"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard takes the spotlight.
According to NBA.com, that's Damian Lillard's true shooting percentage (TS%) in the clutch - the last five minutes of a five-point game - this season.
Why is that notable? It's almost too good to be true.
If you're unfamiliar with true shooting percentage, it's considered to be a more accurate measure of how efficient a player is scoring because it takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws. As a rule of thumb, anything under 50 percent is considered to be poor while anything over 60 percent is considered to be elite.
For Lillard, he's scored 92 points on 19-for-28 (67.8 percent) shooting from 2-point range, 16-for-30 (53.3 percent) from 3-point range and a perfect 38-for-38 from the free-throw line in the clutch this season, the combination of which gives him a 83.0 true shooting percentage.
Again, almost too good to be true.
It's even more impressive considering Lillard has scored the most points in the clutch this season. As you can see in the table below, the only other player who has scored more than 100 clutch points is Zach LaVine and the only high volume scorer who can come close to matching Lillard's efficiency is James Harden.
So not only is Lillard leading the league in clutch scoring, he's basically been the league's most efficient scorer with the game on the line.
The Blazers have needed almost all of those points from Lillard, too. According to NBA.com, 22 of their 39 games to this point of the season have been decided in the clutch. They're 16-6 in those games, tying them with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers for the most clutch wins in the league.
Especially lately, when the Blazers have been without two key contributors in CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic due to injury, Lillard has come up big time and time again.
Against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 30, Lillard hit back-to-back 3s in the closing seconds, the second of which won the Blazers the game at the buzzer.
Against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 14, Lillard hit a late step-back 3-pointer over Dorian Finney-Smith to break a tie.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 16, Lillard hit a late step-back 3-pointer over Luguentz Dort that served as the nail in the coffin.
Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 17, Lillard hit a layup with 16.5 seconds left that gave the Blazers the lead.
Against the Golden State Warriors on March 3, Lillard hit a late step-back 3-pointer over Kent Bazemore to win the game.
And against the Pelicans on March 16, Lillard scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead a massive comeback, capping his performance off with a pair of free throws to win the game.
⌚️ @Dame_Lillard scored 20 of his season-high 50 points in the 4th quarter to help the @trailblazers come back from 17 down! pic.twitter.com/20wTsP0GZR- NBA (@NBA) March 17, 2021
"I've never seen anything like this before, and I've played with some really great players," Blazers centre Enes Kanter said of Lillard following the team's win over the Thunder. "It's wild. He's like a cheat code … there's no way to guard him."
Lillard's clutch play is fueling his early MVP case. While his averages of 30.5 points, 8.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game on .451/.388/.936 shooting splits speak for themselves, his late-game heroics are a big reason why the Blazers are currently sitting at sixth in the Western Conference with a 23-16 record despite being without McCollum and Nurkic for an extended period of time, in addition to missing Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. for a few games. Most teams would struggle with four of their five starters in and out of the lineup, but Lillard has been able to keep the Blazers afloat and competitive.
Put it this way: Gary Trent Jr. (27) has scored the second-most clutch points on the Blazers this season, followed by Covington (23), Carmelo Anthony (20) and McCollum (17). Lillard is sometimes the only real playmaker on the court for the Blazers at the end of games and teams still haven't been able to do anything to slow him down.
Of course, Lillard saving his best for last is nothing new - this is your reminder that nobody has made more shots to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter or overtime than him since 2012-13 - and yet he's taken his game to another level in those situations this season.
The proof is in that one key number...
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