by Andrew Mooney
Much has been made of the Miami Heat’s dismal late game performance this season. By now, we’ve all seen the stat: one-for-eighteen is enough to drive anyone to tears. But just how badly are they choking? Let’s take a closer look.
First, I examined each of the 18 shots taken by the Heat in the last 10 seconds of games, when tied or down by fewer than three points. Of the 17 misses, 11 were 3-point attempts, six were contested efforts at the rim, and one was a 20-foot jumper. (The lone make came on a LeBron transition dunk against the Grizzlies. Even Juwan Howard could have finished that one.)
Using each player’s average field goal percentage from the area on the court from which the ball was shot, I summed each of the 18 individual cases, assuming them to be independent, in which exactly one shot would have gone in. I let px equal the field goal percentage of the shot (probability that it goes in) and (1- px) equal the probability of a miss. Finally, I multiplied each px by 17 different values of (1- px) and added up the 18 possible combinations that one shot out of 18 went in to calculate the probability that the Heat would achieve their current level of futility in the clutch. The answer: 1 in 5000, or about a 0.2% chance.
So just how bad are the men of South Beach compared to rest of the league when, for lack of a better pun, the heat gets turned up? The league average field goal percentage in “clutch” situations (tied or down by 1-3, under 10 seconds remaining) is only 25.1%, down 20 percentage points from the overall league average of 45.7%, so it’s clear that they should expect some drop-off in production when the pressure rises and opposing defenses clamp down. But as the Heat currently rank second in the league in field goal percentage, one wouldn’t expect their performance to drop so significantly (all the way down to 5.6%); after all, they have two of the best one-on-one players in the league in LeBron James and Wade, which seems to favor them in the last-second isolation situations so prevalent in today’s game.
If Miami can’t pick up their late-game performance, this number could come back to haunt them come playoff time, when more of their games will be decided by one or two possessions. As their recent slide clearly shows, lack of productivity in the clutch can translate quickly into a rapidly mounting number in the “L” column.