Kevin Durant is going to get flack from some of you for this, but he is right to a large degree.
Down 16 in the fourth quarter Sunday the Clippers went with an ultra-small lineup (three guards and Blake Griffin as center) and asked Chris Paul to guard Kevin Durant. The Thunder understandably wanted to exploit that. In theory Durant should be able to shoot over the top of CP3 all day long. But in reality two things happened — the Clippers brought a quick, aggressive double to Durant on those plays. Second, everybody else on the Thunder stood around and watched Durant get doubled. Their offense became stagnant. The Clippers came back to win.
Speaking with the media Monday, Durant said it would take a team effort to break down that Clippers’ defense.
“Everybody keeps saying Chris Paul guarding me. It wasn’t just Paul,” Durant told reporters following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Monday practice back at their training facility. “He’s physical, he’s smaller than me, of course it was harder when little guys get up under you. But they’re not just going to let Chris Paul play me one-on-one. That’s a team game. Basically they got three guys watching me, got a guy behind me so when I caught it they double-teamed as soon as I caught it, and when they didn’t double-team, I scored.
“So people always got something to say about the one-on-one match-ups, which never happens in this league, especially with me. I got to figure out ways to cut harder and make harder movements because if they’re going to put two guys on me than my teammates are going to be open.”
He’s right to a degree (although Durant seemed at points to be passive in this situation as well, he’s not blameless). This is not the first time teams have gone with a smaller defender on Durant — last series 6’4″ Tony Allen was on Durant for Memphis. What is different is the hard double teams, that the Thunder did not respond to. This is a team thing for the Thunder, and their ability to play consistently with one another and not just next to one another has been one of the question marks about this team.
“We’ve got to move it. We can’t just sit there and try and force it to me,” Durant said. “Because that’s what they want me to do. They want those guys to front and get up under me. Once we pass it, they’re coming for a double-team and we’ve got to pass out and that’s when we make plays. By the time we just sit there and force feed it down, time is running off and when it’s time to pass out of it there’s two or three on the shot clock. So I’ve got to move around a little more and not demand the ball when there’s two guys guarding me. Just make the defense move.”
What putting guards on Durant does is take away his ability to drive (CP3 is quick enough to get where Durant wants to go first and has the hands to strip the ball if it comes down low). But Durant has advantages too. When the double comes the Thunder should be two or three passes away from a good look (watch the Spurs’ offense for examples). OKC didn’t do that, they stalled out and watched. Then they got frustrated. Then they carried that frustration over to the defensive end of the court and started gambling on steals and not taking away drives to the basket, the Clippers got to the rim at will in the fourth quarter.
This is all very correctable for the Thunder, play smart and they should rip apart the gimmick small lineup the Clippers threw at them. If they can’t then they deserve what is coming their way, which would be a playoff exit in the second round. And a whole lot of questions.