Crunch time is about execution, not stars
With the playoffs looming, who has the edge?
BY DAVID THORPE
This game we love has a knack for coming down to a few seconds that decide everything in high drama. Those crunch-time moments often seem like they’re about stars, but I have a different argument to make: They’re about coaches and players stringing together one great decision after another. Sometimes that’s a big-name player; sometimes big-name players screw everything up.
Decades of data show that it’s a fool’s errand to try to find teams that are generally fantastic in crunch time. Everyone is a mixed bag. The most common error? The offense or the defense focusing too much on the star. Hero Ball is a predictable offense that leads to covered shots and reliably bad results.
But that’s the point. Executing doesn’t mean “to throw the ball to the best scorer and get out of the way.” It takes a TEAM to own crunch time on offense, and for everyone on defense to follow a well-written script.
Last Friday, the Lakers hosted the Mavericks with a chance to climb within one game of .500. LeBron was out, but so was Luka Dončić.
Fast-forward past Kyrie’s 38 efficient points, and the Mavs find themselves down four as they bring the ball up court with 50 seconds left. ESPN’s game probability counter was giving the Lakers an 82 percent chance to win, and that number jumped to almost 91 percent when Kyrie got trapped and made a risky (but pretty damned good to my eyes) pass to Christian Wood, who turned the ball over as two Lakers converged on him 12 seconds into the possession.
Lakers ball, up four, 38 seconds left—huge advantage, LA.
The Lakers’ goal becomes dead simple:
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