Against Indiana Saturday night, Kevin Durant absolutely took over in the fourth quarter. The Pacers had cut an 18-point Thunder lead to just five at 93-88 and with 6:31 Durant checked back in. Indiana then got it down to 93-92 and what looked to be an easy, coasting victory was now going to need some serious effort. And that’s when KD went to work.
He scored 10 of the Thunder’s final 15 points, going 3-4 from the field and 4-4 from the line. It was reminiscent of the way Kobe Bryant sat on the bench last year in Oklahoma City as the Thunder ran a big Laker lead down only for Kobe to check in with about six minutes left and score a bundle of buckets to tear out OKC’s heart. It’s something KD is improving at. He’s learning how to become The Closer. Another good example was in Phoenix, finishing off the Suns.
But he’s inconsistent with it. Sometimes, like against the Hornets last week, he only takes two shots. He doesn’t totally have that closing role down yet. Understandably so, seeing as he’s just 21 and that typically is one of the final steps a superstar takes. Figuring out how to take over for your team in crunch time isn’t an easy thing to do. But it’s what the top stars in this league do.
Right now, KD is fourth in the league in scoring at 28.7 a game. He’s shooting an incredible 48 percent from the floor. In his last 25 games, he’s hitting over 35 percent from 3. But if there is one tick against him, it’s that he sometimes fades out in the fourth quarter. Consider: In the first three quarters, KD shoots 51.3 percent from the floor. In the fourth, he hits just 39.2 percent. He averages just 5.9 points in the fourth quarter, while averaging 7.7 combined for the other three. He gets to the line less, shoots lower from 3 (34 to 30) and his turnovers go up. Sometimes when it matters most, Durant’s numbers go down.
But KD isn’t alone here. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all see their percentages dip and scoring decline in the money period. Only Carmelo Anthony actually performs higher statistically out of the top scorers in the league. However, Durant’s is probably the most severe decline, especially in field goal percentage.
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A couple theories to toss out as a reason for it:
- He’s working much harder defensively throughout the game and is a little gassed in the fourth and maybe doesn’t have his legs.
- There’s really no other consistent scoring threat so teams bracket him.
- Russell Westbrook doesn’t get him the ball enough in good scoring situations.
- He’s pressing a little and forcing things.
- Sometimes he has to force things, because he’s trying to shoot his team back in it. So instead of finishing the quarter 2-6, he finishes 2-9 because he chunked three 3s in the last minute.
- A little of all of the above.
One definite reason for the overall decline in production for all of them is because of simple subsitution plans. They all see less minutes in the fourth. They sit at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. That’s how pretty much every team does it with their star. Coaches want their horses rested and ready for that final six minute push. It makes sense to me and Saturday against Indiana, we all saw it work exactly as intended as KD entered and put the nail in on the Pacers.
But that doesn’t totally excuse the disappearing act KD sometimes pulls. What does sort of explain it, at least in my mind, is the fact that he’s just 21 and hasn’t completely figured everything out yet. And honestly, nothing fires me up more than the fact KD hasn’t figured it all out yet. He’s still filling out as a basketball player. He’s shown he has the ability to take over and dominate in the crunch consistently like other superstar players.
There’s no question he will. It’s just a matter of when.