There's a fascination with how players perform "in the clutch" and a divide on what it actually means, but when a player is both efficient and exhilarating when the game's on the line, it's a beautiful thing to watch. Clutch shots -- the kind of shots that only sail through the net in our imagination -- are the pinnacle of excitement in basketball. Damian Lillard is delivering for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers have gone 12-2 in games that have been "close" in the fourth quarter -- defined as games in which they've either been ahead or behind by five points or fewer in the final five minutes -- and it's been on the shoulders of Lillard. He leads the league with 55 points under the aforementioned parameters while shooting a remarkable 50 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc, according to NBA.com.
Here's a look at the top five in this category:
While Irving, Harden, Afflalo and Bledsoe are all within 10 points of Lillard, he's shooting a much better percentage than each player. Lillard is delivering knockout blows down the stretch to keep his team ahead, but let's crank this down to find shots when the game is on the line -- the last 30 seconds of one-possession games, according to NBA.com:
Lillard leads the league here, too, crushing comeback hopes and wrapping up victories for the Blazers. Portland has been in 10 games under this definition and won nine of them. The Blazers' lone loss was to the Dallas Mavericks, when Monta Ellis drained a game-winner of his own after a big shot from Lillard that would have forced overtime.
The sophomore point guard is playing like the clutch king of the NBA right now. He's nailed three game-winners this season, and the Blazers have leaned on him to finish off opponents in the fourth quarter. It's easy to follow if you're watching. You can hear it in the roar in Portland:
The silence he leaves behind on the road:
And the numbers that prove he's the best closeout artist in the NBA this season.