TrueHoop: Advanced Statistics

Jason Terry has special powers

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
2:47
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
The statistical analysis revolution has helped rational explanation replace vacant punditry. It’s no longer enough to just believe a proposition like "player X is better than player Y" because it seems true, you have to back it up with advanced statistics that reveal an irrefutable mathematical truth. But thank the Basketball Gods that there are still players like the Maverick’s Jason Terry who defy all logical understanding.

Last night, Terry turned around an abysmal one for nine shooting performance through three quarters to drop 11 points on five of eight shooting and two big assists in the fourth quarter, almost singlehandedly putting away the Thunder for the short handed Mavericks. This wasn’t a fluke. Just a week ago, Terry scored all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter to help the Mavericks ice the Heat’s twelve game win streak.

As though by some Pavlovian response, when the bell rings for the final round, Terry somehow transforms from above average bench player to all world closer.

Rob Mahoney‘s wrote the following eloquent description of Terry’s mysterious talent for stepping up in the clutch on The Two Man Game:
He emerges for the fourth of every game with his belly full of a magical elixir, some fluid or ether that turns clanks into swishes. These instances lie beyond explanation; JET goes through the same motions, from the hesitation on his dribble to the crispness of his pull-up jumper. Everything is absolutely the same except in the one way that truly matters, and any man who can deduce a logical reason as to why deserves a bronzed bust in some hall with all of the world’s other great thinkers.

How do you explain why his shots suddenly start falling in the fourth? It’s not a question of effort, or even intelligent execution. Terry is the same player throughout, but the first three frames are part of a process, and the final one is the consummation of his worldly — and otherworldly — duty. There is an amazement that comes with watching Kobe Bryant pivot his way into brilliance or Tim Duncan cover every second of a screen-and-roll. Those are amazing feats accomplished by champions of men. But during every phase of execution, they’re still fathomable. Terry’s clutch performances, juxtaposed against his struggles throughout the rest of certain games, aren’t even remotely fathomable.

Terry is something supernatural. A reaper, perhaps, come to collect lost souls at the very end. Any man’s death diminishes him, because he is involved in mankind. Never send to know for whom Terry’s bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Call him a ghost through the first three quarters if you will, but his very presence in the fourth marks death. He isn’t an assassin, just the natural order of life itself, a process which cannot be explained or denied other than the fact that it just is.

Yes he shoots more, yes the Mavericks are more keen to put him in optimal scoring positions in the fourth, but I concur with Mahoney’s testimony that, at some level, JET is simply a money player.

It helps that he’s a master of getting his favorite shot, which may be the deadliest midrange pull-up in the game (he’s shooting a blistering 47% from 16-23 feet this year). But because the Mavs aren’t “his team,” he also manages to slip out of the defense’s collective consciousness for open looks with the stealth of a catch and shoot ninja.

How teams consistently leave him late in games is beyond me. Doesn’t everyone know he’s been killing in the clutch for years?

Maybe that’s it. If a player becomes comfortable in a role, even the most uncomfortable situation--scoring under pressure--can become routine. I guess that’s one way to rationally explain why Terry seems to have an uncanny ability to ball hardest when it matters most.

The only thing less logical than Terry’s winning time wizardry is that his clutch profile remains so low in spite of all his heroism. Perhaps that’s how Terry wants it. As we continue talking about how Kobe, Pierce and Wade are such assassins, JET will continue to sneak up on victims who never see him coming until it’s far too late.

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