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Pistons a historically awful fourth-quarter team

If there is such a thing as anti-clutch, the Detroit Pistons are it.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are a bad team and are especially bad at closing out games. Detroit Bad Boys has already covered that (here and here, for example). But not only are they a bad team, they are a historically bad team in the fourth quarter.

The fact that they're a bad fourth quarter team should surprise absolutely nobody. We all have anecdotal evidence in the back of our heads. A blown lead and embarrassing loss to the underhanded undermanned Pelicans. Getting outscored 28-12 in the fourth to drop a game to the Wizards.

But now we can put some numbers and context to those awful memories.

The Pistons are currently being outscored by 3.1 points in the fourth quarter, by far the worst mark in the NBA this season ... and the prior season ... and the season before that. In fact, it is the worst fourth-quarter scoring differential since the infamous Los Angeles Clippers held the same mark in the 1999-2000 season.

That team was led by a rookie Lamar Odom and the fearsome Michael Olowokandi entering his second year; it was extremely young and built to lose. In other words, not exactly Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings making $20 million to lead a team to a playoff berth.

Not surprising when your biggest offensive weapons disappear in the fourth when things get tight and you can't run up and down the court at will (*cough* Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings *cough*) and that your most reliable offensive weapon (Greg Monroe) hardly sees the floor in the fourth quarter because the head coach(es) either don't trust the "big three" lineup or don't trust your defense.

The team is so bad in the fourth quarter that it actually masks a semblance of competence for the first three quarters of the game. The Pistons record would be significantly better if only they ended the game a little early.

If Game Ended After .... Record Playoff Seed
... Quarter 1 28-29-1 No. 6
... Quarter 2 29-26-3 No. 6
... Quarter 3 31-27 No. 5
... Quarter 4 (and OT) 23-35

No. 9

And while examining just the fourth quarter is a sort of arbitrary measurement, as you can see by the win-loss record above, it is literally when the Pistons are giving games away. And being outscored by more than three points per game in the fourth quarter is actually really hard to do. You can actually dig through the data on all the way back to the 1997-98 season. In that time 532 teams have played all or part of a professional basketball season. Of those 532 teams, exactly two teams sported a worse mark than the 3.1 held by the aforementioned Pistons and Clippers, and both those teams played in the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. And even if you ratchet back the cutoff to getting outscored by 2.5-plus points in the fourth quarter only eight teams make the cut.

Year Team Record NBA Rank

4Q Point Differential

1998-99* Chicago Bulls 13-37 No. 28 -3.5
1998-99* Vancouver Grizzlies 8-42 No. 30 -3.4
2013-14 Detroit Pistons 23-35 No. 21 -3.1
1999-2000 LA Clippers 15-67 No. 30 -3.1
2000-01 Chicago Bulls 15-67 No. 30 -2.8
2007-08 Seattle Supersonics 20-62 No. 29 -2.6
1998-99 Washington Wizards* 18-32 No. 23 -2.6
1997-98 Denver Nuggets 11-71 No. 30 -2.6
*Strike Year

As you can see being a terrible fourth-quarter team isn't some parlor trick or bad luck. Historically, the worst teams every year are also in the conversation for worst team in the entire NBA. So in some ways the Pistons are a historical anomaly even within a group of historically bad NBA teams -- and that somehow makes it even worse.

And it's only gotten worse under interim head coach John Loyer. The Pistons are 2-6 since Loyer took over for the overmatched Maurice Cheeks, who was fired, in part, because owner Tom Gores didn't think he was getting the best out of the available talent and too many fourth quarter collapses.

Well, the Detroit is being outscored by 4.6 points per game under Loyer, the second-worst record in the NBA over that span. Is this season over yet?