TORONTO — Lost in the non-stop national nitpicking of Kevin Durant’s defense is another player whose performance on the defensive end could be even more problematic for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That player is Jeff Green, who has had more than his share of highs and lows this season. But it’s one recent four-game stretch in particular that raises the question of whether his defense could eventually pose a problem in the postseason.
In consecutive games against Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento and New Orleans, Green struggled to defend Carmelo Anthony, Craig Smith, Carl Landry and David West. At the time, Green’s performance could be overlooked because the Thunder went 3-1 in those games and had won 12 of 15.
But with the stakes soaring higher as the season winds to an end, it seems Green’s efforts will be the key to the Thunder’s fate from here out and into the postseason. Oklahoma City has built its season on defense, and the next chance for Green to prove he can put the clamps on a premier frontcourt player comes tonight when the Thunder takes on Toronto at 6 inside Air Canada Centre.
"Our other four guys on the floor have to help him out because you can’t guard a guy one-on-one in this league,” said Durant. "Nobody can. You might be able to do it for a couple of possessions, but you can’t do it every night, especially great players like the guys he’s guarding.”
Durant’s analysis of the situation echoes the sentiments of Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who, rather than criticizing Green, chose to condemn the team’s help.
"I tell Jeff like I tell the other guys, it’s our defense that’s getting scored on,” Brooks said. "One of the strengths of our team defensively is that when we see a problem we make the adjustment.”
Green, though, is the only one who isn’t making excuses. He knows the Thunder likely wouldn’t have gotten blown out of Denver had Anthony not scored 15 of his game-high 30 points against him in the opening quarter. Two nights later, Smith, a role-playing reserve for the Clippers, had 19 points and seven rebounds off the bench.