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.
All of which makes Durant 4-for-4 in the last two postseasons something north of remarkable and amazing.
“No question, guys have it and guys don't,” said Scotty Brooks. “And Kevin has it. He loves big moments.
He has it because he has the skill level, he has the ability to get where he wants to get to. And in order to really have it, you have to understand that some nights, it's not going to go for you. The ball's not going to fall in the basket.
“But you have to do it again the next time. You have to have that short-term memory also, and Kevin does have that. If you're really good, you'll probably make 45-50 percent of ‘em.”
Nope, not even close. And Memphis coach Lionel Hollins doesn't really understand the concept, either.
Hollins said all great players are clutch players, else they wouldn't be clutch players.
Hollins trotted out names like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Bob Pettit and George Mikan.
No offense, but Hollins no more knows if Mikan was a clutch player than he knows what Mikan bought his bride every Valentine's Day.
A study a couple of years ago found that Kobe, then considered the game's greatest closer, was making 28 percent of his shots in such last-possession situations. Twenty-eight percent.
The strange side of that ESPN research is not the rest of the NBA's 2-for-23. It's Durant's 4-for-4.
“That's how you build a legacy,” Fisher said. “How you become a part of the history of this game, by making those great shots.
“Kevin, only five or six years into the league, has become one of those guys we'll remember forever.”
No way, of course, that Durant can keep this up. Too hard. Defenses are too good. Basketball fate doesn't fall on your side that much.
Don't count on Durant to keep lifting the Thunder from defeat to victory as the clock ticks down. Just revel in the splendor that he's done it this much.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.