NBA scoring champ and soon-to-be-named League MVP Kevin Durant has been put in shackles by Tony Allen. With the OKC Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies first round Playoff series deadlocked at two games apiece, and headed into a pivotal Game 5 Tuesday night, Durant says he needs to get Allen’s relentless, pestering defense off his mind. Per ESPN:
Durant’s focus has been getting blurred by Allen, which is not only the highest achievement a defender can hope for against a player trying to manage Durant’s talent but also a huge factor in how this series has played out.
“I’m worrying about a guy coming from behind trying to block the shot,” Durant said. “I’ve just got to focus in on the rim and my shot. I can’t go out there and think too much, I have to let my instincts take over.”
Durant shot just 35 percent in Games 2-4, all of which went to overtime. His offensive slump has significantly reduced the Thunder’s margin for error. Rock bottom, he hopes, was his 5-of-21 shooting in Game 4.
Statistics speak for themselves. But even before Durant admitted the Grizzlies’ ace defender was harassing him out of his comfort zone, there were some signs. Durant appears to have fallen into a habit of short-arming his release a bit. His high and smooth stroke seemed at times to become shorter and jerky during Game 4. As did his balance, where it seemed he often wasn’t able to get into that trademark form on his takeoff.
Allen has fought through so many screens to crowd Durant, kept so close to him when he’s just standing off the ball and become such a pest at denying passes headed Durant’s way that it has the scoring champ flustered.
“I’m not being disciplined enough in my shot,” Durant said. “I’m either pulling it back too quick or shooting too quick.”
“[Allen] knows his role and he wants to do it very well,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “But I like the shots that Kevin has been getting. He got shots all over the floor and that’s one of the things we’ve wanted to do, spread his looks around the floor.”
Brooks’ belief — and this is a reasonable expectation — is that those good looks will eventually turn into a Durant turnaround. But that thinking is predicated upon the belief that Durant is executing at his baseline level and the averages correct themselves. As this series has worn on, though, Durant has slowly been pulling away from his typical zone.
“I’m just staying confident and not reading media or looking at Twitter or Instagram and keeping my mind right,” Durant said. “I think before a breakthrough you can go through a tough period so I always put the work in and I have to trust in it.”