Since he entered the league and established himself as a premier scorer, Thunder star Kevin Durant has faced unique defensive gameplans and near-constant double-teams.
But nothing likely compares to the second-round series against Memphis last season.
Russell Westbrook was sidelined, and then-Memphis coach Lionel Hollins cooked up an all-hands-on-deck storm to counter Durant’s one-man offensive show. Pressure came from everywhere. Help came from nowhere.
Durant still got his numbers — a 29-point average in the five games — but it was done in a tiring and inefficient way.
For the series, Durant shot 42 percent. In the four losses, he shot 39 percent. In the elimination game, he went 5-of-21.
And his struggles were particularly evident down the stretch. He averaged 46 minutes per game in the series, playing all 48 in the final two. And his late-game productivity suffered from it.
In the last three losses, Durant went a combined 4-of-22 in the fourth quarters, scoring only nine points.
“I gave it all I had for my team,” a clearly exasperated Durant said upon elimination. “I left it all out on the floor.”
It was his — and the Thunder’s — first taste of life without Westbrook. And with only one established perimeter threat, Memphis was able to sic Tony Allen on Durant and ratchet up the stress level behind him. Hands, arms, tipped passes, turnovers, missed shots. OKC averaged 89.6 points in the series and never shot better than 43 percent.
But from those struggles emerged a better Durant. He came back this season as a noticeably improved playmaker, identifying double-teams earlier and picking apart overloaded defenses far easier.
In 2013-14 — his best season to date — Durant averaged 5.5 assists, nearly a full assist better than his previous career-high.
“A lot of it has to do with his experiences of seeing it,” Brooks said of Durant’s improvement against unique defensive looks. “And a lot of it has to do with his skill level.”
This time around, Durant will likely get a somewhat similar treatment. Tayshaun Prince will start on him, Allen will get a crack at it and the weak-side pressure will be plentiful.
But Durant’s improved vision and Westbrook’s return to the lineup present new challenges for the Grizzlies. In the 57 minutes Westbrook played against Memphis this season, the Thunder averaged 130.4 points per 100 possessions. Small sample size, but an extremely proficient scoring rate.
Westbrook provides another on-court distraction and alleviates pressure. For stretches, Allen will be tasked with slowing him, meaning less time for the defensive menace to be in Durant’s grill.
All year-later developments that would seem to favor the Thunder.
But is it enough to flip the series result? We’ll see.
Kevin Durant’s career stats against Tony Allen teams
28.1 points per game
48 percent shooting
27 percent from three
43 percent shooting
34 percent from three
Durant’s three best games against Allen
3. January 8, 2011 – For the first and only time against a Tony Allen led defense, Durant hit the 40-point mark. In OKC’s 109-100 midseason win, Durant was efficient (13-of-24 shooting) and aggressive (13-of-14 from the line), flustering Allen (four fouls in 18 minutes) and Rudy Gay (fouled out) all night.
2. May 5, 2013 – Because the Thunder went on to fall in five games last May, not many remember Kevin Durant’s sensational Game 1. In a defensive slugfest, he shouldered the load, going off for 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, vaulting the Thunder to a 93-91 win, its only of the series.
1. May 15, 2011 – In Game 7 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, Durant showed up in the clutchest of ways, burning Allen and the Grizzlies for 39 points on 25 shots and leading his young team to a monumental series win.
Durant’s three worst games against Allen
3. March 7, 2011 – Still in the feeling out process after the Jeff Green-Kendrick Perkins swap, the Thunder fell 107-101 to Memphis in this regular-season duel. Durant struggled to an inefficient 8-of-20 night, while Allen was typically great on defense and surprisingly effective on the other end: 20 points in 31 minutes.
2. May 15, 2013 – Loaded with such a heavy burden after Russell Westbrook went down, Durant faltered in Game 5 of last season’s second-round exit. The Thunder star went 5-of-21 shooting and his team went out quietly.
1. May 13, 2011 – Durant was able to star in Game 7 of the 2011 clash, in part, because he struggled so mightily in Game 6. His line: 3-of-14 shooting, 1-of-9 from three, 11 points in 37 minutes. OKC fell 95-83 to Memphis.
Tayshaun Prince to serve as primary defender
Of the four Thunder-Grizzlies matchups this season, Tony Allen only played in one game and 17 minutes total. He was in and out of the lineup due to various injuries.
So Memphis used Tayshaun Prince as the primary defender on Kevin Durant and, as the Grizzlies’ starting small forward, he’s expected to get plenty of time on Durant in the next two weeks.
Via SportVu’s tracking date, here are Durant’s offensive numbers in the 31 minutes Prince guarded him: 19-of-47 shooting, 4-of-12 from three, 48 points.
A lot of points, but on a very high usage. Solid job by Prince.