“Crunch Time” is defined as less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime with neither team ahead by more than five points. In these crucial situations, plus-minus is a very effective measure of team performance because scoring while keeping opponents off the board is the difference between a win and a loss. It’s not surprising that the top six teams in Crunch Time +/- this season have already locked up playoff spots (Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls).
This can also shed light on just how important key players are to their franchise. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers led the league in Crunch Time +/- three years in a row (2007-08 to 2009-10), but once LeBron James left for Miami the Cavaliers’ +/- plummeted. The Cavs averaged +113 with James during those three seasons, and +1 since.
- The Lakers have by far the best Crunch Time +/- this season (+79, the Pacers are second at +65). Pau Gasol (+78) has been their biggest star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (+74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at +58.
- The Dallas Mavericks have had the biggest drop-off in Crunch Time performance, from a league-leading +117 last season to a paltry -16 this season.
- The Houston Rockets (+31) and Memphis Grizzlies (+28) are the best Crunch Time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (-9) are the only playoff team with a negative +/-.
Statistical support for this story given by NBA.com.