Eddie Sutton is like a lot of orange-clad Oklahomans this week, torn between an Oklahoma State hoops standout and a beloved professional team.
“Oh, I’m a big Thunder fan,” Sutton says.
But he’s also a mentor and good friend to Memphis guard Tony Allen.
“It’s like, I want the Thunder to win, but I want Tony to have a good game,” Sutton explained. “Sometimes that kinda puts you in a strange position.”
The difference, though, between Sutton and some other split-allegiance Thunder fans is that the coach had a leading hand in creating the monster that’s now terrorizing the streets of downtown OKC and the nightmares of its superstar.
At Oklahoma State, Sutton transformed Allen from an energetic athlete to a defensive savant, shuttling him into the NBA as a ready-made stopper.
And 10 years later, his rare defensive skills and impact have never been more apparent – or appreciated – than in the first two games of Memphis’ first-round playoff series with the Thunder.
Allen took over on Monday night, bothering Kevin Durant despite a 7-inch size disadvantage and throwing the Thunder’s offense completely out of kilter. His activity and disruption served as the main reason this series is heading back to Memphis tied 1-1.
“He’s just good,” Durant said.
Now, instead of the typical in-series adjustment to combat a big-time scorer, the Thunder must find a way to counter the tactics of a premier perimeter stopper.
“We have to do a better job at getting their hands off him,” Scott Brooks said postgame, before explaining it further on Tuesday: “We’ve always been a great screen-setting team, and that’s how you get guys’ hands off of you.”
Brooks’ logic is correct. Two of the Thunder’s most effective plays on Tuesday came because of bruising picks. Both times, Durant had the ball at the top of the key with the floor spread. The first time, Nick Collison took Allen out of the play and freed Durant for a drive and easy floater over Marc Gasol. The next, Kendrick Perkins flattened Allen and opened up Durant for an uncontested late-game 3-pointer.