LeBron James' clutch start

Examining the five biggest trends of the 2012 postseason so far

Updated: May 24, 2012, 3:06 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
LeBron JamesAP Photo/AJ MastJames has stepped up his level of play during the Heat's biggest games so far this postseason.

While the Western Conference sits idle until Sunday's Game 1 between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, the East is still very much up for grabs, particularly with regard to the clash between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. It's a series that, on paper at least, should not have been more than a speed bump along the Heat's drive for a championship, but even after taking a 3-2 lead Tuesday night, Miami is not out of the woods yet.

Let's take a look at the five biggest statistical trends that have emerged in these playoffs, focusing on how they apply to the Heat-Pacers series.

1. Signature stars are disappearing in the clutch (but not LeBron).
The best players are supposed to step up in the biggest games, but that hasn't exactly been the case in these playoffs so far. Of the six teams remaining in the postseason, four have seen their scoring leader's Player Efficiency Rating (with a team defensive adjustment) decline in their most crucial games, according to Championship Leverage Index. And that's just for the teams that have survived to make it this far -- among the disappointing clutch performers in the ranks of the already-eliminated were Blake Griffin (PER decline of 0.4 when weighing critical minutes more), Kobe Bryant (PER decline of 1.4) and Carmelo Anthony (PER decline of 3.3).

Not every superstar has gone AWOL in big games, though. For instance, Kevin Durant has actually improved his PER by 1.1 when you give more weight to higher-leverage situations. However, that mark wasn't enough to make KD the remaining scoring leader who stepped up the most in the clutch. That honor actually belongs to none other than LeBron James, who has come up huge in Miami's two biggest games of the postseason so far.

Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.