Three clutch performers on Celtics roster
Three clutch performers on Celtics roster
BOSTON – It’s one thing to play well through three-plus quarters.
But it takes a special player to elevate his game in the closing moments of a tightly contested matchup to lead his team to victory.
In those moments, we find out who will crumble and who will deliver in the clutch.
The Boston Celtics have a number of players who have shown the ability to make big plays with time winding down.
And as we gear up for this upcoming season, we’ll take a look at three of the best clutch performers currently on the roster. To better simplify matters, we’ll go with the website www.82games.com which defines “clutch” as being the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes to play and neither team up by more than five points.
Before he became a member of the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens saw first-hand during his rookie coaching season just how clutch Turner could be. Then with the Philadelphia 76ers, Turner drained a game-winner in the paint at the TD Garden that proved to be the difference in a rare Sixers victory, 95-94 which included an “Are you kidding me?” from Tommy Heinsohn who took exception to – what else? – a call he felt the officials should have made against Philadelphia but didn’t.
Fast forward to last season, Turner’s first with the Celtics and it was clear that the clutch gene was still there.
There was the floater in the lane on Feb. 11 that lifted Boston past Atlanta 89-88 which for some was seen as the team’s turning point towards making a playoff run.
Just a couple weeks prior to that on Jan. 22, Turner’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer at Portland – courtesy of a great hustle play by Jared Sullinger – lifted the Celtics to a 90-89 win.
Last season, Turner had an effective field goal percentage of 38.2 with four seconds or less on the shot which was well above the team average of 34.8 which ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams. Turner’s percentage ranked second on the team among returning players.
But Turner has shown he can deliver in the clutch with the pass as well.
He has a 9.9 assists per 48 minutes of play in “clutch” situations according to www.82games.com which ranked seventh in the NBA this past season. To put Turner’s play in those situations in perspective, his rate per 48 minutes is better than Chicago’s Derrick Rose (9.6), Washington’s John Wall (9.1) and reigning league MVP Stephen Curry (7.5). Turner’s versatility is among the reasons why the Celtics were so willing to play him anywhere at any time last season.
The improbable put-back basket by Marcus Smart that lifted the Celtics to a 117-116 win over Toronto on April 4 but just as important, it was one of the few times Smart was called upon to attempt a game-winning shot.
But Smart showed on several occasions during the season that he was not afraid to take big shots in the closing moments of games, especially from 3-point range.
Smart’s 3-point percentage during “clutch time” was 64.3 which led all players in the NBA whose per 48 minutes in the clutch yielded at least seven 3-pointers taken (Smart’s number was 7.2). By no means does this automatically thrusts Smart into the category of a sharpshooter from 3-point range akin to Atlanta’s Kyle Korver or big-time scorers like James Harden.
But it does give you a sense for how when the game is close, Smart has shown the ability to knock down the big shot when the game is trending towards a tight finish.
The Celtics made signing him this summer a priority because of his hustle, rebounding and all-around energy he brings to the floor. But he’s also proven he can come through in a pinch, too. Johnson’s field goal percentage in the clutch last season was an impressive 72.2 percent which trailed only Charlotte’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and was slightly better than fellow Celtic Tyler Zeller (69.2).
It’s not all that surprising that Johnson shoots a high percentage when you consider so much of his work involves him hanging around the rim, creating multiple shot opportunities for himself and for his teammates.
The Celtics found this out the hard way on March 28, 2014 when Johnson, then with the Toronto Raptors, was able to put-back a Kyle Lowry miss with 7.1 seconds to play that would later prove to be the game winner as Toronto held on for a 107-105 win.
He is one of those players who has consistently shown a willingness to not give up on plays until the final horn has sounded.
And for a Celtics team that’s still searching for a go-to guy who can consistently be counted on in the clutch, having a player like Johnson around who can clean up miscues and missed shots in the game’s latter stages should bode well for their chances at improving upon last season’s finish.