On Wednesday, March 19th, the San Antonio Spurs, the best team in the Western Conference, faced the Los Angeles Lakers, the conference’s worst team. Blow Out City, right? Yes. But it took a while. The Spurs entered the final stanza ahead, but only by five points, which quickly became three as the Lakers scored the first basket of the fourth quarter. Then the Spurs did what the Spurs do – they scored and scored and scored some more – outscoring the Lakers 33-22 in the contest’s last 12 minutes, as they got baskets from nine players, with Kawhi Leonard pacing the way with seven. The team’s leading scorer for the game, Tony Parker, tallied only four of his 25 points in the fourth. The games’ final tally: San Antonio 125, Los Angeles 109. The win was the 11th straight for San Antonio and the team improved to 40-1 when entering the fourth quarter with a lead.
The way the game played out in the last 12 minutes should not be a surprise. The Spurs are the NBA’s top scoring team in the fourth quarter, averaging 27.1 points on .502 shooting from the field. Additionally, the Spurs also pace the league with an average of 6.2 assists in the fourth. What San Antonio does not have, however, is the NBA’s top fourth-quarter scorer. Heck, it doesn’t even have one of the top 10! Parker – he ranks 12th in that category, by the way -- leads the Spurs with 5.7 points in the fourth, with four other Spurs averaging at least 3.0 points. Alas, most teams, even the really good ones, have the luxury of spreading the offensive wealth like the Spurs. With further ado, here the NBA’s top 10 scoring players in the fourth quarter.
9 Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks, 4th quarter scoring average: 5.9 points
The league’s second-leading scorer at 28.1 ppg, isn’t his best in the fourth. Carmelo Anthony is shooting over 45% from the field on the season, but only 38.1% in the fourth. Anthony’s also only managed to record 26 total assists in 54 fourth quarters this season while turning the ball over 33 times. That said, the Knicks’ first, second and third option does manage 6.0 points while averaging 8.7 minutes in the game’s final quarter. And during the Knicks current win streak, Anthony is averaging 7.3 points in the fourth while shooting .500 from the field. Perhaps most importantly, considering how often the ball is in his hands, Anthony is committing only 0.5 turnovers during the fourth.
T7. Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.1 points
Nick Young is tied for first in fourth quarter minutes, averaging 10.1, despite not starting. During his time on the floor in the fourth, he attempts 4.5 shots and averages 6.1 points. That’s the good news. The bad is that he makes fewer than two baskets in the frame, shooting .398, and averages less than half an assist (0.4). Young, currently out with a knee injury, has been one of the NBA’s best sixth men, hitting the 20-point mark in 14 of his last 26 games. As a reserve, Young is averaging 17.8 points, which ranks first among players who have come off the bench at least 20 times.
8 T7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.1 points
7 T7. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.1 points
Some players are just clutch. Not only does Irving step it up in the fourth, he keeps the engine running in overtime, too. The highest scoring point guard in the Eastern Conference at 21.2 points per game, also has scored a league-high 44 points in overtime this season -- his 8.0 ppg in overtime ranks second in the league. His 12 points in the second overtime on Dec. 26th versus Atlanta was one point shy of tying the most points scored in a single overtime in franchise history. We’re talking fourth quarter, however, so … against the Wizards on Nov. 20th, Irving scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, the third highest scoring fourth quarter of his career. In the 2013-14 season, Irving has scored at least 10 points in 12 fourth quarters.
6 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.2 points
Like his Draft classmate Anthony Davis, it hasn’t taken Lillard long to acclimate to the pressures of the NBA. Lillard, who ranks third in the league in made three-pointers, is not shy about launching from distance. He averages 9.2 minutes in the fourth quarter and manages to hoist up 4.5 shots, 2.3 of them from beyond the arc. His fourth quarter accuracy from three-point territory of .377 is slightly off his game percentage of .391, while his 0.9 makes on trey attempts is tied for the league-high. Equally impressive, considering Portland has one of the league’s most dominant big men in LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard’s usage percentage -- the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor – in the fourth quarter is 28.1 percent compared with Aldridge’s 30.0 percent.
5 LeBron James, Miami Heat, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.5 points
One generally feels a bout of cognitive dissonance when seeing James, who had netted, through games played March 21, double-figure points in 558 consecutive games, the fourth-longest such streak in NBA history, this far down any scoring list, but we are talking about the league’s most well-rounded player. So, not very surprisingly, James averages fewer shots in the fourth (3.9) than everyone on this list other than Davis (3.7); yet, King James manages to score 6.5 points on a nightly basis. Making more than half his attempts -- .527 – certainly helps, and averaging more than two free throw attempts and almost two makes doesn’t hurt either. And did we mention James has a fairly well-rounded game? He also contributes, on average, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in the fourth.
4 T3. Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.7
3 T3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.7
The Golden State Warriors have played in 22 games that have been decided by four or fewer points, more than any team in the NBA. So, Stephen Curry’s 6.7 point-average in the fourth quarter matters. Last week, the Warriors scored a five-point victory over the lowly Milwaukee Bucks; however, entering the fourth, Golden State’s lead stood at three points. In that game, Curry tallied 31 points and 11 assists -- his 12th career 30-point/10-assist game and league-leading seventh such game this season. Golden State’s offense in the final stanza was all Curry, all the time. He recorded 14 of his team’s 33 points, making three of five field goal attempts and nailing all seven of his free throws.
2 James Harden, Houston Rockets, 4th quarter scoring average: 6.9
1 Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, 4th quarter scoring average: 7.6
Durant’s spot on this list should surprise no one. Scoring often is what he does – early, late whenever. Take last Friday for example. After registering 51 points, including the game-winning three-point field goal with 1.6 seconds remaining in double OT in Toronto. Durant has scored 25 or more points in the last 34 straight games, the most since Michael Jordan strung together 40 straight games during the 1986-87 season. In the fourth quarter Friday, Durant played all 12 minutes and registered half of his team’s 24 points, making four of eight shots including two of three three-point attempts. For good measure, he assisted on three of the Thunder’s other four field goals. The Thunder owns the leagues’ second best road mark with Durant’s fourth quarter numbers away from home – 8.0 ppg and 2.1 rpg – trump his averages at Chesapeake Energy Arena – 7.3 ppg and 1.8 rpg.