By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Twenty-four hours later and 1,300 miles from the scene of the crime, Kevin Durant was still trying to dispel the notion that little-bitty Chris Paul successfully mugged the MVP in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Clippers’ incredible comeback victory in Sunday’s series-evening Game 4.
“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 matchups, 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.”
Durant said the solution to the Thunder’s troubles after leading 82-66 with nine minutes left in a game they appeared to have under control — and would have given them a commanding 3-1 lead in this West semifinals series heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT) — is simple.
They’ve got to move.
“We can’t just sit there and just try to force it to me because that’s what they want me to do,” Durant said. “They want those guys to front and get up under me. By the time we sit there and just force-feed it down, time is running off, so by the time I passed out of it, there’s two or three seconds left on the shot clock. I’ve got to move around a little bit more and not try to demand the ball when there’s basically two [defenders] going to guard me, so got to make their defense move.”
Durant said spacing the floor and putting the Clippers’ smallish backcourt of 6-foot point guards Paul and Darren Collison in pick-and-roll coverage should work to their advantage. He said when the ball was forced into him and teammates stood around and watched, L.A.’s small guards were like gnats swarming his long arms and preventing from him passing out.
Like Durant said, when he didn’t have the little-man trap nipping at him he still managed to score 10 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter. Only the double-teams came often and he had no assists while playing the entire fourth quarter. He had just one more field goal (four) on five attempts than turnovers (three).
“Mostly [Sunday] every time I passed the ball there was a guy on my arm,” Durant said. “I’m 6-9. There’s no way two 6-footers are going to get the ball, so you do the math. … “I have to do a better job catching the balls and passing out of double-teams better and being stronger with the ball.”
The math in this series now shows two games apiece. The Thunder were nine minutes away from playing to close out the series on their home floor. They say they’ve thrown out Game 4 and are ready to move on. They’re confident they’ll continue to score at the high rate they have against the Clippers — 111.8 points per 100 possessions — and that they won’t get tripped up again by a lineup and defensive tactic that even Clippers coach Doc Rivers described as “desperate.”
“I do understand this, Kevin has seen every type of defense,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re not going to guard Kevin with a small and keep a small on him, they’re going to guard him with multiple guys and that’s what they did. We have to do a better job of being able to react to those double teams and be able to capitalize on their decision to double team Kevin or Russell [Westbrook] 17, 18 feet out.”
Or as Durant put it: “We’ve got to move it.”