OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant is tired of hearing about Tony Allen’s defense.
Durant scored 36 points, mostly against Allen, in Oklahoma City’s loss to Memphis in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
It wasn’t a typical Durant performance, though — he made just 12 of 28 shots, and his usual smoothness and efficiency were absent as the Grizzlies beat the Thunder 111-105 in overtime Monday night to tie the series at a win apiece.
Durant, the NBA’s scoring champion, went on the defensive Tuesday afternoon. When asked about Allen’s effort, he paused five seconds and chuckled before answering.
“He’s good,” Durant said. “He’s good at dodging screens. He’s physical. Everybody plays the same way with me, though.”
When asked about Allen a few minutes later, a more agitated Durant again paused before responding.
“It’s not like I’m just totally getting locked down,” Durant, who is averaging 34.5 points in the series, said. “He’s making it tough. It’s not like I’m just non-existent. I don’t know what you guys have been watching. He’s just making me work, like everybody else will.”
Allen has been getting on people’s nerves for years. The 10-year veteran was on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team in 2012 and 2013 and was on the second team in 2011.
Before the series began, Durant called him one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Allen gives up 5 inches to the 6-foot-9 Durant, but he makes up for it with toughness, speed, quickness, strength and unpredictability.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger said Allen executed his part of Memphis’ game plan against Durant perfectly in Game 2.
Though Durant scored his points, he never found a rhythm. Tayshaun Prince started the game, but Allen played 35 minutes and got most of the time against Durant. Joerger hopes his stopper can deliver a repeat performance Thursday in Game 3 in Memphis.
“I know it is a cliché, but you just try to make it tough, and that’s what he’s doing,” Joerger said of Allen’s performance against Durant in Game 2. “Trying to make it tough before the catch — that’s important — to make a guy uncomfortable and not get it in spots where he’s comfortable.”
Allen said he’s getting a lot of help. The bigs behind him — 7-1, 265-pound Marc Gasol and 6-9, 260-pound Zach Randolph — clog the lane and erase his mistakes. Gasol was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
“Kevin Durant is the leading scorer in the league, an All-Star, probably one of the greatest in the game right now,” Allen said.
“But it’s just a competition at the end of the day, and basically, the game is not about me. It’s about the Grizzlies coming in here and basically playing grit-and-grind basketball, holding our hat on the defensive end.”
Allen’s teammates allow him to take chances. He got a critical steal in the final minute of regulation against Durant on Monday and finished the game with four steals.
“As much as Tony is doing on the ball, which is tremendous, he also has communication behind him,” Joerger said. “Those guys are telling him: ‘I’ve got your right. I’ve got your left.’ It’s hard to play a guy like that just by yourself out there on an island, which he does a lot.”
Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins, who played with Allen in Boston, said Allen is underrated. Though Allen averages just 8.1 points per game in his career, that number doesn’t measure his value to a team.
“He don’t stop,” Perkins said. “He’s going to keep coming. He’s fast. He’s faster than what a lot of people realize. And he gets real small on screens, so if you screen him, he does a good job of getting on a guy’s hip and recovering.”
Allen is known for his willingness to play a physical style, but Joerger said there is more to his success against Durant than that.
“I wouldn’t say he is just mugging him all over the place,” Joerger said. “That’s why I said last night after the game that ‘Try to push him out to spots’ doesn’t mean a physical push. It can just be dancing sometimes.”
The Thunder say Durant will need to move more, get deeper position and be more of an attacker to counter Allen’s aggressive play. The Thunder said they could help him by improving ball movement and setting better screens.
“He’s a great defender,” Perkins said of Allen. “He doesn’t want the guy to catch the ball, so he’s going to deny, deny, deny. Once you catch it, you can go to work on him.”