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Overtime in the '10s

Published by Yoshi on 21st March - 18:45 (CET)
A couple of days ago we had a staff meeting at the FlagrantFlop headquarters in Stockholm where I was complaining to my colleagues over the fact that I have not yet seen an overtime game this season, and I hypothesized that this season might indeed have had fewer overtime games than previous years. Either that or I have been rather unlucky when choosing which games to watch. Needless to say, we had to get to the bottom of this, why I have now consolidated a ton of data on overtime games from the 2010-2011 season onward. Because ballislife and insomniaisabitch, baby!

So what I have done is compiled information on overtime games played per team during the regular season from '10-'11 up to February 20th, 2017 and below you'll find some of the interesting findings.

The amount of overtime games per year is ridiculously stable
As soon as I started looking at the numbers for OT games per season I had to throw my original hypothesis out the window. With the exception of the lockout-shortened '11-'12 season, every year of NBA basketball in this decade has brought approximately the same amount of overtime games, and the '16-'17 season is on pace to join the pack with about ten games remaining per team. The amount of overtime games is almost freakishly steady over the years considering how many variables are in play when games end up tied in regulation. Take a look:
  • '10-'11: 162 OT games
  • '11-'12: 128 OT games (lockout, 66 games per team)
  • '12-'13: 150 OT games
  • '13-'14: 158 OT games
  • '14-'15: 152 OT games
  • '15-'16: 154 OT games
  • '16-'17: 124 OT games through February 20th
In other words, I've been unlucky when choosing which games to watch this year. It might have a liiittle bit to do with the fact that Steph Curry is on my Fantasy League team, but mainly I've just been unlucky.

The average number of overtime games per team each year is 4.9. The Dallas Mavericks have had the most games undecided after regulation with 46 while the Los Angeles Clippers' games have ended at the fourth quarter buzzer the most, as they only played 25 overtime games since 2010.

Good teams are generally good in OT, but not always
This might not be all that surprising, but nonetheless there are some interesting takeouts when looking at the performance in overtime among the top teams each year. The teams which placed first in their respective conference each year have a combined record of 39-19 in games decided with extra basketball, the teams coming in second in each conference went 37-21 and the teams at third had a 40-28 record in OT. Makes sense, right?

But then take a look at teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers who, in the past couple of years while leading the East, have gone a combined 5-5 in overtime games. Clearly success in overtime and general regular season success do not have to go hand in hand, and winning just half of their crunch time games during the regular season did not indicate how their postseasons would fare as they were clutch enough to make it to the Finals in both those years and knock out the Golden State Warriors in one of them after being down 3-1. Did you hear about that?

Similar conclusions can be drawn about the Warriors who have gone a combined 7-5 in overtime games the past three years while leading the West. Sure, during their historic '15-'16 season they went a fabulous 6-1 in OT, but this year they are a dreadful 0-3 and still sit comfortably on the top of the league. So in conclusion the truly great teams don't necessarily have to be great in overtime during the regular season.

West is way more clutch than East
What I didn't mention when giving you the overtime records for the top three conference seeds above is that the difference is pretty big between the East and the West. While first seeds in both conferences had winning records in OT from 2010 and onward, the second and third seeds show a different story. In the West, the second seeds went 23-6 in OT and the third seeds went 20-7, both better than the first seeders from each conference, but in the East the second and third seeds actually had losing records in overtime games; 14-15 and 20-21 respectively.

Sure, everyone knows that the West has been the stronger conference during the current decennium, but that the clutch discrepancy is this big might come as a surprise. What was mentioned above are the overtime records of just the top three teams in each conference every year, but looking at crunch time records for all 30 teams shows an even stronger inclination of clutch delivery out West. Of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference only six have a winning record in games decided in overtime, while eleven teams in the West have more W's than L's in extra time. Three of the top four performers in overtime are Westerners while four of the bottom five are from the East.

Which brings us to how the individual teams stack up in OT success.

Some teams are where you would assume, others not so much
While it might sound easy to guess which teams have had the best records in overtime during the '10s, you should also remember what was said about the Cavaliers and Warriors earlier in this article. Without further ado, let's countdown the top five clutch performing teams in the league:
  • 1st | Los Angeles Lakers | 20-6 | .769
  • 2nd | Oklahoma City Thunder | 27-12 | .692
  • 3rd | Boston Celtics | 20-11 | .645
  • 4th | Memphis Grizzlies | 22-15 | .595
  • 5th | Brooklyn Nets | 20-14 | .588
It is becoming increasingly hard to remember a time when the Lakers were not a terrible team, but some of our older readers might remember this man named Kobe Bryant who was a pretty good player with somewhat of a winning mentality. The bulk of the Lakers' overtime success was amassed during the first three seasons of the '10s, when the Black Mamba was still a major factor, as the team went 13-1 in those years. The Thunder have also been the beneficiary of having not just one, but two go-to guys in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook most of the last few years, but the rest of the top five might be harder to explain, why we will not attempt to do so.

On the flip side the bottom five teams hardly need any explaining:
  • 26th | Washington Wizards | 16-25 | .390
  • 27th | Orlando Magic | 14-24 | .368
  • 28th | Philadephia 76ers | 12-21 | .364
  • 29th | Toronto Raptors | 11-23 | .324
  • 30th | Sacramento Kings | 11-26 | .297
Winning in overtime requires cool and composed players, guys who know not to get too worked up under stress. Losing in overtime more than any other team requires DeMarcus Cousins. Ok, maybe that's not fair to poor DMC, but then again his Pelicans are 1-1 in OT since his arrival and in that W he was benched with 9½ minutes remaining in the fourth and didn't return. Coincidence?

In summary overtime game statistics match pretty well with intuition when a large sample size is taken into consideration, but for an individual team or season they don't necessarily say much about the quality of the team.

If you have requests for other statistical deep-dives, don't hesitate to leave a comment below and hope for more insomnia among the FlagrantFlop crew!

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