Every coach, before every game spits the same message when it comes to defending Kevin Durant. It goes something like, “You can’t stop him. You can just try to make him work for his points.”
Almost every night, that’s lip service as Durant toasts the opposing team with an effortless 32 on 17 shots. But Tony Allen? He’s making KD work.
Durant had 36 in Game 2 against the Grizzlies, but it came on a labored, difficult 12-28 shooting night where Allen hounded every catch, pushed him through screens, denied the ball everywhere and got under him make it tough to handle even 30 feet from the basket. Scott Brooks talked postgame last night about “getting their hands off him” which is his way of criticizing the officiating for letting Allen be too handsy, but it’s not a foul unless the whistle blows.
Allen is an elite defender, but still, he’s giving up six inches to Durant. So how is this working?
Mike Prada of SB Nation has a great breakdown, as does Anthony Slater, and here’s the gist of both: Allen is doing his work early every possession, paying attention to the details of how and where Durant catches the ball. One thing you’ll notice, and this blew up a late Thunder possession when Westbrook chucked that isolation 3, is Allen’s ball denial has made OKC’s entry passes hesitant. Durant was supposed to catch off the screen, but they didn’t get it so he came up to set a ball screen for Westbrook, but there was confusion and Westbrook picked up his dribble.
There’s a lot of double-clutching and pump faking, all while the 24-second clock winds out and the timing and rhythm gets completely ripped apart. Westbrook often couldn’t get Durant the ball off a good screen because he was trying to be extra secure with the ball and make sure Allen wasn’t going to jump the pass.
The Thunder are in a difficult position with their options, because none of them are a perfect counter to Allen. But there are a few.
1) They could post Durant on Allen, trying to utilize his size. Problem there is that it will almost assuredly invite a double from Marc Gasol off of Perk, and even with KD’s height, passing out of trap that includes the 7-1 Gasol and Allen’s great hands isn’t easy.
2) They could have Durant bring the ball up the floor, initiating offense on his own. This would solve the ball denial issue Allen is creating, but it also sort of uses the Thunder’s offensive weakness against itself. Now they’re more iso heavy and one-dimensional, and that’s a bigger burden to place on Durant.
3) Go back to 2010’s offense. Run Durant off screens all over the place. Pindowns, down screens, curls — you name it. Attach Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Nick Collison to Durant at all times and use them to try and pick Allen off to give Durant enough space.
4) Initiate offense with a Westbrook-Durant pick-and-roll, then bring a big from the weakside to the high post for a swing option. Preferably Collison, because he’s such a good passer. Or let Durant handle, with Ibaka as his pick-and-roll partner. The problem with the latter, is you essentially turn Westbrook into a spot-up guy, which isn’t ideal.
5) Assume Durant will just be awesome and figure it out himself by being awesome. (Scott Brooks is probably circling this one right now.)
It’s not that Allen has solved how to guard Durant — because again, he still got 36 and missed some good looks he probably should’ve made — but it’s that his bulldog tenacity is disrupting the Thunder’s offensive rhythm. Instead of Durant getting an easy catch and going into a move or making the next pass or whatever, it’s all a challenge. There’s a lot of hesitating, a lot of waiting, a lot of catching the ball six feet further out than you’re supposed to.
Durant is very capable of curing this problem on his own, just by being that damn good. He can shake free of Allen, shoot over him, make contested shots, and beat him off the dribble. But that’s not a good plan. This has always been a problem with both the Thunder’s personnel as well as Scott Brooks’ offensive structure, but the Thunder need to be more inclusive. Centering a set almost entirely around getting No. 35 the ball to let him do things is not a great plan when you’ve got a guy like Allen on the other side. Having Westbrook back seemed like it would fix a lot of that, but what it’s also done is there’s a little less balance and trust within OKC’s offense now. The Grizzlies are more than capable of adapting and making it 2-on-5.
But here’s some good news: The Thunder just about won the game regardless of these problems. Durant’s hasn’t had to work like that at any point this season, and yet had they grabbed one extra loose ball, not lost Zach Randolph with 26 seconds left, not had a travel from Ibaka, or just made a couple more of those wide open 3s, they would’ve survived despite the glaring issue.
Still, that’s not an excuse not to adjust.