Lost in the hysteria of Kevin Durant drilling the most miraculous shot in Oklahoma City history was another gem of a play by the game’s biggest pest, a player with a penchant for throwing a wrench in the Thunder’s plans.
Just before Durant hit a corner 3-pointer while falling out of bounds and on his bottom, Tony Allen once again blew up a Thunder possession. He tipped a pass from Russell Westbrook to Durant, forcing OKC into scramble mode and Durant into delivering on a desperation fling.
Though the impact of Allen’s defense wasn’t felt when Durant’s shot splashed through the net, a bucket that led to a four-point play and gave the Thunder new life with 13.8 seconds remaining in regulation, it was apparent before and after that basket.
And it’s among the biggest reasons why the Thunder is headed to Memphis on Thursday needing a win to regain home-court advantage after a 111-105 overtime loss to the Grizzlies in Game 2 on Monday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Some guys are just special. That was just one of those special plays,” Allen said of Durant’s shot. “He made it to help his team dig into our lead. Basically, we didn’t never get discouraged. We knew it was a lot of basketball left and we just wanted to close it out in Grizzlies fashion.”
Allen is that face of Memphis’ style.
And now it appears the Thunder has a problem.
Allen hounded Durant all night with his patented brand of physical defense. He glued himself to Durant, locking and chasing him on screens, holding his ground in the post and contesting shots as best he could despite yielding at least five inches.
Allen deflected his well-deserved credit after the game. But is impact was clear to everyone with a working set of eyes.
“It’s just a competition at the end of the day. It’s ain’t about me,” Allen said. “It’s about the Grizzlies coming in here basically playing grit-and-grind basketball and holding our hats on the defensive end. We got schemes that we tried to take advantage of on the defensive end. All we could do is hope for the best when he shoots it as far as making him miss.”
Durant went into the fourth quarter with 16 points on 18 shot attempts, unable to find a rhythm or his shooting touch through three quarters.
“I’ve got to do my work early,” Allen explained. “If that’s being physical with him, trying to push him through screens, just cause havoc the best way possible, it’s kind of to my favor. But the guy still hit 36 points. So he’s going to get his. The biggest thing is just not getting discouraged and just keep fighting throughout the game.”
Durant’s 36 points were a game-high. But he shot 12-for-28 from the field. Twelve of his attempts came from 3-point range, a number that indicates in part how far Allen pushed Durant out and how much Durant settled for jumpers after everything else had been disrupted.
For Allen, it was a masterful performance that was reminiscent of the success he had against Durant in the postseason three years ago.
“We have to do a better job of getting their hands off him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s one of the things that we talk about. We have to have better set-ups and better screens and some better looks”
With Durant neutralized, the Thunder’s offense ran into mud.
Oklahoma City shot just 39 percent and never led by more than two points.
“They play hard,” Durant said. “You got to give them credit…It’s typical defense. They’ve been playing it all season. We got to move the ball a little bit better…But we missed some shots tonight.”