Thunder Have To Be More Clutch In Crunch Time

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Despite their protests to the contrary…

“I don’t know that I agree that our offense in the last three minutes ‘bogs down.’” - Billy Donovan.

“For the most part we’ve finished games and we have one of the best teams in the league so I’m not concerned about it all.” - Kevin Durant.

Still, according to the numbers, the Thunder offense does bog down in the fourth quarter and things tend to really come off the rails in crunch time, the last five minutes of a game when neither team leads by more than five points.

It became even more noticeable after the All-Star break when the Thunder blew leads of nine, 12 and 17 points and were outscored overall in fourth quarters by 50 points. OKC was 3-12 in close games after the break but 19-8 in those kinds of games before All-Star Weekend.

Those issues are made even more baffling by the presence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, arguably two of the best five players in the world.

This season Durant was fourth in the NBA in clutch scoring with 148 points. Westbrook was 12th with 132. OKC is the only team in the league with two players in the Top 12.

Drilling down through the numbers KD and Russ took 222 shots (69 percent) of OKC’s attempts in crunch time and made 40.1 percent of them. Durant shot 50.5 percent overall in the regular season but in the last minutes of close games that percentage dropped to 41.2.

Westbrook was much the same, hitting 45.4 percent of his shots overall and 38.9 in the clutch. And Westbrook’s 3-point shooting goes from 29.6 percent to 20.0 percent in the last five minutes of tight games.

Most of that is predictable, Durant and Westbrook are going to draw double and sometimes triple coverage, especially in those late game situations.

The Thunder have a couple guys who’ve shown they may be capable of taking some of that pressure off but it’s a pretty small sample size.

Serge Ibaka’s shooting percentage in late game situations actually increases to 51.9 percent from the 47.9 percent it normally is. But Ibaka has only taken 27 shots in those situations (about a quarter of what Durant and Westbrook take). Steven Adams is hitting 50 percent late in games but has only attempted 18 shots. Enes Kanter is hitting 66.7 percent in the clutch (up from 57.6 overall) but he’s just taken six shots. And Andre Roberson has the best shooting percentage of anyone at 83.3 but he’s also only taken six shots.

The other problem the Thunder have is slowing the other team down. While OKC’s offense was getting stuck in low gear late in games after the All-Star break opponents were hitting exactly half their 3-point shots (18-for-32) and scoring a whopping 132 points per 100 possessions.

The Thunder’s combined plus/minus for their most used lineup in the closing minutes of close games (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Steven Adams and Dion Waiters) is -48 and it’s only that good because Adams is a +18. Durant is -6, Waiters -17, Westbrook -21 and Ibaka -22.

And of course let’s not forget turnovers.

“Turnovers late, that has hurt us,” Donovan admitted. “We’ve gotta be able to do a better job of playing through contact.”

According to NBA.com/stats 9.15 of OKC’s 15.48 turnovers per game came from either bad passes (6.17) or lost balls (2.98).

“There’s a lot of bumping and grinding and physicality in the last few minutes of a game and we’ve gotta play though some of those things. I think really the game gets a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging for both teams.”

And that pressure is only going to ramp up as the playoffs get rolling.