The No. 1 sign that this Wolves team is for real

In the NBA, being clutch is what separates contenders and pretenders.

In the NBA, performance in the clutch is more than a collection of stats. It's the oxygen of a team's success. Without being able to close out close games, teams die slow regular season deaths. defines a "clutch" period as the last 5 minutes of a game when the score differential is 5 points or less. 

Minnesota played in 45 games last season that included a clutch period – ninth most in the league. Frustratingly, the Wolves lost 30 of those 45, a winning percentage .333 in such games (third-lowest in the NBA). 

Only two teams finished with a lower winning percentage in clutch games: Lakers and Nets, who dumpster dove their way to the second and third picks in the draft.

Oh, how the times have changed. 

Seven games into the 2017-18 season and the Timberwolves are 4-1 in games that include a clutch period, with the lone loss coming in the season opener at San Antonio. 

Fact: Only three teams in the past three seasons have reached the playoffs with a sub-.500 record in clutch games. That'd be the Bucks (2014-15), Celtics (2014-15), and Trail Blazers (2016-17). 

Notice how two of the three are Eastern Conference teams, with both cases coming during the dismal 2014-15 season when three teams qualified for the postseason with 41 or fewer wins.

Which bodes well for the Timberwolves, if the team can keep up this impressive performance in the clutch.

Things look even better when you realize that 15 of last year's 16 playoff teams won more clutch games than they lost (Portland was the lone exception with a clutch record of 23-24).

It gets better still.

In 2015-16, there were 16 teams that finished .500 or better in clutch games. All of them made the playoffs. 

Basically, you are in the playoffs if you finish above .500 in clutch games, and you're dead if you don't. 

Coming away with a win in the clutch is oxygen. Fortunately, the Wolves are breathing much easier this season. 

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