Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thunder’s Kevin Durant being exposed defensively in Finals

The Oklahoma City Thunder practically stormed through the playoffs on the way to their first NBA Finals appearance since moving to Oklahoma. And no one is more responsible for the Thunder’s magical run than Kevin Durant.

Durant has been otherworldly with his ability to score points in bunches and hit shots from just about anywhere on the floor. He is averaging 28. 3 points-per-game while shooting 51.8 percent from the field.

Durant has seemed to thrive offensively under the pressure of playing in the Finals as witnessed by his first two games of the series. He exploded during the fourth quarter of both games scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 16 points during the final period of Game 2.

But the questions facing Durant right now have nothing to do with his offensive skills. Durant has started to become a liability for his team on the defensive end.

Durant didn’t have to expend much energy on the defensive end as the Thunder dispatched the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Shawn Marion was Durant’s main defensive assignment in the Thunder’s first round series versus the Mavericks. Marion scored just under 12 points per game during the Thunder’s sweep of the team that knocked them out last year.

Metta World Peace was Durant’s main matchup during the Semi Conference Finals. World Peace didn’t do much better against Durant averaging only 11 points-per-game. The Thunder were able to dispatch the Lakers in five games.

The Western Conference Finals were a little tougher as it took the Thunder six games to defeat the Spurs. Durant saw a lot of both Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson in that series but the two combined were not able to outscore Durant in a single game.

The Finals have been an altogether different challenge for Durant though. Durant usually doesn’t have to defend someone with similar height who is as much of a scorer as he is but LeBron James can match him point-for-point.

Even worse is how physical James plays Durant on both sides of the ball. Durant doesn’t have the size to body up with James who has bullied him in the paint on offense and made Durant work much harder than he is accustomed to working when the Thunder have the ball.

And because James is so versatile and aggressive on offense, Durant has found himself in foul trouble two of the three games they have played thus far. Durant is still getting his points but he has no answer for James aggressive drives or physical post game.

The Thunder would like to give Durant more help but it is hard to do with a player like James who is so adept at passing out of the double team. James on the other hand is used to guarding the opposing team’s best player without fouling out so Durant’s aggressiveness isn’t as effective in putting James in foul trouble.

This series isn’t out of control yet so Durant and the Thunder have time to try and figure something out. They know they can’t keep letting Durant get caught in bad situations where he is likely to foul James so expect Thunder’s coach Scott Brooks to make an adjustment for the rest of the series.

 If not then it’s bye-bye Thunder.

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Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at sportmentalist@yahoo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.

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