MVP efficiency, free throws key for KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: How will the Thunder attack the Spurs without Serge Ibaka?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant has to step into a telephone booth and emerge once again as the league’s most efficient scorer. It might be the only way the shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder have of toppling the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

Game-to-game consistency has eluded the MVP in the postseason, and now with the team’s defensive stopper and  third-leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, sidelined with a calf strain, an already razor-thin margin for error has shrunk.

Durant’s come through with stellar performances when the pressure’s risen highest, in two first-round elimination games against Memphis, and again when the Thunder’s fortunes turned bleak against the Los Angeles Clippers in the semifinals.

In Games 6 and 7 against Memphis, Durant shot 23-for-41 and was 5-for-11 on 3s (5-for-5 in Game 7 after 0-for-6 in Game 6) and 18-for-21 at the free-throw line. Following his 6-for-22 shooting in Game 5 against the Clippers, a game the Thunder won on the back of a brilliant Russell Westbrook effort, Durant went 12-for-23 (12-for-17 after a 0-for-6 start), 5-for-8 beyond the arc and 10-for-10 at the line in the clinching Game 6.

Across the board throughout the first two rounds, Durant’s MVP shooting percentages are down significantly: 45.3 percent from the floor, 34.8 percent from beyond the arc and 82.5 percent from the free throw line, a number that’s slowly been on the rise.

It won’t be easy against a Spurs defense that has fared decently against Durant this season despite losing all four regular-season games to OKC. The scoring champ averaged 32.0 ppg against the league (on 50.3 percent shooting, 39.1 percent from 3 and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line), but 26.3 ppg against the Spurs on 45.9 percent shooting and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. The latter figure should be highlighted considering the volume of 3s Durant is taking during the postseason, a slowly decreasing 7.1 per game compared to 6.1 during the regular season.

Ibaka is often a safety valve for Durant when double-teams come at him, but that option no longer exists. Ibaka averaged 14.0 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting against the Spurs this season, plus 11.5 rpg and 16 blocks, his second-highest total among all teams (17 vs. Houston).

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he has to figure out ways to move Durant, who will be guarded tightly by Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard among others, and get him into open space.

“It’s always a combination with Kevin,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to move him around and he has to continue to move around himself and get better setups and lower setups and forceful setups.”

Finding Durant some breathing room goes hand-in-hand with what might be his greatest weapon in this series: Free throws.

The regular-season and playoff leader in free-throw attempts, Durant got to the line 10 times or more in just three of the first eight playoff games. In the last five, he’s accomplished that four times, including shooting 40 free throws in the last three games.

Durant’s co-star Westbrook, one of the most aggressive rim attackers in the league, ranks second in the playoffs in free-throw attempts. He took 57 in the six games against the Clippers, and 28 in the last two games.

Only the Clippers have shot more free throws so far in the playoffs than the Thunder’s 357. Of those, Westbrook and Durant have combined for 237, just 40 shy of the entire Spurs team. Getting to the line is the easiest way to score and can help nullify Ibaka’s absence by getting key Spurs into foul trouble.

“KD and Russ are tough enough to guard as it is,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “When they start living on the free throw line … “

He didn’t finish the thought because, well, he really didn’t need to.

16 Comments

  1. niks says:

    This isn’t what i search for :(

  2. KDfan says:

    And the reason the Spurs believe Ibaka might play is that they do the same thing themselves. Imagine Parker playing in the championship game last year and logging upwards of 30 min with a GRADE II strain of a muscle? Do the lay people know what that means? BS. If u really have a Grade II strain and play in the NBA finals, it is just a matter of time it converts to a Grade III tear and a possible rupture. Would you take that risk in the NBA? Pop may, but maybe the Grade II is rally Grade I or less. Anyone wondering???

    • TPfan says:

      it depends where is the strain in the hamstring, note that its a big muscle, stop wondering :)

  3. MR210 says:

    Throw out the 4 games during Regular season.
    Those don’t have any bearing on matchups during the playoffs.

    KD is tired of carrying OKC all season long. It was a heavy burden when Westbrook was out…it’s taking it’s toll on him. That’s why his percentages are down.
    Russell Westbrook misses more pull-up jumpers than he makes. He will try to do too much and it will cost the team.

    Without Ibaka – who in their right mind thinks OKC still has a shot against the reigning Western Conference champ.
    In the end – OKC will flame out – crash and burn.

    Give me SPURS in FIVE!

    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  4. Michael says:

    Spurs have to guard against overconfidence.

    • Moe says:

      Spurs are never over confidence when pwin ying their opponents. Even POP mentioned Reggie Jackson as “Spur Killer”. We are aware that OKC is still a dangerous team. Ibaka out gives us more room to pentrate into the lane for easy bucket. I say we play our game then we should win in 5 or 6 games.

  5. Plainview says:

    I think the key for the thunders to win this series is to stop the bench mob of the spurs… they should win the battle for the bench.. they have reggie jackson, jeremy lamb, collison and fisher

  6. Lewis says:

    Getting to the free throw line is one thing. but basketball is not, should not and never was intended to be about someone’s ability to get fouled. everyone is sick of flopping. I’m sick of players getting away with creating the contact while on offense to the point where its almost expected of them.

    YES the nba wants more offense in order to sell tickets. YES the nba needs players to score points in order to generate interest in, create and maintain so-called……”superstars”.

    but there MUST be a limit to all of this fake hype and exaggerated offensive stats in the name of generating revenue.

    kevin durant and everyone else should be successful and win because of their superior talent.

    NOT because of their ability to get to the free throw line.

    • Ramon says:

      What if that’s their talent?
      Do you remember Kobe’s 81 point Game? He made 25 of 26.
      Nowitzki in ’11 made 25 of 25.
      LeBron usually goes 10 times to the Stripe after getting fouled sometimes looking like a Flop sometimes looking like People trying to chop Bodyparts off…
      If somebody gets Freethrows it’s in most parts a defensiv issue in speed or position.
      Additionally reviewtime can be used for commercials which bring’s Money in everybodys pockets… ;)

  7. OKC says:

    steven adams is the only player on the roster that can potentially fill okc’s huge void on the defensive end now. Ibaka is probably the sole reason that okc has a top 5 defense instead of a top 10.

  8. okc2014 says:

    Let’s Go Kevin Durant!

  9. Irene Adler says:

    Go KD. Go Thunder. Great players always find a way to win. Ibaka is really valuable to the team and no one can replace him but the team should continue moving. I know you are prepared for this the way the team prepared when Russ was out. Is anything impossble?

  10. Chris says:

    I’m a spurs fan, but I think when writing this article you forgot about Reggie Jackson. Course these playoffs and more importantly the Spurs in the playoffs are a different animal, but long as Jackson is consistent, OKC has a fighting chance. Though I’m hoping on spurs in 5