Does Kevin Durant Get a Free Pass for Failing in the Clutch?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2013

A shot clanking off the back of the rim was the last-ditch effort for the Oklahoma City Thunder to stay alive, but the Memphis Grizzlies just did weather the comeback as Kevin Durant failed to deliver a win for his team.

It was the right shot to take. Durant may have had an open lane, but he had a free look from 16 feet, and he tends to make those in his sleep.

That shot was the imperfect end to an imperfect night for Durant, who scored just 21 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Sure, he added eight rebounds and six assists, but it was all negated thanks to seven turnovers and a horrible shooting night.

Not only was it a singular bad game, but it was a horrible way to end a series in which Durant absolutely played his brains out.

After averaging 30.8 points, 11 rebounds and 6.8 assists on 46.2 percent shooting and a 41.7 percent clip from the three-point line in the first four games, Durant left us all with questions after a flop of a Game 5.

How would the series be different if Russell Westbrook was on the floor there with him? What could have happened if Durant made just a few more shots at the end of games?

Most importantly, however, we've got to think about this series in the grand scheme of things. What does it tell us about Durant, and can we hold too much against him for failing against such a ferocious Grizzlies squad?

As far as his production "in the clutch" (defined as a game in the fourth quarter or overtime, fewer than five minutes left and neither team ahead by more than five points) is concerned, Durant was more than lackluster.

Kevin Durant is a combined 4-22 on field-goal attempts with 9 points in the 4th quarter and OT of the last 3 games.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 16, 2013

Game 1 was easily his best clutch performance of the series, scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, an assist and the go-ahead bucket in Oklahoma City's lone win.

Going forward, he scored two points on 1-of-4 shooting in Game 2, two points in a 1-of-2 performance in Game 3 (plus two missed free throws), three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4, and zero points on two misses in Game 5.

That puts him at 15 points on 7-of-20 shooting, and just 2-of-5 from the free-throw line. Shooting 35 percent in the waning minutes of a game isn't good for Tony Allen, let alone Kevin Durant.

Does that mean Durant is suddenly this un-clutch player that deserves our derision much like LeBron James early in his career? Taking it that far seems rather extreme.

For the first time since his rookie season, Durant was forced to play a game without his eternal sidekick. Put Westbrook on the court alongside Durant for these past five games and they will likely shake out differently.

That's not to say the Thunder would have easily taken control of the series, but they likely wouldn't have lost four out of five games. They've shown us what they are capable of, and Durant has shown us what he is capable of as well.

Playoffs included, Kevin Durant finishes the season with the league's 4th-highest Clutch PER (33.00). Important note for tomorrow.

— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 16, 2013

Without Westbrook, Durant faced the wrath of the Memphis defense in the final seconds with the help of a spot-up shooter, an athletic, jump-shooting big man, a 38-year-old Derek Fisher, and the Euro-steppin' Nick Collison. That's not me taking a jab at those four guys (well, it is a jab at Fisher), but rather pointing out that there was no second option for Durant to turn to.

I think this series made us realize just what type of player Durant is. It's not that he needs a team around him that can help him out in the clutch, it's that he expects the guys on the court to be what they have been over the course of the season.

A hefty portion of Durant's shots late in games came with the shot clock winding down. That isn't because he's foolishly dribbling the clock out, but rather because he's frantically trying to get his teammates involved, just as Westbrook would.

In the Thunder comeback that just fell short in Game 5, Durant didn't score a single point. They climbed out of a 10-point hole over the course of six minutes thanks to Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka, Fisher and Collison.

Durant was far from useless, dishing with four assists in that stretch with another one negated after Martin got fouled on his way to the hoop. What we witnessed wasn't necessarily just Durant failing in the clutch (which he did), but the Thunder failing as Durant trusted his teammates perhaps a bit too much.

Realize that Westbrook makes the rest of these guys better. Not because of some cliché floating around with every description of John Stockton or Magic Johnson, but just because of the fact that he gives defenses another player to worry about.  

It's been a thunderstorm in Oklahoma City since Westbrook went down after the second game of the playoffs, and they did their best to slog through it, but the rain is still pouring.

Durant: "Sometimes you've got to ride out the storms to get to the sunshine."

— Royce Young (@dailythunder) May 16, 2013

It's a disappointment sure, but this team is still the best in the Western Conference when they're healthy.

They'll be back next year (Westbrook included), ready to give it another go.


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