Dec 15, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) makes the game winning shot in overtime to defeat the Detroit Pistons 111-109 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

How "Clutch" is Damian Lillard?

Dec 21, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) celebrates with Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and center Robin Lopez (42) after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Moda Center. Lillard scored 29 points as the Blazers won the game 110-107. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

 

Before we jump in, I want to make one thing clear; in NBA terms, “the clutch” is strictly defined as the last five minutes of a game in which teams are separated by five or fewer points. Being “clutch” means being able to come through for your team during this time in which the pressure is on. The word is not to be thrown around by two-dimensional ‘bros’ like two-dimensional characters in so many awful WatchESPN advertisements. You’re going to give me a stroke of Rodney Ruxin proportions.

Now, on to the matter at hand.

Damian Lillard is a phenomenal clutch player. His back-to-back game winners on the road last week were not lucky, nor were they unexpected; they were the result of rare talent wed with rarer instinct. Overall shooting struggles be damned, Lillard is a game winning machine.

Let’s prove it:

First off, Damian Lillard is second only to Kyrie Irving in scoring during clutch situations right now. On the season, Lillard has scored 60 clutch points to Irving’s 62. The next closest player is a personal favorite of mine, John Wall of the Washington Wizards, with 55.

Next, Damian Lillard’s normally abysmal field goal percentage (41.2 percent) spikes nearly 12 percent in clutch situations. He shoots 53.1 percent from the floor with the game on the line. Only one guard in the NBA shoots that well all game; future hall of famer Dwyane Wade. The league average in the clutch is 41.4 percent.

If you’re a fan of advanced metrics, this one will blow your mind. In clutch situations, Damian Lillard boasts an inhuman 74.3 true shooting percentage[1]. For reference, Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks leads the league with an overall average TS% of 70.3.

These numbers are traces of something special that we could not ordinarily quantify. They are direct representatives of Damian Lillard’s killer instincts. His poise under pressure is the same reason he has never missed a 2-point field goal in overtime.

Lillard’s development as a closer is huge for the Portland Trail Blazers. Last season, 26 of their 49 losses were decided by single digits. This season, only 1 of their 5 losses in 28 games has been decided by such slim margins. And even THEN Damian Lillard nearly saved the day before Monta Ellis stole the game.

 

 

It’s these close games, these narrow victories and narrow defeats that separate playoff teams from lottery hopefuls. Now that the Trail Blazers are deep enough to compete in wars of attrition, Lillard’s late game heroism is a true advantage over most opponents. The Dallas game lives outside the norm.

So the TSA better check him for daggers before the Trail Blazers’ next road trip or the Pistons and Cavaliers won’t be the last to taste his steel on a highlight reel (which I’ve provided to wash Monta from your mind). Damian Lillard is only human… for 43 minutes a game.

 

 

[1] True Shooting Percentage; the formula is PTS / (2 * TSA). True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws. — basketball-reference.com

 

 

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