For the Lakers, the 6-2 start to the season has been impressive and just as impressive has been the way they have performed in the clutch. By NBA definition, “clutch” production comes when a game is within five points with five minutes to play and the Lakers have had four such games this season—coming away with three wins.
That was certainly the case in the team’s last game, when the Lakers had to fend off the Grizzlies down the stretch for a two-point win. The team actually trailed, 79-77, when the game hit the five-minute mark, and the Lakers outscored the Grizzlies 17-13 the rest of the way.
One of the key plays came with three seconds to go on the clock. LeBron James hit Kyle Kuzma for a layup, extending the Lakers lead to two possessions.
After the game, Anthony Davis—who leads the Lakers in clutch scoring—spoke about the team’s performance down the stretch and whether there is a “switch” the team flips to play better in those situations.
Anthony Davis on late-game chemistry with LeBron James: "We don't really like to use the term 'flip the switch.' We want our switch to be on at all times…" pic.twitter.com/fBWuVqxezr
— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) January 6, 2021
“We don’t like to use the term, like you said, ‘flip the switch,’” Davis said. “We want our switch to be on at all times. But it’s good to have guys who can make plays for us and it starts with LJ (LeBron James) and his ability to pass the ball and read defenses is unreal. His IQ is very high.”
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Lakers Continue to Produce in Late Situations
What could be frightening for the rest of the league is that the Lakers have room to improve down the stretch of tight games. They are allowing just 100.0 points per 100 possessions in the clutch thus far and scoring 107.4 points per 100 possessions in those situations. They were at 108.1 points per 100 possessions last year, and with a better offensive lineup this season, the team’s late-game scoring numbers could grow.
The trick will be to keep the defense solid all along. The offense still has untapped potential, but it will continue to revolve around Davis and James.
“We usually have the ball in his hands and me and Dennis (Schroder) compliment his game with our pick-and-roll, late game it is usually me and LJ,” Davis said. “We just make plays from there. Even when we don’t got it, we know that late-game, that is what we are going to go to, put the ball in his hands or my hands and we’re going to live with that, whether we make shots or miss shots.”
LeBron James Dominates Fourth-Quarter Stats
Of course, the best way to handle tight late-game situations is not to be in them in the first place—get a comfortable lead and you won’t need to worry about scoring in the clutch. The Lakers have helped themselves this year by being a dominant fourth-quarter team.
Their offensive rating is 124.9 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, and their defensive rating is 107.0. Their net rating, 17.8, is fourth in the NBA.
CLUTCH FADE FROM THE KING pic.twitter.com/QVpv2MZCEF
— Lakers Empire (@LakersEmpire) January 6, 2021
They were third in net rating in the fourth quarter last season, with a 6.1-point differential.
James is seventh in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 7.9 points. He is tied for the league lead in fourth-quarter assists, at 2.3 per game.