How Do You Define Choking Under Pressure?

In the 9th episode of the StatMuse podcast “Stat Stories,” Chad Shanks and Justin Kubatko discuss the Oklahoma City Thunder blowing their 3–1 series lead to the Warriors and try to define what constitutes choking under pressure.

Listen to the embedded audio and browse through the StatMuse searches mentioned in the episode (data accurate as of the date of publication).

If you lose to a 73-win team, it’s not choking. Calling it that doesn’t even make sense.

thunder, warriors wins this season

However, if you have 67 wins and lose in the first round to a team barely over .5oo, well…

mavericks, warriors wins in 2006–07
mavericks margin of victory by game vs the warriors in the 2007 playoffs

There were a few standout performances, but overall, Durant and Westbrook did not shoot well in the conference finals.

kevin durant, russell westbrook efg% by game this season in the conference finals

Durant went from hero-ball in Games 5 & 6 to overly passive in Game 7.

kevin durant fga by game this season in the conference finals

Nick Anderson with some unfortunate “random variation” in the 1995 Finals.

Jerry West, a.k.a. “Mr. Clutch” has the third-highest scoring average in the NBA Finals.

highest career ppg by a player in the nba finals; minimum 10 games

West also leads all players with 10 games with 40+ points in the NBA Finals.

most career games by a player with 40+ points in the nba finals

Despite earning the nickname “Mr. Clutch,” Jerry West was 1–8 overall in his career in the NBA Finals.

jerry west wins by season in the nba finals

Game winners by LeBron James, who apparently doesn’t have the so-called “Clutch Gene.”

A full court shot by Marcus Camby, which took skill to hit.

The Dream destroyed the Admiral in their only playoff meeting.

However, over their career, Robinson came out on top in the regular season.

david robinson winning % by season vs hakeem olajuwon

John Starks had a good run in the 1994 Finals, but his no-show in Game 7 has him branded a choker.

john starks points by game in the 1994 nba finals

Reggie Miller dropped 39 on the Knicks when he infamously gave Spike Lee the choking sign, but didn’t score as many when the Knicks eliminated the Pacers in Game 7 of that series.

reggie miller points by game in the 1994 playoffs vs the knicks

Despite his reputation of choking in the playoffs, Tracy McGrady’s postseason numbers were actually slightly better than his stellar regular season stats.

tracy mcgrady ppg by season in the regular season, in the playoffs from 1999 to 2008

The Science of Choking Under Pressure (via Smithsonian.com)

With amateurs and pros clamoring for answers, a psychologist who studies screw-ups comes through in the clutch

Marshawn Lynch doesn’t think that Super Bowl call was as bad as Chad does.

What many see as the biggest choke in sports history.