Master Closer, Kevin Durant, Strikes Again
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder just did it again. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, he proved why he’s the best closer in the game today.
Attaching the word “closer” to Durant’s name was a murmur last season, but it’s evolved into a pattern this season. Does he strive to be known as ‘The Closer’ in addition to all other things he masters on the basketball court?
“Yeah, I would like that,” said Durant following his epic performance, scoring 16 points straight in a five-minute span near the end of the fourth quarter. “I just want to be calm and composed and poised in those situations and make the right basketball play.”
The remarkable thing is how he wants to close out games, not just by scoring – which would be a natural thing to do seeing as though he’s the league’s three-time leading scorer – but by executing whatever play is necessary.
“There are times when I need to pass to my teammates and times when I need to score,” he said. “On the defensive end, I want to be clutch as well. I just try to take it on, try not to be nervous.”
“Sometimes it’s nerve-racking playing those games like that,” he said with a huge grin. “But I just try to calm down and go with my instincts.”
His instincts are clearly developing at a rapid rate.
A quick review of Durant’s clutch performance in the 2011-12 playoffs thus far:
• His buzzer beater sealed a win in Game 1 of the first round against the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
• His baseline floater in Game 2 of the semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers with 18.6 seconds remaining was the dagger.
• He hit the game-winner, a 25-foot three-pointer, in Game 4 in the Lakers series.
• And now, of course, his six straight baskets and two free throws late in the fourth were instrumental in tying the Western Conference Finals vs. the Spurs (2-2). Keep in mind, these weren’t easy, uncontested shots.
Per 82games.com, Durant was ranked second in the league in clutch scoring (production per 48 minutes of clutch time, defined as fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left of a game, within five points or fewer of the lead) during the regular season. He took more clutch shots than anyone except Carmelo Anthony.
Back to Game 4. In a game where the spotlight could have been squarely positioned on Serge Ibaka’s contributions (he scored a career-high 26 points and went 11-of-11 in field goal shooting), Durant stole the show.
His close-out performance will be talked about for a long, long while.
Following the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked to comment how Durant seemed to take over the game down the stretch.
“It didn’t seem like that. That was a fact. I was there. I saw it. He finished it off in fine fashion,” he answered.
Manu Ginobili shared, from his vantage point, how it looked trying to stop Durant.
“When a player that talented gets hot, he’s really hard to contain,” Ginobili said. “We tried different things, and it didn’t work. He scored a bunch in a short period of time. We just couldn’t contain him down the stretch.”
“That’s what good players do,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He stepped up and found the right play each time. It was terrific that Kevin did a good job in closing out the game.”
“Kevin’s about winning,” added Brooks. “He’s not about scoring 16 points in a row. If he would have had 15 assists or making the right play, he’s happy with that. He’s a team player, and he’s only going to get better.”
“When teams start to make a run, we’ve got to go to our first option, and that’s Kevin,” explained Russell Westbrook. “He’s been doing a great job all season of closing games for us. When things get tight, he always finds a way.”
Said Tim Duncan: “Kevin was unbelievable the way he took over that fourth quarter.”
Said Boris Diaw: “Durant stepped up and made some really, really tough shots, and that’s why they won.”
Said Stephen Jackson: “Once a player of that caliber of scoring, that much talent, once they start scoring, it’s hard to stop him. He got into a nice rhythm.”
True to form, Durant didn’t just sit back and collect the accolades. He will to a point, always crediting others, and then he habitually caps it off by stating he still has much to learn.
”I’m learning every single day,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m going to keep going in those tough situations. I think those tough times are going to help me get back on.”
With Durant’s mountain of abilities at just 23 years of age, we’re sure to witness an abundance of unbelievable close-out performances in seasons to come.