Kevin Durant doesn't care for the nickname “Kid Clutch.”
“I'm not a kid,” he said recently.
But clutch? Well, there's just no disputing that.
In 4 1/2 seasons, Durant has evolved into one of the most lethal crunchtime scorers in the NBA. According to 82games.com, Durant's 53.4 points per 48 minutes of clutch time rank second behind only Philadelphia guard Louis Williams' 55.9 this season.
Clutch time is defined as the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining and neither team ahead by more than five points.
“We've been in so many situations throughout the years of closing games out that he's figured out a way to find a spot on the floor where he wants to score,” said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
But Thunder fans, of course, know Durant wasn't always this deadly. There was a time when many questioned whether Durant was clutch. Back then, Durant misfired on many last-second shots, leading some to question if he was the team's go-to guy.
Data detailed just how much Durant struggled then and how he's developed since. In 2008-09, the Thunder's first season in Oklahoma City, Durant ranked 33rd in the NBA in points per 48 clutch-time minutes. In 135 clutch-time minutes, Durant had an overall plus-minus of minus-25. A year later, Durant improved his ranking to 14th but still had an overall plus minus of minus-23 in 185 total minutes.
Durant didn't truly arrive as a big-shot maker, according to statistical data, until last season, when he produced 44.2 points per 48 clutch-time minutes and generated a positive plus-minus for the first time at plus-20 in 211 total minutes (see chart).
“I just think Kevin is improving,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's a worker. He's a talented young man that's going to get better. And making shots in this league is not easy. The great players make it look easy … But it takes a lot to make shots in this league. And Kevin has the ability to make shots, and he has the ability to help his teammates make shots.”
Durant came to Oklahoma City with very little late-game experience. “In high school, we were always really good so I really didn't have to,” Durant said of hitting big shots. “Either we lost by 10 points or we won by 30 points.” In his lone season at Texas, Durant's first big shot came 29 games into his 35-game college career. And in his rookie season in Seattle, the Sonics won only 20 games and lost by a league-worst 8.8 points per game.
Now, Durant confidently can say that clutch gene is real and it does indeed run through his veins.
“I think you do have it,” Durant said. “It's not overrated. I think knowing the importance of a basketball game and wanting to win every single game, especially late in the game, is what you dream about doing.”
And Durant has done plenty of it lately.
“You don't take it for granted,” said reserve guard Royal Ivey. “Big shots take a lot of confidence. He put in the work so he deserves to take those shots. He's ready and he wants to take those shots. It's a joy when it goes in.
“He's a big-time player. He's clutch and he's shown it.”
WHAT THEY REMEMBER
We asked Kevin Durant's teammates and coaches to share their favorite big shot from No. 35.
Russell Westbrook: “The recent one. At home against Dallas. It was definitely the biggest shot because they just hit a big one with about one to two seconds remaining. It was a tough shot. I liked the confidence he had in taking the shot. During the timeout, he wanted the ball to close the game. And he does a good job of finishing games out.”
Royal Ivey: “Last year against the Knicks. That was the biggest one. They were struggling, and they were trying to get a win. They were up, too, at the time. He was going for the jugular. He stepped up and waited for the time to expire and pulled the trigger. It's been a few, but the Knicks was definitely my favorite. Hometown. Everybody was talking about it, and he just stepped up and hit 'em with the dagger.”
Scott Brooks: “I don't have a favorite. There are so many. I love the kid. I love what he's about. I love that he cares about doing the right things. I love that he cares about winning. I don't have a favorite moment or shot. I just know that the kid is a special kid and that he's going to keep getting better because of the time that he puts into it.”
Kendrick Perkins: “It's got to be the Dallas game. He was the guy that actually came into the huddle and called out, ‘Don't switch on the pick-and-rolls. Don't give 'em no 3s.' And then Vince Carter hit the 3. And then he came back in the huddle and said, ‘Give me the ball.' And we gave him the ball and he did something with it. So that was definitely the biggest shot, I think. And just the distance. He shot it with his normal shooting touch, and the range he had on it I thought went a long way in how it ended. And it was actually a game-winner. He left no time on the clock so it was a big-time shot.”