Close games are where NBA teams make their name. When the game slows down late, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been at their best.
When scrolling down the list of the best clutch offensive, defensive and net ratings in the league you will find a list of the usual suspects. The San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers are in the top six in two of the three categories. However, the only team to be in the top five of all three categories is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
According to NBA Stats, the Thunder rank fifth in the league in offensive rating, second in defensive rating and second in net rating come clutch time.
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Clutch time is defined in NBA Stats as the last five minutes of a game and the two teams separated by five points or less.
The only team ahead of Oklahoma City in defensive and net rating? The Spurs, on the polar opposite spectrum of the casual fan’s interpretation of its team’s anatomy.
These stats paint a picture of a Westbrook-led onslaught that is as relentless in crunch time as in the first minute of the game.
Though the Thunder aren’t the most offensively-talented roster in the association, they made be the most athletic and check all the boxes in the cliches of “finishing plays” and “playing through the whistle.”
The crunch time offensive in Oklahoma City is predictable, but has help up over 60-plus games. It remains to be seen if Westbrook controlling every possession will be as effective in a seven-game series.
What has been remarkable and will hold up is the defensive talent of this roster. General manager Sam Presti has always been partial to long, athletic wings and starting two traditional bigs that can protect the rim and rebound.
Currently, the Thunder have four players in the top 21 of their respective positions in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, according to ESPN.
Steven Adams and Westbrook both rank in the top 30 of their position as well. Granted, that’s putting a lot of faith in one defensive metric, but it’s certainly considered one of the better barometers we currently have to measure defensive impact.
And the Thunder are even more incentivized to create turnovers because of their propensity to succeed in the open court. With Westbrook, Oladipo and Roberson a break out is possible in the blink of an eye.
Coming into the season, there was much uncertainty in what the Oklahoma City Thunder would be. It turns out the Thunder have figured that out, if no one else has. Oklahoma City is secure in its own identity and what it does well and struggles with.
When crunch time comes, there’s no deliberation as to what the plan is. That’s been reflected by the team’s performance in those pressurized situations this year.
Where other potential playoff teams have floundered in the clutch, the Thunder have stood tall. And that bodes heading into April and May, where playing through adversity each game comes as a price of admission.