This year Portland is 2-10 in games decided by 5 points or less.
In fact, I was amazed when they won the Warriors game, I was so used to them losing close ones this year.
What's the cause of this lack of ability to finish out games? It's several factors, of course, but one thing to consider is that in many of these games we were down by more in the fourth quarter and it was only via a furious flurry we even got the score as close as it was at the end.
But it's also due, in part, to mediocre late game offense and the lack of clutch performers. I went back through all 12 of our close games, looking at just the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtimes, and checked player performance. This is what I found...
Our primary "closer" in terms of number of shots is Jamal Crawford. He is 10/27 from the field and 5/6 from the free throw line with one turnover. As with all of these numbers, some of the makes have been conceded layups and some of the misses heaves. But late game, he is shooting in the 30's. Aldridge has been 8/20 and 2/4 from the free throw line with no turnovers. Getting the ball to Aldridge, the team's unquestioned best player, would seem like a good idea. Too bad the person who has the ball, Crawford, isn't a willing passer in late game situations. Next in term of volume is Wesley Matthews, at 4/11 from the floor and 4/6 from the line with one turnover. Not great; but par for the course with Wesley''s struggles this year. Raymond Felton has been terrible unless the other team is fouling to catch up, at 1/9 from the field but 8/10 from the line with three critical late game turnovers. Given the year he's having, it's not even clear having him on the floor late in the fourth in a close game is advisable. Though having Crawford run the point nearly assures Crawford will be taking the shots in isolations - and mostly missing them. Nicolas Batum has been poor in late game situations as well. I know people are thinking of the OKC game, but he is only 1/6 over all from the field, and 1/2 from the field with a turnover (when he fell injured in Utah). Camby has taken one late game shot and missed it. Finally, there's Gerald Wallace, who is 3/4 from the field and 1/2 from the line in late game situations. Though he hasn't had the ball much in close, late game situations, he has produced when he doesn't turn it over (which he did, twice).
This is partly coaching, too. The plays we run late in games don't frequently lead to good, open shots. I'm not sure if it's always poor playcalling, as in a few cases it looks like execution was either poor or was successfully disrupted. In either case, this gets back to preparation, which is again, coaching.
I'm not sure what to offer in terms of a prognosis - clearly, we miss Brandon Roy's decision-making late in games. With him on the floor, if the game was close you always liked our chances. Crawford is no Brandon Roy, and Felton and Matthews seem unwilling/unable to get the ball to our forwards, who collectively are shooting about 50% in late game situations, which is quite good. I'm not hopeful for this year, but perhaps we'll have a point guard next year who will do a better job at that. I suspect that won't be Nolan Smith, even if Nate does seem of late to have picked up the "royal jelly" meme that's all the rage right now and is actually playing him during minutes that matter.