The Chicago Bulls have the edge above everybody else in the East when it comes to fourth quarters. It doesn’t even matter if Derrick Rose plays or not, averaging 1.07 points per possession in the fourth quarter, limiting opponents to 0.956 in the fourth. The league average is 1.02.
And it shouldn’t come as a surprise, regarding the Bulls have the best bench in the NBA, making them extremely lethal in second quarters (1.21 edge). No Derrick Rose? Makes a difference, despite the whole bench theory. When Rose players, the Bulls score 1.18 points per possession. Only 1.005 when he’s not playing. Maybe it just goes to show you how good their defense is, and how important Rose is, despite missing half the season.
Behind the Bulls come the New York Knicks, surprisingly. The Knicks are a terrible third quarter team, losing by almost 0.7 points per possession in the third period of their NBA games. Knicks number for crunch time? 1.05 points, keeping teams at 0.97. Problem is, heading into the postseason, their best numbers came when Jeremy Lin was on the court, scoring 1.15 per possession during the final 12 minutes. Without him, it’s been 0.996, but their defense, especially with everyone rallying around Tyson Chandler has been extremely impressive.
The Atlanta Hawks are considered by some to be dark horses in the race for the Eastern title, squaring off against the Boston Celtics in the postseason, so it seems. They’re fourth quarter numbers are also surprisingly impressive, edging out teams by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. The Celtics? Only by one point. The Celtics are at their best in the third quarter, but struggle to create points in the fourth, scoring 0.98 per possession, well below the league average. Having only Rajon Rondo as a shot creator probably makes it easier for defenses to focus on him when things get slowed down.
And then there are the Miami Heat, who like the Atlanta Hawks, struggle during third quarters and also in the final quarters, at least offensively when compared to their first half. During first half, the Heat average 1.09 points per possession while limiting teams to 0.97 points. That’s a 12 point difference per 100 possessions. While their defense usually gets better in the second half and especially in the third quarter (0.95), their offense drops to just below the league average.
LeBron James’ fault? Think again. He usually sits out a few minutes in the fourth quarter before coming back to take over. With James they score 1.08 points per possession in the fourth quarter. Without him, only 0.94. Again, clutch isn’t only taking the last shot. It’s also being good enough to get you there. If the Heat don’t need to take the final shot, it’s because of James. Wade? Not that big of a difference when he’s on or off, especially considering the fact that Miami are 14-1 when Wade isn’t playing. With Wade they score 1.04 points per possession in the fourth. Without him? 1.01.
Conclusion? In the postseason, when the scoring drops and the games slow down, fourth quarters usually decide the game. Miami aren’t that bad in the final minutes, and usually, the build up such a big lead in the first half that it doesn’t really matter. The Bulls are different, needing a bit more time to get into the game. They’re usually at their best, on offense and defense, when the clock starts winding down.
But the defenses will be the key. It was for the Miami Heat last season against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was for the Mavs against the Heat in the fourth quarters of the NBA finals. If Miami can keep up their defensive intensity throughout the postseason, then the fourth quarter problems will disappear, or just won’t be that obvious.
And if you don’t think LeBron James is a different player and person this season; If you don’t think he deserves the MVP, you need to read this article and interview about James. Helps you look at things in a different way if you needed any convincing.