LOS ANGELES — Matt Barnes was getting torched. Danny Granger never had a shot. Blake Griffin couldn’t stay in front of him.
Through the first 15-plus quarters of this series, the Clippers, predictably, didn’t have an answer for Kevin Durant and his MVP antics.
So with nothing else to lose, Doc Rivers dialed up the pesky Chris Paul as a last-ditch effort to try and contain the world’s best scorer. It was a “desperate” move, as Rivers called it, sticking a 6-foot-nothing point guard on a 6-foot-11 sharpshooter.
But it’s a decision that, for now, has turned this series from virtually over to a virtual toss-up, serving as a key factor in the Clippers’ wild comeback and 101-99 win over the Thunder on Sunday afternoon. Series suddenly tied 2-2.
Early in the fourth quarter, Paul took over the unenviable assignment. L.A. was down 16 and in desperate need of a spark. Paul’s bulldog mentality and Rivers’ change of scheme gave it to them.
With Durant towering over Paul, OKC coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder continually tried to exploit the height mismatch in the mid-post. They sent him down to that right elbow, in the same spot where Durant had hit a dagger fadeaway over Paul two nights before.
But this time, Paul played him with a bit more of a frantic, disruptive style. And as he did so, Rivers dialed up a variety of double-teams from different angles. Durant struggled to adjust to the new defender and swarming scheme. He turned it over three times in the fourth, including a crucial mistake with three minutes left, and the Thunder offense stalled.
“We trapped this time,” Rivers said. “We probably should have the last time. We worked on it and we didn’t do it. Tonight, whenever he got it, we sent an extra guy.”
Brooks said: “That’s something we’ll look at in the film. Kevin was having trouble getting the catches. I’ll be able to give better information tomorrow.”
In some ways, it was a temporary reversion to the early struggles in the Memphis series. Confounded by the smaller lineup and unique matchups, OKC stagnated and settled. And with Paul playing the temporary role of Tony Allen, Durant was thrown out of kilter, his issues with smaller, quicker defenders resurfacing.
“Yesterday as a staff, we said Durant was beating us with his dribble,” Rivers said. “If you put a guard on him, you could make him more of a post-up player.”
After the game, Rivers and Paul downplayed the significance of the switch in slowing Durant and the Thunder.
“He just missed shots,” Rivers said.
“He still finished with 40 (points),” Paul said.
And Durant wasn’t having any of it either. “It doesn’t (challenge me),” he retorted when asked of the matchup. “…Didn’t do nothing. They tried to double-team.”
The effectiveness, though, was plain to see. But despite that, Rivers said Paul on Durant is not a matchup he can continually go to as this series moves forward.
“Situational,” Rivers said. “We do like it because CP’s hands, he’s pretty strong. But I don’t like it because then you’re taking a lot out of CP. That’s not a matchup we are going to live with.”
But on Sunday, it was one that kept them alive.