'Kid Clutch' is struggling in crunch time

OKC THUNDER — Memphis has taken a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals by shutting down Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 14, 2013

Suddenly, the Thunder has a new issue.

And, no, this latest problem is not a natural sign of the team's progress.

It's more like Oklahoma City's leading cause for concern.

Already saddled by fundamental flaws such as turnovers, rebounding and an inability to knock down open shots, the Thunder must now attempt to erase a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series deficit to the Memphis Grizzlies while its star player is disappearing down the stretch.

For as much as Kevin Durant has done to carry the Thunder in the absence of Russell Westbrook, he simply hasn't been the closer his team needs him to be.

Durant's production has dipped in the final period in each of the past three games, culminating with a scoreless overtime session in Monday night's Game 5. As Durant struggled, missing all five of his field-goal attempts in the extra period, so did his team. The Thunder went 1-for-8 in overtime and was outscored 9-3 before walking out on the wrong end of a pivotal six-point decision.

Now, with the Thunder on the brink of elimination entering Wednesday's Game 5 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, little else seems to matter more than Durant reverting to the clutch performer he's established himself to be.

In this scintillating series with the Grizzlies, Durant has averaged 30.8 points, 11 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.5 steals and one blocked shot while playing 45.1 minutes and shooting 46.2 percent. But those numbers belie Durant's effectiveness in the closing minutes. And thanks to three straight losses, the last time he rose to the occasion feels like many moons ago, though it's been only 10 days since Durant's late dominance in Game 1.

In the fourth quarter and overtime since Game 2, Durant is averaging just 5.6 points on 29.2 percent shooting. He's averaged only one assist over that span.

On Monday night, Durant scored a mere five points on 2-for-13 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime. In Game 3, Durant scored just two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the fourth quarter of another six-point defeat, making him 3-for-17 in the fourth quarter and overtime over the past two games.

The final five minutes have been more horrendous.

In this series, Durant has averaged only 3.3 points while shooting just 35.3 percent in crunch time, or the last five minutes when neither team is ahead by more than five points.

In the last three games, Durant's numbers in that window have dipped to 1.7 points per game on 16.7 percent shooting.

Worse, during crunch time, Durant has gotten to the free-throw line only four times in this series.

Many think Durant's mounting minutes are taking a toll.

“He is playing a lot of minutes,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But he has to. He has to play, and he can handle them. But he has to be able to manage through. But he's been carrying this team very well. He's putting us in positions to win every single game.”

But not delivering.

Several factors are contributing to the disappointing results, starting with Durant not getting many easy shots.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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Thunder vs. Grizzlies

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena

TV: TNT (Cox 31/HD 722, DirecTV 245, Dish 138, U-Verse 108/HD 1108).

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

Three things to know

* After winning Game 1, the Thunder has lost three straight.

* In Monday night's Game 4 overtime loss at Memphis, the Thunder scored just three points on 1-for-8 shooting in the overtime period.

* Only eight of 194 teams in NBA playoff history that have been down 3-1 have advanced.

Projected starters

Thunder (1-3)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Reggie Jackson;6-3;13.7;4.5;3.5

G;Thabo Sefolosha;6-7;5.8;4.5;2.1

F;Kevin Durant;6-9;31.8;9.1;6.3

F;Serge Ibaka;6-10;12.4;8.4;0.8

C;Kendrick Perkins;6-10;2.2;3.8;0.7

Grizzlies (3-1)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Mike Conley;6-1;18.1;4.6;7.3

G;Tony Allen;6-4;11.1;6.1;1.6

F;Tayshaun Prince;6-9;7.4;4.3;2.5

F;Zach Randolph;6-9;18.9;8.8;1.9

C;Marc Gasol;7-1;19.1;8.0;3.2

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