Sports fans shouldn't value the fourth quarter more than the second—but they do.
Who said LeBron James isn't clutch? In the fourth quarter of last night's loss to the Boston Celtics, he went 4-of-7 from the field for 11 points, carrying the Heat while the rest of the team went 1-of-15 for seven points.
Whoops, I lied. That wasn't the fourth quarter. It was the second quarter. In fact, James actually put up just four shots for the final 8:10 of the game, leading most of sports media to once again question his so-called "clutchness." But the fact that I lied isn't important. What's important is: Did the fact that I lied in the first paragraph matter? Is there any reason to think that the fourth quarter is really more important than the second?
The good sports fan's answer to this question is that of course it matters. Clutchness is next to greatness. Players don't go down in history for random second-quarter lay-ups, but rather for game-clinching fourth-quarter buckets. It's not how you start, but how you finish, and so on.
The mathematical answer is more boring, but also more accurate. Clutchness is a myth. It's not just a myth for the fact that the sample size of "clutch shots" is almost always too small to make a meaningful judgment, nor just for the fact that many players tend to perform very close to their overall average in "high-pressure" situations (i.e.: being clutch really just means not choking). It's a myth because we fetishize an athlete's performance at the end of a game even though we know--or should at least allow ourselves to recognize--that games aren't won and lost exclusively in the closing seconds.