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.
Only 10 of Durant's 33 shots in the fourth quarters and overtime in this series have come from within nine feet. It's a credit to a stingy and disciplined Grizzlies defense. Memphis has made Durant play in a crowd and see multiple defenders each time he catches the ball and thinks about making a move.
But there also is a key difference between Game 1 and the last three contests.
Since Game 2, the Grizzlies have assigned their best perimeter defender to Durant for the majority of the final nine minutes. Contrary to what Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was selling after Game 1, when he played his pit bull only 1 minute, 24 seconds in the fourth quarter, Allen can indeed still contain Durant.
In the last three games, Durant has shot 40.5 percent with Allen on the floor and 52 percent with him on the bench.
“He's a good defender, but they're team, they do a great job,” Durant said. “They're not going to let me play one-on-one with anybody. But he's tough because he's small and he gets up under you and he's good at contesting shots.”
Allen is excelling at denying Durant the ball by crowding him and making the catches he does receive originate from farther out. With blazing quick hands, Allen also is either coming up with steals or deflections on entry passes or reaching in to disrupt Durant's rhythm as he goes into his move.
But Durant is right. The Grizzlies are gearing their entire team defense toward stopping him. When it's not Allen glued to Durant, it's forward Tayshaun Prince, who isn't as physical but is using his length to contest Durant's shots like few can.
Additionally, when Durant receives a ball screen at the top of the floor, Memphis' secondary defender, generally Zach Randolph, is flat out ignoring the screener and sticking with Durant to force him to pass.
If Durant is able to beat what then amounts to a double team off the dribble, a wall of defenders, led by Marc Gasol, the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, are waiting in the paint to contest shots or draw a charge. This played out with 39 seconds remaining in Game 3, when the Thunder trailed by four and Durant drove by Allen and a retreating Prince before getting the benefit of the doubt on a bang-bang blocking call on Gasol.
The most worrisome part of it all is that the Grizzlies' defense on Durant doesn't appear to be a fluke. Not only has Durant been ineffective down the stretch for three straight games, but he also turned in a similarly stale performance in the same situation back in the final regular-season contest against the Grizzlies.
OKC lost by one in overtime on March 20 in large part because Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime scored just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting with two assists.
Two months later, history is repeating itself.
And without Westbrook around to alleviate some pressure, the Grizzlies' late-game defense on Durant has become the Thunder's latest and greatest problem.
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.