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StatsCube: Is LeBron Now Mr. Clutch?

LeBron James doesn’t have a reputation for being clutch. There was his 29-of-the-last-30 performance in Detroit in 2007 and his shot against the Magic in 2009, but we tend to think of James as the best player for the first 46 minutes of the game and not necessarily the last two.

Maybe that reputation is starting to change. In these playoffs, James has completely taken over down the stretch of two big games (Game 5 vs. Boston and Game 2 at Chicago), and hit a pair of clutch shots in another (Game 4 at Boston).

Of course, that was just three of the 710 games that James has played in his career, and clutchness can be fleeting.

(Clutch situations = Last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime period with a score differential (either way) of five points or less.)

James wasn’t so clutch in the first round, shooting 2-for-9 in clutch situations against Philadelphia. Fortunately for the Heat, the Sixers weren’t too clutch either, shooting 7-for-23 in the series.

But James has come up big against the Celtics and Bulls, shooting 8-for-15 in clutch situations over the last 10 days, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range …


Pluses and Minuses Off the Bench

MIAMI — O.J. Mayo is supposed to be a member of the Indiana Pacers right now. But a trade-deadline swap of Mayo for Josh McRoberts and a first-round pick was submitted to the league a few minutes late. That meant Mayo remained in Memphis and was back in the Grizzlies’ rotation after the deadline.

And now, in the playoffs, Mayo has been a critical contributor. Coming off the bench, Mayo ranks seventh in raw postseason plus-minus, helping the Grizz outscore their opponents by 65 points in his 266 minutes on the floor.

In the conference semifinals, Mayo ranks tops among non-Mavs in raw plus-minus at plus-36 in 131 minutes. Though he’s shot just 40 percent  in four games against the Thunder, the Grizzlies have been especially potent  with Mayo on the floor.

On the other side of the spectrum we have the Celtics’ Glen Davis — a major postseason contributor in playoffs past — who has been in a serious funk. Boston is in a 3-1 hole against Miami in part because its bench has been ineffective. The Celtics are actually outscoring the Heat by 13 points when their four All-Stars (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) are on the floor.

But Davis is a minus-33 in 77 minutes in this series, the second-worst plus-minus mark among non-Lakers in the conference semifinals. The Celtics have been awful defensively with Davis on the floor.


StatsCube: The Right Kind of Turnover

With two of the best athletes in the world, the Miami Heat are at their best when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are out leading the break. The Boston Celtics, Miami’s opponent for the conference semifinals series that begins Sunday, have committed more turnovers per 100 possessions (17.6) than any team in the playoffs and committed the seventh-most (15.7 per 100) in the regular season.

That would seem to be a problem for the defending Eastern Conference champions, except that not all turnovers are created equal.

When we count a team’s turnovers, we typically don’t differentiate between live-ball turnovers (when the ball remains in play) and dead-ball turnovers (when the clock stops and the opponent inbounds the ball). But there’s obviously a huge difference between the two, especially when your opponent is one that thrives in transition. You can always set up your defense after a dead-ball turnover, but not usually after a live-ball turnover.

All live-ball turnovers (lost dribbles, intercepted passes) are recorded as steals for the opponent, while dead-ball turnovers (three-, five- and 24-second violations, offensive fouls, passes out of bounds, etc.) aren’t recorded as steals. So it’s pretty easy to calculate what percentage of turnovers are of the live-ball variety.

Overall, 51.4 percent of the league’s turnovers were live-ball turnovers in the regular season. But the Celtics had the third-lowest percentage in the league, 48.0 percent. (Only Milwaukee and New Orleans were lower).

With dead-ball turnovers, you’re still not getting a shot at the basket. But when it comes to transition defense, the Celtics’ turnover issues aren’t as bad as they seem. When you only count live-ball turnovers, Boston’s league rank rises from 24th to 13th (7.5 live-ball turnovers per 100 possessions, less than the league average).


StatsCube: The No-Stats Playoff MVPs

If you were to name a playoffs MVP at this point, you would have to choose between Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Durant … and maybe Derrick Rose. But beyond the stars with the big individual numbers, there are players who have made a big difference on the scoreboard without actually scoring points.

If Shane Battier could be heralded as a no-stats All-Star in The New York Times back in 2009, then Joel Anthony and Jason Collins, two guys that would have trouble scoring in an empty gym, deserve to be called no-stats playoff MVP candidates here on the Hang-Time Blog.

The Miami Heat‘s starting lineup has been outscored 131-102 in their series with the Philadelphia 76ers (and 97-60 when they’re on the floor with the Sixers’ starters). But they’re up 3-1 in large part because Anthony has helped shut down Philly’s offense once he’s entered the game.

According to StatsCube, the Sixers have scored 117.1 points per 100 possessions in 76 minutes with Anthony on the bench, but just 82.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Say what you want about his offensive game, but Anthony is a defensive force.

Collins has had a similar effect on the Orlando Magic‘s offense. They’ve scored just 76.6 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes with him on the floor vs. 108.8 in 120 minutes with him on the bench, as the Atlanta Hawks have taken a 3-1 lead in the East’s 4-5 series.


StatsCube: The Knicks’ One-Man Show

With Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire out with injuries, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks back from an 11-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in Boston on Tuesday, before falling to the Celtics 96-93.

It was an amazing performance on a big stage. And how well the Knicks performed with such a depleted lineup could only make you shake your head.

But the idea of the Knicks playing well with only one of their three stars on the floor isn’t new. It’s actually been happening since they acquired Anthony.

“Right when I heard that Stoudemire was out,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Game 2, “I turned to Lawrence Frank and said, ‘Oh jeez, they’ve got us right where they want us right now.'”

Perhaps Doc had using StatsCube before the game, because the numbers show that the Knicks have played better with just one star on the floor…


StatsCube: Boston Bench to Blame

BOSTON — The biggest question heading into Game 1 of the first round series between the Celtics and Knicks (7 p.m. ET, TNT) is whether or not the Celtics can “flip the switch” one more time. As they did a year ago, the Celtics struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing 11 of their final 21 games.

And while Rajon Rondo hasn’t looked himself and Ray Allen‘s shooting has dropped off, the Celtics four All-Stars aren’t really to blame for their team’s struggles. Boston has still been pretty good with their big four on the floor, especially defensively.

Celtics’ efficiency since All-Star break

All-Stars on floor Min. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
4 613 109.8 95.5 +14.3
3 185 100.3 99.2 +1.1
2 173 100.0 106.5 -6.5
1 195 87.0 103.5 -16.5
0 182 92.7 95.5 -2.8
Less than 4 735 95.0 101.1 -6.1

Off. Eff = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The problem isn’t really with the big four. It’s with the guys coming off the bench. If we look at the Celtics’ numbers before the All-Star break, we see that there wasn’t nearly as big a drop off.

Celtics’ efficiency before All-Star break

All-Stars on floor Min. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
4 911 111.2 97.3 +13.9
Less than 4 1695 101.8 97.6 +4.2

If you compare the big four’s numbers together before and after the break, you see that their offensive production has dropped off a bit, but they’ve more than made up for it with their defense.

So when the Celtics open the postseason against the Knicks tonight, the guys that really need to flip the switch are the ones coming off the bench.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

StatsCube: Playing the Shaq Card

The Boston Celtics are once again stumbling into the playoffs, having gone 9-9 since March 9. Before this stretch, the Celtics led the Eastern Conference by three games in the loss column over the Chicago Bulls and by six games in the loss column over the Miami Heat.

Now, they need to win in Miami on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) to avoid falling into third place and likely having to win three series on the road to earn banner No. 18. (The Celtics and Lakers are currently tied at 55-24, with L.A. holding the tie-breaker.)

Some may blame the Kendrick Perkins trade for the Celtics’ struggles over the last month, but their problems have been more with their offense (scoring just 101.6 points per 100 possessions over the last 18 games) than with their defense (allowing just 97.7). And while the Celtics look like less of a title contender without Perkins, they’ve still had one trump card in their pocket since the trade, and that is how dominant they were with Shaquille O’Neal in their lineup.

Shaq has played 30 minutes or more just three times this season, but the Celtics are 28-9 with him in uniform, and that includes games without Rajon Rondo and/or Kevin Garnett.

O’Neal has played with the other four Celtics starters in just 18 games. But they were 15-3 in those games and 9-1 against playoff teams. With that lineup intact, they beat the Heat twice, and they beat the Knicks, Bulls, Magic and Lakers.

Of lineups that have logged at least 200 minutes together, the Celtics’ lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has been the second-most dominant, only trailing another lineup that has been affected by injury…

Top 10 five-man units, minimum of 200 minutes played (68 lineups total)

Team Lineup GP Min. Pace Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
DAL Kidd, Stevenson, Butler, Nowitzki, Chandler 20 257 93.3 119.0 94.4 +24.6
BOS Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, O’Neal 18 266 95.3 115.1 96.1 +19.1
BOS Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Davis 54 504 93.0 111.4 94.4 +17.0
IND Collison, Dunleavy, Granger, McRoberts, Hibbert 37 441 99.8 110.7 97.2 +13.5
LAL Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom, Gasol 72 905 94.2 113.6 100.1 +13.5
SAS Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, Duncan, McDyess 40 226 95.2 115.0 101.6 +13.4
POR Miller, Matthews, Batum, Wallace, Aldridge 22 300 88.0 121.2 108.1 +13.1
MIA Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, Dampier 28 269 94.1 104.5 92.1 +12.4
LAL Blake, Brown, Barnes, Odom, Gasol 44 208 91.3 105.6 93.8 +11.8
SAS Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, Duncan, Blair 63 677 97.1 109.1 97.5 +11.6

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

You’ll note that if you replace Shaq with Glen Davis, you have a lineup that’s played a lot more minutes together and has been nearly as good — slightly better defensively and slightly worse offensively.

And on the offensive end of the floor, where the Celtics have been struggling most over the last month, is where Shaq can help the Celtics most. The lineup of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field (easily the highest among five-man units that have played 200 minutes together). And with O’Neal on the floor, Allen (38-for-69) and Pierce (30-for-59) have combined to shoot an incredible 53 percent from 3-point range.

As long as the Celtics have their four All-Stars on the floor, they’re pretty good. But with both O’Neal and Davis healthy, Doc Rivers has the option of going to either an offensive or defensive lineup. Though it’s certainly not all his fault, the Celtics have had lesser results with Jermaine O’Neal thus far…

Efficiency on floor with Rondo, Allen, Pierce & Garnett

Player GP Min. Pace Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
Shaquille O’Neal 18 266 95.3 115.1 96.1 +19.1
Glen Davis 54 504 93.0 111.4 94.4 +17.0
Kendrick Perkins 12 170 92.4 110.4 97.8 +12.6
Nenad Krstic 18 285 94.0 106.9 96.0 +10.9
Semih Erden 12 79 95.1 112.8 102.1 +10.7
Jeff Green 13 46 89.6 111.8 102.3 +9.5
Jermaine O’Neal 8 115 91.1 101.6 95.4 +6.2

StatsCube can’t quantify it (perhaps in the next version), but having Shaq in their lineup can also help get the Celtics’ swagger back. They lost some of that swagger when Perkins was traded, but they were looking pretty confident earlier in the season, when he was rehabbing and they had replaced him with a four-time champion, a 15-time All-Star, and the fifth leading scorer in NBA history.

But of course, less than six minutes after Shaq returned to action from a 27-game absence last Sunday, he was heading back to the locker room with a strained calf. It doesn’t look like he’ll play Sunday in Miami and his status is unknown for the Celtics’ final two regular season games (Monday at Washington and Wednesday vs. New York).

The Celtics are still a great team without Shaq. And finally having Jermaine O’Neal certainly helps. But the numbers speak for themselves, and with Shaq, the Celtics are on another level. He’s their trump card, and if they can get him (and keep him) on the floor in the postseason, they’re back to being the favorites in the Eastern Conference.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

StatsCube: Hornets Hanging On

There was a day or two when the New Orleans Hornets‘ return to the playoffs was in doubt, with David West being lost for the season and the Houston Rockets making a post-break charge at one of the final spots in the Western Conference.

But the Hornets picked up some big wins down the stretch and are in the playoffs for the third time in Chris Paul‘s six seasons. With four games left, including tonight’s home game against Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), their seed and first-round opponent is still up in the air.

The Hornets were fortunate in that they traded for a decent West replacement in Carl Landry back at the trade deadline. And Landry has done his part to keep his new team from sinking in the wake of West’s injury.

Landry had never played with the Hornets’ other four starters before West’s injury, but their new starting lineup is already the Hornets’ third most-used lineup this season, logging 100 minutes together over the last six games.


StatsCube: The Case for Karl

There are several great candidates for the Coach of the Year award this season. Doug Collins, Phil Jackson, George Karl, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau all deserve recognition for the job they’ve done with their teams.

Jackson and Karl have made their strongest case with how well L.A. and Denver have played since the All-Star break. And for Karl, we have to look back at how he well he kept the Nuggets together in the midst of the ‘Melo-drama that ran from September to February.

Dealing with the knowledge that his best player wanted to play for someone else and somehow putting together a 32-25 record in the midst of a media circus is the intangible aspect of Karl’s candidacy. But there is a very tangible aspect to it to, and the numbers may make the best case for Karl.

With the Nuggets original roster, Karl coached the No. 1 offense in the league. With a completely different kind of roster since the trade, Karl is coaching the No. 1 defense in the league.

Nuggets efficiency

Timeframe Record Off. Eff. Rank Def. Eff. Rank Diff. Rank
Pre-break 32-25 109.7 1 107.2 23 +2.5 10
Post-break 15-4 108.8 7 96.6 1 +12.2 1
Overall 47-29 109.5 1 104.5 17 +4.9 7

Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The numbers obviously say something about Anthony and the other players involved in the trade. And maybe just as impressive as the Nuggets’ No. 1 ranking defensively since the trade is that they’ve been almost as efficient offensively as they were with the guy that was averaging 25 points per game.

There aren’t many teams in this league that can play at an elite level on both ends of the floor. The Miami Heat are the only team that ranks in the top five both offensively (109.3, second) and defensively (100.9, fifth) for the season.

Along with the Heat and Nuggets, the Lakers have ranked in the top five on one end of the floor before the All-Star break and on the other end of the floor since. L.A. was the fourth-best offensive team (108.6) before the break and has been the third-best defensive team (97.8) since.

But those numbers don’t match the Nuggets’ impressive transition from elite offensive team to elite defensive team. And that may be why George Karl deserves to be named Coach of the Year.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

StatsCube: Spurs’ D in Decline

The San Antonio Spurs have lost six straight games for the first time since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997. The streak that started when Duncan missed four games with a sprained ankle, but has continued with losses to the Celtics and Rockets with Duncan in the lineup.

In the process, their lead in the loss column over the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference has gone from seven games to one. And with the Lakers holding a 17-1 record since the All-Star break and set to host the Spurs on April 12, L.A. seemingly has the upper hand in the race for the No. 1 seed.

The Spurs still control their own destiny, but before they get to that critical game at Staples Center, they’ve got a few problems to address.

The Spurs’ problems begin and end with defense. In Thursday’s look at Defensive Player of the Year candidates, it was noted how much better the Spurs’ defense has been with Duncan on the floor.

But since March 1st, the Spurs’ defense has declined with Duncan both on and off the floor.

Spurs’ defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions)

Duncan On/Off Oct.-Feb. March-April Season
Duncan On 98.5 104.2 99.4
Duncan Off 104.0 113.1 106.8
Overall 100.7 (7) 109.7 (25) 102.7 (10)

(League Rank)

So the Spurs have been the sixth worst defensive team in the league (worse than both Phoenix and Golden State) since March 1. And Gregg Popovich will be the first to tell you that they’re not winning a championship playing that way.

A closer look at the Spurs’ defensive numbers shows that they’ve declined in every area, but that their biggest problem since March 1 has been defending shots inside the arc…

Spurs’ defensive numbers

Months 2P% Rank 3P% Rank DREB% Rank TORatio Rank FTA Rate Rank
Oct-Feb. 46.5% 6 37.1% 26 74.7% 12 10.8 18 .243 2
March-April 51.5% 29 36.6% 19 73.0% 17 10.3 24 .265 9

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds
TORatio = Opponents’ turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = Opponents’ FTA/FGA

Though the Spurs ranked seventh defensively through February, their defense was never all that consistent. Now, it’s just awful.

So over their last six games, fixing their defensive issues may be more important a task for the Spurs than holding onto that No. 1 spot in the West. Because they’ll never make it to a series against the Lakers if they keep defending the way they have since March 1st.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.