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Stats show that Nuggets are consistently strong in the clutch

ESPN True Hoop blog praises Denver for late-game success

Nuggets coach George Karl believes that winning close games comes down to much more than having a go-to guy on offense.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

The Nuggets have heard the criticism so many times, it simply rings hollow.

They lack a superstar to rely upon in crunch time, which inhibits their ability to win close games, blah, blah, blah.

ESPN’s True Hoop blog, with a big assist from NBA.com’s statistical data base, points out that the Nuggets are among the most consistent crunch-time teams in the league – and have been for the past five years.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season, True Hoop notes that Boston, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers have excelled when leading or trailing by five points or less in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

“The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too,” writes Henry Abbott of ESPN.

The NBA stats show that the Nuggets have outscored the opposition in crunch time in each of the past five seasons. Western Conference powers Oklahoma City and San Antonio can’t make the same claim.

“All stats are somewhat overexaggerated to the positive or overexaggerated to the negative,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “But in general, I think what that story says is we’ve been pretty damn good over a lengthy period of time. We’re staying ahead of the curve.”

With All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony on the roster from 2003-11, Denver enjoye the luxury of having a No. 1 option in close-and-late situations, but statistics have shown that even the best players shoot less than 50 percent with the game on the line.

Karl has always believed that defense, free-throw shooting, minimizing turnovers and rebounding are the cornerstones to crunch-time success more so than any one player. When it comes to charting points per possession in the fourth quarter, most teams are separated by hundredths of points, so little things can make the difference between winning and losing.

“You’re fighting SportsCenter,” Karl said. “What you’re seeing (on the highlights) every night is who’s going to make the shots. No one’s going to show the four defensive stops that got you to that position.

“No one’s going to (show) the energy boost that Kenneth (Faried) gets you with an offensive rebound. Offensive rebounds win you as many games in this league as shots made.”

Interestingly, Denver’s best offensive statistical crunch-time player is Faried, a rookie who has gradually earned Karl’s trust to be on the court in the fourth quarter.

In 56 crunch-time minutes, Faried has scored 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed 19 rebounds – eight at the offensive end. He also has converted 13 of 16 free throws.

Combined with his overall numbers (9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game), Faried is poised to land a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

“It doesn’t happen very often that (rookies) play a big-time part of the (winning) personality,” Karl said. “I hope that Kenneth gets some glory and some love and some appreciation. I think he has earned it and deserves it.”

Faried and the Nuggets will continue their playoff push Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers at Pepsi Center.

The Clippers (38-23) are fourth in the Western Conference, but even with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, they have been outscored by nine points in close-and-late situations. The Nuggets (34-27) have outscored the opposition by one point overall in the final five minutes of close games, which ranks 13th in the NBA.

Denver also is 12-9 in games decided by five points or less and 5-2 in overtime.

“It’s not that we’re spectacular, but we’re solid and consistent,” Karl said. “If you’re not blessed to have a closer – which there’s probably less than five of them out there – you better do other things, too.”


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...