In Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Clippers and Thunder, Doc Rivers has used four different defenders to try to slow down Kevin Durant. The idea being that Durant will have to use his entire skillset throughout the game in order to score. The Thunder have used a number of different sets to try to take advantage of the matchup, defending on the strengths of the defenders. The Clippers were able to shut down Durant down the stretch Sunday, but still gave up 40 points to the league MVP.
Phase 1: Isolating Blake Griffin
Durant got catches early in Game 4 mainly on the outside, because of the Clippers decision to use Blake Griffin to guard him. Griffin can matchup in terms of size and physicality, but was uncomfortable during situations in space. He had touches coming off simply bringing the ball up, off of flare screens, and using dummy pick and roll plays into isolation. Durant was effective using his body and length to create separation over the top of Griffin , and he scored 10 first quarter points on three of four shooting.
Play Breakdown: Dummy screen into isolation
In this set, Durant gets the ball just after half court from Reggie Jackson. The Thunder then spring one of their big guys loose (Steven Adams in this case) from a Reggie Jackson screen. Adams has the option to set the screen, or simply to fake and clear out. This turns into a 1-4 flat in which Durant often shoots over Griffin.
Phase 2: Running Matt Barnes
Durant cooled off in the second quarter, missing his first three shots, and the Clippers crept back into the game. The Clippers outscored the Thunder 20 to 5 over the first six minutes of the second quarter, bringing them back into the game. For much of that time, Durant had no looks from inside the three point line and no drives to the basket. Late in the second and into the third quarter the Clips put Matt Barnes on Durant. The Thunder countered by pummeling Barnes in pick and roll. Durant got a wide open alley-oop (which he missed) and open jumpers off screens. Barnes simply did not have the quickness to stay with KD.
Play Breakdown: KD isolation on Barnes
In this set Serge Ibaka brushes Durant to get a catch at the top of the key, which sets up space for KD to go to the high post at the left elbow extended. At this point Durant likes to get into the body and take fadeaway runners over the shorter Barnes, or simply drive to the basket left. Durant scored 16 points against Barnes in the second and third quarters alone.
Phase 3: Durant against Chris Paul (crunch time)
In the last five minutes the Clips put their best defender Chris Paul on Durant for the first time in the series. Paul was an absolute pest for Durant, taking it away from him on crossovers and mugging him into jump balls. Paul turns on his aggression on defense down the stretch, and his size disadvantage turns into an advantage in terms of physicality. He was able to get into Durant’s grill and hack him without fouling. Durant was able to catch Paul off guard a few times and got to the basket, but Durant turned the ball over three times down the stretch. Durant has never liked physicality, and even the mere six-foot tall Paul showed that.
Play Breakdown: Posting up Paul
This set has been run for Durant against a number of defenders, but was a key down the stretch against Paul. Like their other sets, they free up a screener–in this case Reggie Jackson– to help get Durant a touch on the high post. He either has the option to drive right or to back down the smaller Paul. One of Durant’s turnovers was because of the difficulty of the inital pass to KD, Griffin was able to cheat off of Serge Ibaka and double him, causing a weak pass that was stolen.
Keys going into Game 5:
1. The Thunder need to be more creative in how Durant gets touches. He can’t simply post up 15 feet away and draw double teams–he isn’t a capable enough passer. 2. Continue to have Durant bring the ball up to create space for him, as long as it doesn’t lead to contested 25-footers. 3. They need weakside action for post ups for Ibaka. Durant draws so much attention that the weakside is wide open on most Durant shots. This play below allows for Durant to get a catch in the similar elbow-extended area, but swings the ball to the other side to get Ibaka on a post up. This set is similar to the previous play in that Jackson will still use a screen off of Ibaka, but will go back and screen Ibaka to get a catch in the high post.
Play Breakdown: Ibaka Weakside Postup