The Toronto Raptors currently lead the Atlantic Division with a 20-20 record. They have won some tough games against the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers, but have also dropped games against easier competition. Although the Raptors have played well this year, mostly after the Rudy Gay trade, there is still a major problem that needs to be fixed. They lack the clutch factor.
Being clutch is having the ability to perform well in a very important or critical situation. This is something the Raptors struggle with and the numbers certainly show.
The Raptors are 1-6 in games decided by five points or less. Their one win came against the Dallas Mavericks when the Mavericks missed a last second shot at the buzzer. The Raptors have talented players on their roster, some of them having career years, but none of them have proven to be clutch when the game is on the line.
*All stats are based on the Raptors trailing by five points or less if not specified.
(FG = Field goals, FT = Free throws)
Last five minutes of game – 28.6% FG, 60.0% FT
Last three minutes of game – 31.0% FG, 66.7% FT
Last minute of game – 25% FG, 50% FT
Last 30 seconds of game trailing by three or less – 50% FG, 50% FT
Last 10 seconds of game trailing by three or less – no shot attempts, 50% FT
Last five minutes of game – 40.9% FG, 75% FT
Last three minutes of game – 43.8% FG, 75% FT
Last minute of game – 42.9% FG, 60% FT
Last 30 seconds of game trailing by three or less – 50% FG, 0% FT (only a couple of attempts)
Last 10 seconds of game trailing by three or less – 0% FG on a couple attempts, no free throw attempts
By the numbers, we can see that although DeMar DeRozan is putting up all-star calibre numbers, he disappears late in games and doesn't come through in crunch time. Lowry has been one of the Raptors' best players late in games, but within the last minute he seems to feel the pressure and can't come through.
Their numbers are also very similar when they have a lead of five points or less. When they have a team on the ropes, they can't seem to pull away and put the game out of reach.
The Raptors' record in games when trailing by five or less with five minutes remaining is 2-14. Being a team with a 20-20 record, it goes to show that they can't afford to fall behind late in games or it's almost an automatic loss. Take Monday afternoon's game against the Charlotte Bobcats for example. The Raptors trailed by 30 late in the third quarter, but mustered an incredible comeback trimming the deficit to one. They had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line and missed. They still had a chance to tie after Charlotte made two free throws, but missed again on an open three pointer. Sure it was great that the Raptors pulled within one after being down by 30, but they need to find a way to come out with the victory after getting themselves back in the game.
The Raptors allow an NBA-low 22.0 points per game in the fourth quarter, while scoring an average of 24.9 points per fourth quarter. This stat shows that they really lock down on defense in the fourth quarter. The Raptors are the fifth best defensive team in the league and are top three since the trade. Defense isn't their problem. It's their ability to execute on offense late in games and come through in the clutch. They need DeMar DeRozan to continue his strong play for four quarters, not show up for the first three and disappear in the fourth. They need to make their free throws late in games. They need to convert on offense after making a big stop on defense.
Late in games it seems as if DeRozan always has the ball in the hands near the end of the shot clock. While he is the team's go-to-guy, based on his performance late in games he shouldn't be the one with the ball. He has turned the ball over too often in crunch time and caused the Raptors to drop several games. He tries to do too much thinking he needs to put the team on his back and forces up shots.
Kyle Lowry has been the catalyst of this team and one of the main reasons for their success. He should have the ball in his hands late in games as he has the ability to drive the lane, find a teammate or hit the step back three. Lowry is usually the one who gets the Raptors in contention to win the game and the team should ride the hot hand instead of giving it to someone who is struggling. Yes, has missed a few free throws late, but the Raptors would be in much better shape having Lowry with the ball instead of DeRozan.
The Raptors are becoming a better team, but are still a long way from being great. Their defense is among the best in the league, but it is their offense that is holding them back. They have the talent and skill to play with the better teams, but they lack a big thing, and that thing is the clutch factor. The Raptors need to find a way to execute late and start winning these close games. They will never take the next step to greatness until they learn to close out games and steal the ones they shouldn't win.
They have the skill, they have the passion, they have the drive, and they have the willingness to win. Now let's see if they can put it all together and win these close games. Let's see if the Raptors can become clutch.
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