the Los Angeles Lakers this year, pushing them to a league-leading plus-79.
It should be noted that these numbers are by no means conclusive.
Plus-minus doesn’t account for strength of schedule or the randomness of how a really bad team may play well when put in tough late game situations. For example, the lowly Sacramento Kings are somehow third in the entire league in crunch time +/- this season.
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