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Have the Utah Jazz Become Clutch?

Answer: Very

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This time last year the Utah Jazz were 18-24 and you couldn’t help but wonder if we had overestimated the ceiling of this core. All last season our point differential hinted that the team was better than our record showed, but that never came to fruition. Playoff aspirations once again dashed, you had to wonder what went wrong.

One of the major stumbling blocks was our play down the stretch of several close games. While at times we certainly had a problem with the first 43 minutes, the last 5 minutes of games would come to haunt us time and time again.

Fortunately, we not only addressed that this year, but turned clutch play into a strength by becoming one of the best teams in the league in late game situations. I’ve put together a couple tables so you can see what I mean.

(FYI, “clutch” is defined by the last 5 minutes of a game 5 points or tighter)

Offensive Statistics

Utah Jazz Win% FG% FT% 3pt% Off. Rating Pace Ast. % TS% Points Off TOV.
Utah Jazz Win% FG% FT% 3pt% Off. Rating Pace Ast. % TS% Points Off TOV.
Last Season Avgerages 0.488 (19) 44.9 (18) 74.4 (24) 35.5 (12) 103.1 (17) 93.26 (30) 52.6 (27) 54 (16) 15.6 (21)
Clutch Last Season 0.333 (27) 41.9 (11) 69.9 (27) 29.8 (18) 103.5 (19) 98.57 (21) 42.3 (25) 52 (22) 1.10 (18)
Season Avgerages 0.628 (8) 46.6 (8) 74.9 (25) 37.0 (9) 106.9 (11) 93.29 (30) 53.6 (28) 56.5 (6) 14.2 (27)
Clutch This Season 0.625 (7) 47.9 (2) 83.3 (6) 44.4 (1) 114.6 (6) 92.22 (29) 60.9 (4) 63.2 (2) 1.10 (9)

Defensive Statistics

Utah Jazz Def. Rating Opp FG% Opp 3pt. % Opp FTA Reb% Opp Eff. FG% Opp Points off TOV Opp 2nd Chance Points
Utah Jazz Def. Rating Opp FG% Opp 3pt. % Opp FTA Reb% Opp Eff. FG% Opp Points off TOV Opp 2nd Chance Points
Last Season Averages 101.6 (8) 44.6 (13) 35.7 (18) 22.5 (9) 52.9 (5) 49.5 (11) 16 (15) 11.5 (7)
Clutch Last Season 121.3 (28) 48 (29) 40.2 (27) 4.4 (30) 48.1 (24) 53.6 (29) 1.5 (28) 1.6 (29)
Season Avgerages 101.2 (2) 43.1 (1) 35.4 (11) 20.3 (6) 51.1 (6) 48.0 (1) 15.5 (13) 11.4 (4)
Clutch This Season 98.7 (7) 38.0 (8) 24.0 (6) 2.9 (3) 48.7 (20) 40.7 (6) 1.0 (13) 0.9 (9)

The defense simply fell apart by almost every measure late in games last year. The offense would stay about the same, but the D would turn into a turnstile. This year? The D stays about the same (hint: elite), and the offense finds a new gear to put teams away. We are 15-9 in clutch situations this year, compared to 14-28 last year.

We simply can’t say enough about the offseason additions and internal improvements to this team. George Hill is exactly what the doctor prescribed at point guard (if only the doc would now prescribe continued health). Joe Johnson does what he’s always done and hits huge shots. Joe Ingles is a legit threat from 3. Gordon Hayward is putting up All Star numbers and makes everyone around him better. And Rudy Gobert terrifies people in the paint.

Not a fan of tables and still not convinced? How about a graph showing our improvements instead:

A perfect example of this difference was just last game against the Suns. Down 99-101 Joe Johnson hits an impossible corner 3 with the shot clock winding down and 49 seconds left in the game. With 13 seconds left Hayward hits a couple free throws to go up 104-101. The Suns thought they would go for a quick 2, but Rudy had some stifling plans of his own:

In a trap game we could have lost, we score the final 7 points and win 106-101. There’s also the Timberwolves game where we went on an 11-0 run in the final 3:35 to win 94-92. That’s just in the last few games!

Another couple things that stood out to me when I put the stats together: pace of play and assist percentage. Last year in crunch time our pace increased quite a bit. This could mean we were often playing from behind, but it could also implicate that opposing teams forced us to play their style. Now we force our will on opposing teams down the stretch by slowing the pace down even further. Our Ast.% also spikes to 4th in the league in the clutch, something that’s actually been a weakness in the Quin Snyder era. Most teams assist percentages drop quite a bit in the clutch because they resort to ISO ball with their best player (ala Lebron, Westbrook, etc.). The Jazz? Well if we have 3 or 4 of Hill, Hayward, Hood, Ingles, and JJ on the floor, who do you guard? Why go hero ball instead of sticking to your strengths and utilizing all the talent on the floor?

This has been a really fun season so far. Gordon and/or Rudy should will be in the All Star Game. We’re 5th in the West and likely to climb due to the Clipper’s injury woes. And the guys seem to be just as excited about this season as we are. A big reason for the success has been the much improved play in close games. I can’t wait to see who hits the next big shot or comes up with the next big stop.