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Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s greatest closer

The fourth quarter is Kawhi time.

Kawhi Leonard looks on during an NBA game.
Kawhi is the king of the fourth quarter.

With the game on the line, there’s no one in the NBA better than Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard’s clutch scoring carried the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship last season, and he’s picking up where he left off as he’s moved to the Los Angeles Clippers. Leonard leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring so far this season. The formula for the Clippers is obvious: keep the game close until the end so Leonard can take over.

Leonard put together another masterful fourth-quarter performance on Thursday to lead Los Angeles to a 107-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland was ahead by six points going into the final frame, but Leonard powered another comeback to give his team the win.

Leonard went off for 18 points in the fourth against the Blazers, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and making all six of his attempts from the free-throw line. He also played an instrumental role on the defensive end in helping hold Portland stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum without a field goal in the fourth quarter.

It was the third straight game Leonard had scored at least 15 points in the fourth quarter, and the fourth straight game LA won with Leonard in the lineup.

Leonard is averaging 13.5 points per game in the fourth quarter of games this season on tremendous efficiency. No other player in the league is scoring double-digit points in the fourth quarter. Last season, no player averaged more than LeBron James’ 8.6 points per game in the fourth quarter.

Leonard is clearly on a different level this season. There’s no better closer in the game today.

Leonard is the king of clutch in the NBA

Leonard hasn’t been on the Clippers for long, but he’s already made a habit of taking over games in the final frame to will his team to victory.

On Nov. 3 against the Jazz, the Clippers trailed by four points going into fourth quarter before erupting to score 40 as a team in the final frame to secure the win. Leonard led the way with 18 of those points on 5-of-11 shooting. He was unstoppable going to the basket.

Three nights earlier, Leonard also led the Clippers to a fourth-quarter win, this time against his former squad, the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the fourth to keep the Spurs’ comeback at bay.

He finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists on the night.

The greatest fourth-quarter moment of Leonard’s career might have last in the playoffs last season. Who could forget his impossible buzzer-beater in Game 7 against the 76ers?

Why is Leonard so clutch?

We’ll present three reasons:

  • Load management. Leonard is at the center of the NBA’s biggest ongoing controversy for “load management” — a fancy term that essentially means giving him a night off for rest. Last season, Leonard played only 60 regular-season games for Toronto before leading the Raptors to a championship. He’s already rested a few times this season for the Clippers, and they have been fined for it. LA is keeping Leonard fresh for the playoffs, but the added rest could also help him perform his best late in games.
  • Leonard is an amazing mid-range shooter. The mid-range jump shot is supposed to be dead, but no one is better at it than Leonard. In the 2019 playoffs, Leonard made 50.8 percent of his shots from 16 feet to the three-point line, way above league average. So far this season, he’s shooting 52 percent from the same area. Defenses want to surrender long two-point shots because they are the least efficient in the game, but Leonard is uniquely good at making them. It’s part of what he’s so hard to defend late.
  • Leonard gets to the free-throw line at will. He is in the top-five in free-throw attempts per game in the fourth quarter. He also hasn’t missed a free throw in the fourth quarter for his first seven games this season. Leonard is money from the line.

Don’t expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Leonard is amazing every minute he’s on the floor, but he’s particularly good in crunch-time.