How Clutch Time Kings altered OKC Thunder identity in one season

Danilo Gallinari #8, Chris Paul #3, head coach Billy Donovan, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2, Dennis Schroder #17, and Steven Adams #12 of the OKC Thunder look on against the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Danilo Gallinari #8, Chris Paul #3, head coach Billy Donovan, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2, Dennis Schroder #17, and Steven Adams #12 of the OKC Thunder look on against the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

At season start OKC Thunder fans were bracing for something they’ve rarely experienced — tanking. Then the Clutch Time Kings arrived.

Most fans T.I. spoke with during the summer anticipated a long “process” with expectations for the OKC Thunder falling to the bottom of the ladder. The fact General Manager, Sam Presti had reached into his magician’s hat to collect copious draft picks and swaps to bolster the future made the pill easier to swallow.

Then again, the past few seasons, if we’re honest, many in Thunder Nation were left with a bitter taste given the clubs lackluster playoff performances. Adding Paul George seemed at the time like a great fix to replacing Kevin Durant. Most thought it would keep the team relevant but three successive first-round exits (two with George) weren’t what this franchise or it’s fan base had become accustomed to.

Yet, a funny thing happened between those offseason blockbuster trades and Thanksgiving. The man now known as the Clutch Time King (Chris Paul) used the initial 17 games to get a feel for his new teammates prior to claiming the Clutch Time throne.

In addition, for the first time in arguably his entire tenure, Billy Donovan was able to coach with his system and had a group buying into those principles.

The resulting effect was what began to take shape from November 27th onward. Prior to this date, the initial 17 games served as the testing ground. During this schedule segment, the OKC Thunder played 13 of their 17 games in clutch time. Their record during this period was 5-8 all decided in clutch time and 1-3 in the other four matches.

Then the magic intangible of chemistry kicked in and the Thunder began to click on both sides of the floor. The trio of point guards who along with Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari developed the closing prowess every great club aspires to attain. The Thunder clutch mastery became so dominant opponents tried to jump on them from the tip in order to keep the game from reaching clutch time with the Thunder in striking distance.

There was a solid reason for this thinking given the Thunder have recorded a 24-5 winning edge in the 29 clutch time games they’ve played since November 27th.

“ I know we’re going to compete. We have a fun team. That’s all you want. A chance and an opportunity to compete. I guess I’m just different. Analytics may say this, the odds may say this. When the ball goes up that night, I think we have a chance to win.” – Chris Paul

As a team, the Thunder are the clutch leaders in the association. The 42 Thunder games decided in those final five minutes tops the Nuggets (40), Spurs (39), Bulls (38), and 76ers (38). Likewise, the 29 wins are league-best with the Nuggets (26) Jazz (25), 76ers (23), and Raptors (22) ranking in the top five.

The one category the Thunder doesn’t rank first is the win percentage clutch time situations. Utah holds that honor converting 69.4 percent of their clutch time games. OKC follows closely behind with 69 percent. The win conversion of the other three teams with the most clutch victories is the Nuggets (65 percent), Raptors (64.7 percent), and the 76ers (60 percent).

Yet, consider OKC’s post-Thanksgiving efforts and their win conversion is an impressive 82.7 percent.

*Clutch time: score within five points in the final five minutes of the game.

Not surprisingly, the OKC Thunder have scored the most points in the clutch (449) and converts the most field goals (139).

The Warriors Death lineup and Hamptons lineup were the five men the league feared most over the past five seasons. Arguably, this Thunder Clutch Time Kings quintet is the most feared this season.

Clutch Time Killer Lineup:

Individually, four of the five rank 28th or higher for points scored in clutch time with Steven Adams ranking 69th and Chris Paul atop the ladder in first.

The Jazz, 76ers, and Nets each have three players in the top 50.

As for cleaning the glass, again the Thunder top the leaderboard with four players in the top 50. Steven Adams is expected but Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also make the top 50 along with Danilo Gallinari.

The closest teams are the Nets and 76ers with three players in the top 50 for rebounds in clutch time.

Most telling is the net differential during the final five minutes with the top five players on the leaderboard featuring the entire OKC Thunder clutch lineup.

Four members from the Jazz, Nuggets, Bucks, and Rockets fall in the top 50 but it’s the Raptors with seven players in the top 50 who demonstrate their clutch time depth.

During the OK3 era, the team struggled early in the season to score in the clutch. Although they improved over the course of the season by the time the playoffs arrived once again the iso ball superstar system failed them. Ditto for last year when the Thunder ranked 13th in the postseason for points scored in clutch time.

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This season has been a gift. With the club blowing away preseason predictions, the team has seemingly overachieved. That 29 of their 42 victories were the result of dramatic clutch time wins only added to our enjoyment.

Moving forward, if the NBA is able to safely return to complete the schedule (or portion thereof) and postseason this OKC squad is well equipped to compete. In each of the previous two campaigns, the Thunder (even as the lower seed) was expected to win the first round. When they lost to the Jazz and Blazers it was like a gut punch.

Therein lies the strength of this group; they aren’t expected to win but they possess the one thing every single playoff team desires – the ability to win close games. More frightening for the competition is this Thunder quintet seems to revel in these moments as their confidence rises.

Most thought Paul would be sour coming to OKC and bide his time until he could be traded to a contender.

Chris Paul talked with teammates about Thunder trading him. light. Related Story

In arguably the greatest irony of all, the veteran point guard has embraced this experience and could easily be credited with why this team has such an unshakeable swagger.

Sure, the Thunder might lose but the fact they are vying for a home-court seed at all is a credit to this team who refuses to be underestimated. As Chris Paul and his teammates repeatedly tell reporters – we just believe we can win.

At this point, the fan base believes too!

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