The concept of "clutch" is a tricky one in the sports analysis realm. There are a number of problems in interpreting clutch data. Sample sizes are small, the projectability of clutch-inspired metrics is questionable and the very definition of what constitutes a clutch situation is nebulous. Yet we know that clutch situations exist because we see them every night, and the ability to function efficiently in tight situations is a hallmark of basketball's best teams.
Discussions about clutch in the NBA are different than similar debates among our baseball brethren due to fundamental differences between the sports. In baseball, batters take turns and exercise no control over the base/out situations in which they appear. The Detroit Tigers would love it if they could send Miguel Cabrera up in every tight situation, but that's not the way it works. In basketball, teams can and do refocus their schemes around their best players down the stretch of close games.
That makes things more interesting from a strategic standpoint, because it's easy to look at teams that are underachieving or overachieving against their point differentials and wonder if the disparities are due to clutch play. And if so, are the issues related to who's on the floor, and who gets the ball? All of these elements are easy to measure, and the data easy to acquire.
At the same time, there is still the question of definition. The most standard definition of clutch situations in the NBA is "any possession during the last five minutes of a game in which the teams are within five points of each other." If that definition seems arbitrary, it's because I suspect it is.
However, the narrower the definition of clutch we use, the smaller the sample sizes. We're already talking about a fairly tiny subset of NBA data as it is. But it's important info -- through Tuesday, 624 games have been played this season, and 327 of them have involved clutch possessions (52 percent).
One important thing to remember: The best clutch strategy is to avoid clutch situations. Teams are more defined by their blowouts than their close games. For instance, the Golden State Warriors have played just 32 clutch minutes all season and have had just 11 games that involved at least some clutch possessions. They've won nine of those, so that's yet another area in which the Warriors have excelled. But it's more impressive that Golden State has gone 24-4 in games with no real tight situations. Teams are ranked by their point differential per 100 clutch possessions. All clutch data was taken from NBA.com/Stats.
Best clutch teams
1. Golden State Warriors: (plus-63.2)
Because the samples are so small, clutch data can yield some unruly numbers. Nevertheless, the Warriors' performance in close games has been incredible. They have the best offensive rating and defensive rating of any team in clutch spots, but even that doesn't do justice to Golden State's dominance.