A few days ago we took a look at Portland’s excellent defensive effort against the Dallas Mavericks and especially Dirk Nowitzki, who was held to a mere 13 shot attempts. The Blazers fronted, doubled, pushed and pretty much did everything they could do — “they” starting with LaMarcus Aldridge — to keep Dirk from getting the ball, or at least from getting the ball in a comfortable position.
Clearly, it worked. The Blazers won and Dirk did not have a great game. Then they thrashed the pick-and-roll heavy New Orleans Hornets Saturday night before beating the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday. On paper, the defense did not have as good of a game, giving up 29 points on 18 shots to Kevin Durant, but keeping the Thunder around 45 percent shooting.
Durant shot 7-of-18 with three assisted field goals, hitting 2-of-5 threes, 1-of-5 from 16-23 feet, missing both of his attempts from from 15-feet and in other than shooting 4-of-6 directly at the bucket. Sounds pretty boring when I type it, so let’s take a look at each one of Durant’s shots, who was guarding him and how well they guarded him, excluding the times Durant got himself to the line (15 attempts there).
Here’s the final count. Of Durant’s seven makes, three were off wide open dunks, one was an and-one bucket off an offensive rebound, and three shots were at least decently contested jumpers. The outliers are, obviously the dunks. Of the three, one was the alley oop where Jerryd Bayless waited too long to commit and got caught in between the ballhandler and Durant. The other two dunks were the results of sub-par defensive efforts — one in transition where nobody so much as breathed on Durant as he took a rebound coast-to-coast, the other came after beating Webster off the dribble and nobody rotated over.
Twelve of Durant’s shots could be considered contested at all, though I only rated four of them “well contested” with the others falling under “decent” or worse, most of those being situations where the defender was on his heels and had to lunge at Durant as he shot. Still, given Durant’s quickness and sheer offensive ability, we cannot mark the Blazers too far down for being a couple inches away from having an effect on his shot. The difference between this game and the effort on Dirk was that, aside from the occasional bump from Batum, Durant was able to get to his spots in reasonable rhythm.
This is still OK, since it’s much harder to deny a perimeter player than it is a bigger, relatively slower body like Dirk. The larger problem was the help defense. On only two of Durant’s 18 shots did a Blazer effectively stop a drive by sliding over and helping, and it didn’t take much with Batum on him because even when beat, Batum still kept pace, riding Durant’s hip. And when the help defense was there, is was most often late, as evidence by the 15 free-throw attempts. Compared to the previous two games, Portland’s defensive awareness of a star player was very poor.
Of course, that has little to do with Batum, who was very good in isolation defense, only getting scored on by Durant once (not counting free throws). He did switch a little too easily, in Play Nine with Roy and in Play Ten with Aldridge, not fighting through picks the way Aldridge and Miller had in the last two outings. And he did react quickly enough to get a hand up on the final shot — still a decent look — that sealed the win for Portland.
While this exercise may appear to lean toward the negative for Portland, it was still a strong defensive performance overall, as they only allowed 100 points per 100 possessions, or a point per possession. But while we praised them for executing a strong gameplan against Dallas, and executing it as a cohesive unit, in this game the Blazers depended a little too much on Batum to stop the primary scorer, were less prepared to provide help defense — showing sub-par recognition when help was needed — and were too quick to switch. All that being said, Durant’s shot selection wasn’t great, and you can easily chalk that up to both Batum and Durant himself.