'Kid Clutch' is struggling in crunch time

OKC THUNDER — Memphis has taken a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals by shutting down Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 14, 2013

Only 10 of Durant's 33 shots in the fourth quarters and overtime in this series have come from within nine feet. It's a credit to a stingy and disciplined Grizzlies defense. Memphis has made Durant play in a crowd and see multiple defenders each time he catches the ball and thinks about making a move.

But there also is a key difference between Game 1 and the last three contests.

Tony Allen.

Since Game 2, the Grizzlies have assigned their best perimeter defender to Durant for the majority of the final nine minutes. Contrary to what Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was selling after Game 1, when he played his pit bull only 1 minute, 24 seconds in the fourth quarter, Allen can indeed still contain Durant.

In the last three games, Durant has shot 40.5 percent with Allen on the floor and 52 percent with him on the bench.

“He's a good defender, but they're team, they do a great job,” Durant said. “They're not going to let me play one-on-one with anybody. But he's tough because he's small and he gets up under you and he's good at contesting shots.”

Allen is excelling at denying Durant the ball by crowding him and making the catches he does receive originate from farther out. With blazing quick hands, Allen also is either coming up with steals or deflections on entry passes or reaching in to disrupt Durant's rhythm as he goes into his move.

But Durant is right. The Grizzlies are gearing their entire team defense toward stopping him. When it's not Allen glued to Durant, it's forward Tayshaun Prince, who isn't as physical but is using his length to contest Durant's shots like few can.

Additionally, when Durant receives a ball screen at the top of the floor, Memphis' secondary defender, generally Zach Randolph, is flat out ignoring the screener and sticking with Durant to force him to pass.

If Durant is able to beat what then amounts to a double team off the dribble, a wall of defenders, led by Marc Gasol, the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, are waiting in the paint to contest shots or draw a charge. This played out with 39 seconds remaining in Game 3, when the Thunder trailed by four and Durant drove by Allen and a retreating Prince before getting the benefit of the doubt on a bang-bang blocking call on Gasol.

The most worrisome part of it all is that the Grizzlies' defense on Durant doesn't appear to be a fluke. Not only has Durant been ineffective down the stretch for three straight games, but he also turned in a similarly stale performance in the same situation back in the final regular-season contest against the Grizzlies.

OKC lost by one in overtime on March 20 in large part because Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime scored just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting with two assists.

Two months later, history is repeating itself.

And without Westbrook around to alleviate some pressure, the Grizzlies' late-game defense on Durant has become the Thunder's latest and greatest problem.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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Thunder vs. Grizzlies

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena

TV: TNT (Cox 31/HD 722, DirecTV 245, Dish 138, U-Verse 108/HD 1108).

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

Three things to know

* After winning Game 1, the Thunder has lost three straight.

* In Monday night's Game 4 overtime loss at Memphis, the Thunder scored just three points on 1-for-8 shooting in the overtime period.

* Only eight of 194 teams in NBA playoff history that have been down 3-1 have advanced.

Projected starters

Thunder (1-3)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Reggie Jackson;6-3;13.7;4.5;3.5

G;Thabo Sefolosha;6-7;5.8;4.5;2.1

F;Kevin Durant;6-9;31.8;9.1;6.3

F;Serge Ibaka;6-10;12.4;8.4;0.8

C;Kendrick Perkins;6-10;2.2;3.8;0.7

Grizzlies (3-1)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Mike Conley;6-1;18.1;4.6;7.3

G;Tony Allen;6-4;11.1;6.1;1.6

F;Tayshaun Prince;6-9;7.4;4.3;2.5

F;Zach Randolph;6-9;18.9;8.8;1.9

C;Marc Gasol;7-1;19.1;8.0;3.2

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