As the Thunder-Nuggets series finally resumes with Game 2, Wednesday night's second act inside Oklahoma City Arena will be all about adjustments.
But for Denver, which seeks to even this series before it moves to the Rocky Mountains, there appears to be only one logical strategy.
Double-teaming Kevin Durant.
In the opening game, Oklahoma City's star exploded for 41 points, a playoff career high. The Nuggets had no answer for Durant.
And they might not be able to find one.
Nuggets coach George Karl is hesitant to send multiple defenders Durant's way out of fear of putting his team in a compromising position closer to the basket. But Karl might not have a choice. Each Nuggets defender that had a shot at guarding Durant individually Sunday — Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Kenyon Martin and Raymond Felton — got lit up.
Denver's lone hope of slowing Durant seemingly lies in flooding him with added attention.
“You got to make that kid do something different,” said Martin. “He's too good at scoring the basketball.
“I would make him pass the ball. I'm not (about) to let him play one-on-one. The kid's too good. He's the two-time scoring champion. He's been playing one-on-one a long time. You can tell.”
Here's Denver's biggest problem, though. Durant has become dangerous as a playmaker. And it's now Durant's passing that could be what decides Game 2.
It's an ironic twist to a season that began with Durant drilling on the same skill that many observers figured futile. But these playoffs thus far have been about the stars shining, about Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard and LeBron James and Chris Paul carrying their teams with eye-popping performances. If the Nuggets have any chance, they'll have to stop Durant from averaging 40 in this series.
Doubling is the best way of doing that.
“Make him do the things that didn't get him drafted,” said Martin, who openly disagreed with his coach's defensive theory. “Scoring got him drafted. They didn't draft Kevin Durant because he's an excellent passer or because he's a lockdown defender. I know this for a fact. I'm not the GM here, or when they were in Seattle. But one thing I do know, that ain't why he got drafted.”
Martin is matter-of-fact in sharing his belief. To back his theory, the Nuggets' power forward points out that Durant had just two assists. Coupled with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder got 72 points and nine assists out of its All-Star duo.
“Where there's a will there's a way,” Martin said of doubling Durant. “You figure a way out. Ain't no excuses. There's no ‘can't' in this league. Can't? How do you know? You ain't tried it.
“If they got him and Westbrook on the court at the same time and (Thabo) Sefolosha and (Kendrick) Perkins and (Serge) Ibaka, make Perkins and Ibaka and Sefolosha make plays. Run somebody at these guys. We don't let Kobe play one-on-one when we play him, no matter where he is on the court. So why would you let Kevin Durant play one-one-one?”
All fair points. All arguments for which Karl is paid handsomely to lay awake a night pondering.
But Durant spent 89 games, including the preseason, grooming for moments like these. When fans and media types questioned Thunder coach Scott Brooks for trying to bring out Durant's playmaking skills, it was sensible forward-thinking to these very situations that made it all worth our while.
Now, the payoff might finally be ready to arrive.
“Teams that double team him, it's to our advantage,” Brooks said of Durant. “It's a gamble. It takes another defender away from the basket so they're playing three on four. But more importantly, KD makes passes. And I think it helps that with his length he can make passes over (power forwards) and (centers).”
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