MIAMI — Sometimes, the best defense is offense, and that’s been so true in the case of LeBron James and whomever he has guarded in this post-season, with Kevin Durant being the latest example.
As a defender it’s hard to keep Durant in check, but just the same, it’s hard for Durant to hit jumpers from the bench. Just as he did against Danny Granger and Paul Pierce in the last two rounds, James is trying to get the other team’s best player in foul trouble, and in Game 3, it finally worked against Durant.
The conspiracy theorists will whine about the validity of some of those fouls, with some justification, but point is, by taking the ball to the rim repeatedly, James is forcing Durant to get physical. Which means James is putting himself in position to get the calls his way, which is what superstars do.
And when Durant is carrying four and five fouls, it makes it easier for James to guard Durant in the fourth quarter, because Durant is more willing to settle for jumpers to avoid a charging call. This is a neat strategy cooked up by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and, at least for one game, it paid off.
“Whoever is in front of me, I just try to put pressure on him, whether it’s KD or (James) Harden or (Thabo) Sefolosha or whomever,” said James.
Both coaches in this series are moving their best player around defensively and, for the most part, denying us the James-Durant matchup for a full four quarters. Neither Spoelstra or Scott Brooks want to risk getting their guy in foul trouble because both players are so active offensively. That’s why James will often check Kendrick Perkins, but Durant will either guard James or Dwyane Wade. And while Durant is an above-average defender, that’s a lot to ask of anyone.
Durant was terrific in the fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2, aside from missing the short runner with a few seconds left of the latter game. But clearly, James is concentrating as much or more of his fourth-quarter energy on guarding Durant, which he knows is the key to winning a close game.
It’s all a chess game being played by two coaches and two superstars and there’s no telling what will happen as a result. Every game is different than the next. But the next adjustment must be made by Brooks and Durant.