Kevin Durant did it again Sunday. He proved he's not afraid to take the big shot.
A win-or-lose, do-or-die, make-or-break shot. Being Durant, we've come to expect that shot to fall on the side of win, do and make. With the game on the line, we've come to expect Durant to give the net a workout.
After Durant's latest game-winner, a 19-foot swisher with 11.1 seconds left that gave the Thunder a 91-90 lead on Memphis and an eventual 93-91 victory in Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal series, ESPN Stats Inc. provided the most remarkable information.
In the 2012 and 2013 NBA playoffs, Durant is 4-for-4 on shots in the final 24 seconds of games that could lift the Thunder into the lead. The rest of the NBA combined is 2-for-23.
It's a remarkable run of clutch shooting in crunch time. And it's not like Durant waits until the final 24 seconds to take responsibility. He made go-ahead-to-stay 3-pointers in the final minute or minutes of both Game 2 and Game 3 in the just-concluded Houston series.
But bearing such a burden means more than just Durant willing to take the final shot. It means Durant is unafraid to miss.
“Kevin's a special player,” said Derek Fisher, who seemingly has been in the league since 1953. “He's one of those guys that embraces those moments … he's not afraid of what happens if the shot doesn't go in. I think that's what it takes to be willing to step up and take those shots on a regular basis.
“A lot of people love to shoot the ball and take shots, but there's a lot that comes with it if you don't make it sometimes. You've got to be willing to lace it up again the next time you're in that situation.”
The whole idea of clutch ability has perplexed statistical experts for decades. Does it even exist? The truth is, baseball stat geeks haven't found it.
NBA analytics have proved, study after study, that even the greatest players struggle in last-minute or last-possession situations with the game on the line. That even Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and the Durantula himself don't succeed all that often.
Twenty-something percent is about where most players land. Occasionally a guy will get into the 30 percent range.
Defenses are too good. Often coming out of timeouts, they set up to defend one particular possession, with both personnel and scheme. A 50 percent shooter becomes 35. A 42 percent shooter becomes 25.