I think we can all agree that Ron Artest did a terrific job on Kevin Durant yesterday. KD went just 7-24 from the floor and took eight 3-pointers, hitting only one. He took almost all jumpers, and never looked comfortable. A lot of it had to do with some visible nerves early in the game, but most of it was because of Artest just being a pest. He was disruptive in every way, pushing, pulling and grabbing Durant around every corner.
Here are five plays Durant was stopped and on the end, one successful trip down the floor.
OK, so let’s analyze a bit. The first play:
This play happened mid-way through the second quarter, after Durant had gotten off to a slow start. After OKC had swung the ball around the perimeter trying to find an open look, it came back to Durant. If you watch the play again, notice how Artest bodies up KD. Durant couldn’t move an inch without Artest touching him. The Thunder likes to try and run Durant around screens to give him space, but Artest didn’t allow KD to move without resistance. So the ball comes back to KD and with the shot clock running down, Nick Collison comes to set a pick. Artest does a smart thing making Durant use the pick and thus funneling KD right to a waiting Andrew Bynum. But look how much attention there is on Durant. Kobe is roaming, waiting to help. And even Derek Fisher has sagged into the lane waiting to step up if Durant gets to the rim.
Here, the Lakers get busted for a defensive three seconds, but I wanted to include it to try and illustrate, how tightly Artest glued himself to KD’s side. OKC loves to try and free Durant by running him off a “faux” screen and then trying to bust an unsuspecting defender with a good hard pick on the curl. You see Jeff Green give a small shiver just to rub Artest off and give Durant a little space to run. KD comes all the way around and tries to run off a Krstic pick. It’s not that great and Durant catches the ball a few steps behind the 3-point line. The set isn’t bad because with Durant on the wing, he’s iso’d on Artest and Krstic has spaced the floor well. But notice how Kobe is again just playing rover. He gets caught for a three-second violation, but because Thabo is no threat, KD essentially had a second man shadowing him the entire game.
I thought this might have been the worst offensive set in the game. OKC goes with some kind of double, back-to-back post here with Collison receiving the ball just steps away from a posting Durant. We’ve seen OKC run this before where Nick pivots and feeds Durant on the block. So why does this one look so messed up? Because Artest has moved KD off the block and well out away from the lane. So as a result, KD is standing right next to Collison. Therefore, everything is blown up, Westbrook has to come get the ball and even still, OKC can’t get the ball to KD because of an excellent hedge by Lamar Odom. The ball ends up with Harden on the wing who is indecisiveness and hesitant and ends up virtually throwing it away. Just a real cluster.
Another excellent job by the Laker defense funneling KD into trouble. A really good screen by Ibaka gets Durant the ball with room to operate. Finally, a little air from Artest and his nasty hair. Collison comes and sets another pick on Artest, and KD tries to go at the rim. Artest does an excellent job getting through the pick and then Bynum steps up as Artest recovers. Just excellent help defense. And you’ll notice again, a third Laker (Kobe) is hovering nearby for extra help.
Just a case of KD settling a bit. There’s a lot of time on the 24, and he tosses up a deep 3. Now I almost don’t blame him. He got a good screen from Collison and for once, had some breathing room and a good look. So he took it. Normally, I have no problem with this shot and really here, I still don’t. But it just felt forced a bit. If he knocks it down, then it’s a great pull and a big shot to get both him and the team going. But since he missed it, it just seemed like a force.
I wanted to put this one in on the end, because it’s a good example of Durant catching the ball in an area he could work with. Artest doesn’t force him off the block and KD gets a clean catch. The help defense is slow and KD gets into the lane with ease and knocks down a fairly routine jumper. This a way we’ve become accustomed to seeing Durant score. He got the ball in space and used his height and length to gain a little distance for a clean look. There was no Andrew Bynum running at Durant for a challenge and Pau Gasol was late helping. More of this please.
I don’t think it’s back to the drawing board time for OKC. These are sets the Thunder has used all season and KD led the league in scoring using them. There’s nothing brilliant or innovative about them. Most of them rely on Kevin Durant being awesome at basketball, which most of the time he is. He’s great because he can hit tough shots over anyone, and if he makes three or four of those, he’s got a great game in his pocket and OKC is right in it. So I don’t expect much to change, but the Thunder need to be a little more conscious with the screens for Durant and also KD needs to be aggressive at the basket and not settle for easy jumpers.