To hear Memphis coach Lionel Hollins tell it after Game 1, Tony Allen had as much hope of guarding Kevin Durant as Woody Allen.
After the Grizzlies defensive whiz barely guarded the Thunder superstar on Sunday, Hollins was reminded that Allen had done a pretty decent job against Durant in the past.
“That's a few years ago,” Hollins interjected, curtly.
So, what changed?
“Durant's a few years older,” Hollins said, even more curtly.
So, Durant's too big?
“When we put him on him during the season, he just took him to the post,” Hollins explained of how the 6-foot-9 Durant countered the 6-4 Allen. “It causes us to help way too much when Durant's in the post against a smaller guy.”
What the coach said then seems like some sort of ruse now. After Allen locked down Durant in the final minutes of Game 2, you have to wonder if Hollins was trying to motivate Allen, hoping that his words would get back to the former Oklahoma State Cowboy, hoping that his defensive devil would play like one against Durant.
That's how Allen played Tuesday night. He put the brakes on Durant's big night when it mattered most.
So, what are we to make of Tony Allen now?
For starters, he's still an elite defender. His defensive genius is something that we've known about in these parts for years. We saw it time and again during his days in Stillwater.
There was a January game in Manhattan, Kan., during the Cowboys' masterful 2003-04 season that Allen ended with a block. He swatted a potential game-winning 3-pointer with 5 seconds left. Who even attempts that play, much less makes it? On the road, no less.
And if anyone ever doubted Allen's defensive aplomb, just look at the Cowboys without him.
In 2004-05, OSU had largely the same team that went to the Final Four the season before. John Lucas. The Graham brothers. Ivan McFarlin. Daniel Bobik. But they lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16 when Salim Stoudamire hit a 15-footer with 2.8 seconds left.
You suppose Allen might've done something about that shot had he still been in orange and black?
The guy was a pest in college.
Tuesday night, Durant was doing Durant things. With 3:18 left in the game, he converted a three-point play and ran his point total to a whopping 36. By the next time the Thunder had the ball again, Allen had checked in the game and started guarding Durant.
KD never scored again.
Allen got his hand in Durant's face on a 3-point attempt that missed with 1:44 left, then forced him into a turnover with :56 left. Allen nearly came up with a steal when he jumped in front of a pass to Durant, who eventually got the ball back, but Allen was able to recover enough to bother Durant on another missed 3-point attempt with :14 left.
“I assume we just got desperate,” Allen said of why Hollins switched from Tayshaun Prince to him on Durant late. “We just tried some new things on him, just put some fresher bodies on him.”
Allen was fresh. He'd played only a little over 20 minutes when he started guarding Durant, who played a game-high 42 minutes, 34 seconds.
But that wasn't the only reason he was able to cool down Durant. The guy is a defense-playing fool.
No doubt Allen is still a little bit of a loose cannon, too. (Remember, this is the guy whose first days in Stillwater included an arrest for a brawl at Whataburger.) He stole the ball in the waning seconds of Tuesday's game, and instead of dribbling out the clock like every other NBA player would've done, he barreled toward the other end for an uncontested dunk.
Still, everything else he did in the fourth quarter was pretty darn impressive. In that last stanza alone, he had eight points, three rebounds and four steals. Four steals in any quarter is remarkable, but doing that in crunch time?
Expect to see Allen guarding Durant more in this series.
“He's the best scorer in the league,” Allen said. “But the things I can do out there is just cause havoc as best I can.”
And as he showed Tuesday, his best is among the best in the league.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.