Do the Cavs really have trouble closing out games?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have not had a January to remember. They are 8-7 this month and are 9-10 in their last 19 games. Some of those struggles have come on the road as they are 4-7 during that stretch and 10-16 on the road this season.

The games’ late performance has also come under fire recently. Cleveland has had a tough time generating offense at the end of recent losses to the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavs scored just 3 points in the final two minutes at Madison Square Gardens while being outscored 34-22 in the final frame in OKC.

Those two losses brought up a question that has been on the back burner all season. Are the Cavaliers struggling to finish games?

A quick look at the numbers shows that this is not the case. Cleveland has the best fourth quarter net rating in the entire league as they are outscoring opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with a 115.9 offensive rating and 108.1 defensive rating.

A strong fourth-quarter net rating doesn’t paint a complete picture. The Cavs are 16-14 in games that reach “clutch time.” A clutch scenario is when the score is within 5 points or less with less than five minutes to play. The Cavs have played 30 games that have reached those situations, which is fourth most in the league. They are 12th in net rating (2.8) and winning percentage (53.3%) in clutch scenarios. Cleveland is also 6-0 in games that go to overtime.

Those numbers aren’t bad and are backed up by the OT record. The process to these results was not always clean.

The Cavs have:

  • It went to overtime three times after giving up a lead of six or more in the final two minutes.
  • You lost five games when you went up by five or more in the last two minutes.
  • I blew a 13-point third-quarter lead on the Minnesota Timberwolves just over two weeks ago.
  • Narrowly escaped with a one-point victory against the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Eve thanks to a foul that wasn’t called on DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning shot after leading by seven with less than a minute and a half to play .

Those four categories account for 10 of the 52 games the Cavs have played this season. Although only six of those 10 were reported losses.

While the way the Cavs have made up for losses this year has been bad, the come-from-behind nature of their wins more than makes up for those bad losses. Cleveland has recovered from double figures 11 times this season. They’ve also fallen short of their fair share of come-from-behind efforts, including narrow losses to the Timberwolves in November and the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers in December. Those comebacks are why the scoring margin was so good in the fourth quarter.

The bigger issue, and why the Cavs have been so poor over the last month, is the way they started both halves. In the 18 games before the undermanned Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavs were outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, 25th in the league. On top of that, they posted a -1.3 defensive rating in the third. It’s something that’s been happening all season, as Cleveland posted an average net rating in the first quarter of 2 and a -0.4 net rating in the third.

What happens in the last five minutes of games is often more memorable and noteworthy than what happens in the previous 43. The Cavs have had some unfortunate losses due to poor late-game execution, but the issue hasn’t come up as much as you would initially think. Mediocre play at the start of both halves was more to blame for the inconsistent performances than the late game in general.

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