Kevin Durant Has Officially Surpassed Kobe Bryant as NBA's Best Closer

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2013

There is no greater offensive force in the NBA today than Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.

What makes him such a migraine-inducing matchup, though, are his unwavering fourth-quarter performances.

Clutch scoring is cautiously observed by NBA analysts. While the league's elite talents dominate the fourth-quarter scoring leaders, they also have a tendency to dominate the shooting responsibilities in late-game situations.

Durant doesn't lack for crunch-time opportunities, but the way he converts those chances is unmatched by his NBA contemporaries.

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Durant leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring with 8.8 points.

Taken on its own, that figure is impressive. Only seven other players average better than 5.5 per game in the fourth quarter, and just two of them (Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony) average more than 6.6.

Considering that the 24-year-old has owned the scoring title in each of the past three seasons, it's hardly a shock that he'd lead in this category.

But the cold-blooded efficiency he's saved for the game's final period has been something to behold.

Durant is already well on his way to becoming just the sixth player in league history to join ultra the ultra exclusive 50-40-90 club. His numbers have surpassed video game levels: 51.9 field-goal percentage, 41.3 three-point percentage and 91.0 free-throw percentage.

But here's what makes his campaign so unbelievable—he's posted nearly identical numbers in his fourth-quarter performances. On the season, he's hit 49.8 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep and 90.1 percent at line in the final 12 minutes of regulation.

With Durant's size, stroke and in-the-gym range, he's the league's ultimate closer.

He can create his shot from anywhere on the court, in any situation. He has a solid first step and can pull up before defenders have time to recover. If defenders opt to smother him, he has the speed to blow past them and the athleticism to finish those drives at the rim. Even when defenders play him well, a devastating step-back jumper can give him all the space he needs to flash that feathery soft touch.

On those rare nights when he isn't shooting well, he has the smarts to work his way to the line. Free-throw trips for Durant are as close to being guaranteed two points as a free path to the basket. Others buckle under the pressure of late-game free throws; he thrives in it.

And there's something else brewing in Durant's game that could elevate him among the league's all-time greatest closers.

It's something he may have picked up from his workout buddy, LeBron James.

Durant has been an offensive force since first stepping foot in an NBA arena in 2007. But the defensive evolution he's undertaken this season has made him a viable threat to close games on either end of the floor.

Those same qualities that make him such a scoring threat (instincts, length, quickness) have afforded him a growing defensive highlight reel.

No matter what that league-leading plus-8.54 scoring differential may suggest, the Thunder won't waltz their way to an NBA championship.

The postseason brings out the ugliest aspects of basketball. It's a bruising, physical style of play. Close games aren't predictable, they're expected.

And that has Thunder fans entertaining championship thoughts as the regular season moves past its midway point.

Durant is the type of offensive assassin who produces even in those intimidating playoff contests.

As the moment grows greater, so does the game of the NBA's new greatest closer.