My gut instinct tells me it’s the Hawks.

Joe Johnson is a star, right?  Stars win games late, that’s just how the NBA goes.  That’s what I’ve long assumed, that’s what I feel like I’ve witnessed time and time again.  Johnson must be the best late game player either team has, simply because he’s the best player in this series.

But do the numbers confirm that?  Thanks to the Clutch Stats feature at 82games.com, I was able to run some numbers to determine which players are most likely to get the ball down the stretch for each of these two teams in close games.  The numbers paint an interesting picture when determining which players should be trusted most down in close games this series and who should be giving the ball up at all costs.

    FG%FGAFT%FTAPCT of FGA JumperseFG% JumpersPCT of FGA InsideeFG% Inside
    Atlanta Hawks
    Joe Johnson0.46810091.9338649.41461.5
    Jamal Crawford0.2455886.2298122.11950
    Josh Smith0.4195370204222.25856
    Mike Bibby0.2762900100%37.600
    Milwaukee Bucks
    Brandon Jennings0.36911091.3467848.12230.4
    John Salmons0.3854390.9227255.42827.3
    Luke Ridnour0.4624183.3188239.11885.7
    Ersan Ilyasova0.5003768.8166355.03758.3
  • The numbers would indicate that the more Jamal Crawford shoots down the stretch in tight games, the better Bucks fans should feel.  I know Crawford has hit a few buzzer beaters this year, but I wonder how many he missed before hitting those?  It seems likely from looking at the numbers that the Hawks only needed game winners in those games because they hadn’t been making any shots before them. Crawford’s 24.5 FG% in the last five minutes of close games is down right awful.  Please, take all the shots you see fit Crawford. At the last couple Hawks-Bucks games, a local media member always wondered if this would be the game Crawford would shoot the Hawks out of or in to. He shot them out of the first game in Milwaukee and didn’t play in game two.  One can only hope, for the Bucks sake, that Crawford keeps shooting them out.
  • John Salmons has the most bizarre split of any player in this series.  Salmons has been a sensational jump shooter down the homestretch of games. His eFG% on jumpers of 55.4 is even better than Joe Johnson’s.  But what’s going on once Salmons gets inside? Inside, Salmons numbers fall to 27.3 or Brandon Jennings type numbers (even Jennings is better!).  Considering Salmons is the one player on the Bucks that generally has the easiest time getting to the hoop, they’ll need him to improve on that figure drastically if they want to do more than just hang around in close games.
  • Ersan Ilyasova has a pretty bad reputation as a lousy clutch player and it’s occasionally deserved.  But I think it’s based more on his early season adventures (remember that first Bulls game … I do) rather than his whole body of production.  The numbers indicate that Ilyasova has actually been pretty good in close games, even if his free throw shooting hasn’t been spectacular.
  • Ahh, free throw shooting.  The one area where the Bucks really shine.  With Jennings and Salmons both over 90% late in games, if the Bucks do have a lead late, they can feel pretty good about protecting it if the game comes down to fouling.

So how does the star Joe Johnson fare?  His work is the most balanced and his sample size is pretty good.  I don’t want to over simplify, but the Hawks can probably feel pretty good about things whenever the ball is in his hands late in games.  Frequently overlooked as he may be, Johnson certainly is a star in this league and he’s very likely to show why throughout this series.