The Wizards' schedule has ramped up as of late, and so far the Wizards' performance hasn't ramped up along with it. Despite holding leads in the closing minutes against Oklahoma City, Portland and Denver, the Wizards went 1-2, and that was only because the Nuggets failed to take advantage of free throws that could have won the game in regulation and a gift pass from Paul Pierce to Ty Lawson that could have forced a second overtime.
Most of the blame for the Wizards' late-game struggles has been pointed at Randy Wittman's late game offense, and certainly, you can understand the reasoning. In the final 10 seconds of games where the deficit is three points or less, the Wizards are 1 of 7 from the field. Here's the shot chart:
The sole green dot came on Andre Miller's beautiful lob to Bradley Beal to beat the Magic. The six misses came on a combination of less beautiful plays. You can watch them all here. It's a nice mix of rushed threes before the buzzer, John Wall isolation plays, and one John Wall-Paul Pierce pick and pop. And let's not forget that doesn't include the John Wall ISO against the Nuggets on Sunday that led to a turnover before Wall could get a shot up.
Certainly, there's some room for growth in that area, but when you zoom out a little further, there's not too much to be upset about in clutch situations. In clutch situations - defined by NBA.com as situations in the last five minutes of the game or overtime where the margin is five points or less - the Wizards' offensive rating 103.1, the 14th best mark in the league in those situations. For the season as a whole, the Wizards' offensive rating 103.9, 13th best in the NBA. For better or worse, the Wizards' offense is basically just as good in clutch situations as it is any other time.
The real issue this season has been on the defensive end. The Wizards' defensive rating this year is 100.1, seventh best in the NBA. But in those clutch situations, the Wizards' defensive rating is 108.0, 19th best in the NBA. This season, the Wizards have been able to survive with an average offense because their defense has been so spectacular, but that's not carrying over when things get tight.
Other than free throws (which naturally go up in clutch situations as teams try to extend the game) the biggest difference between the Wizards' defense in the clutch, as opposed to the rest of the game, is how many outside shots they give up. Check out the numbers:
|3P per 100 poss.||3PA per 100 poss.||3P%|
The bump from 35 percent over the course of a game and 36.7 percent in the clutch might not seem like much, but it's the third-worst three point percentage allowed in the NBA in clutch situations. Only the Pistons and Rockets are giving up a worse percentage on threes in those situations. And wouldn't you know, they're both doing worse defensively in the clutch than the Wizards.
But as bad as that is, the worse issue is how many threes the Wizards are giving up. Only three teams give up more threes per 100 possession in the clutch, and they're all forcing teams to shoot lower percentages beyond the arc that make it worthwhile. When the game switches over to crunch time, the Wizards are giving up nearly three more threes every 100 possessions than during regular situations. For a team that's not generating points in the clutch better than they are normally, that's a big, big deal and it's costing them games.
The Wizards have been able to make steps forward offensively despite going against the trend to create more three point attempts. But if they want to keep pace defensively, they're going to need to understand how important it is to keep other teams from getting the looks they want in the closing minutes to steal games away.