The Trail Blazers have survived significant injury setbacks and abysmal defensive performances to amass a sturdy 28-18 record thus far. Portland’s ability to stay afloat is directly tied to the late-game heroics of star guard Damian Lillard.
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Seth Partnow provided an in-depth analysis of how each team in the NBA performs in clutch situations. Unsurprisingly, Lillard and the Blazers surfaced near the top of the list.
Before getting to the results, Partnow detailed how NBA.com defines clutch situations.
This is also not some minor niche; around 50 percent of NBA games end up with at least some “clutch” time — defined on NBA.com as a game with at least one possession where the score margin was five points or less in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. So as much as teams try to put things away, close games will inevitably find them.
According to the list Partnow put together, the Blazers have navigated 28 clutch situations this season—trailing only the Celtics who have endured 30 tight contests. When it comes to success in those scenarios, the Blazers have recorded 21 victories—good for the best total in the NBA.
After delivering the results, Partnow made it a point to highlight Lillard’s role and put the Blazers’ current season in historical context.
In addition to Hornets, the other item of major note is how, for the second straight year, Damian Lillard has nearly single-handedly lifted Portland’s record with his clutch shot-making. According to inpredictable’s “win probability added,” which incorporates time and score situation to estimate the win/loss impact of a player’s attempts, Lillard leads the league for the second year in a row. Which confirms what our eyes have told us in terms of Dame having one of the elite multi-season runs as a closer in recent memory. Portland has needed it, as the Blazers haven’t been especially good overall, having been outscored by 33 points on the season entering Monday’s play, but are still tied for the eighth-best record in the league. The last team to win at least 60 percent of their games with a negative point differential was the 1953-54 New York Knicks, who went 44-28 despite being outscored by 9 points on the season.
Along with this clutch-time output, Lillard is averaging 29.8 points and 7.8 assists per game this season.
You can read the full feature from Partnow at The Athletic (subscription required).