With Russell Westbrook's injury the Thunder have entrusted all hopes of advancing in the playoffs to Kevin Durant; he will have to iterally carry them on his back. We can see that fact by this nugget provided by ESPN's Twitter account: "Kevin Durant has averaged 264 dribbles per game since Russell Westbrook's injury. His season average was 134 (per SportVu)." Currently the Thunder have two types of players: Kevin Durant and everyone else.
I cannot think of another team the Grizzlies played this year with such a huge reliance on a single player, so I don't have any examples of defenses schemes the Grizzlies have previously used. But I can think of two simplified defensive strategies; the Grizzlies will need to choose one of the strategies depending on the situation.
StopLimit Kevin Durant
- Limit everyone else
The best part of game 2 was Tony Allen shutting off Durant's water in the last 3 minutes. Durant did not score against Allen in the final period, and Allen forced two turnovers in crucial situations. GrizzNation is ready for TA to guard Durant for four quarters in game 3 and give him hell the whole game now that Hollins has learned TA isn't too short to guard him (btw... it wouldn't surprise me if Hollins had said that fully intending to have TA on Durant in the 4th. A motivated TA plays on a level rarely seen in the NBA). However, I doubt we will see TA on Durant for the majority of game 3 even though he may be the Grizzlies' best option for limiting KD.
And here are two reasons why I'm guessing we won't see it...
KD gets to the foul line a lot; he attempted the third most free throws in the 2013 season. With the smaller Allen guarding him, Durant will go to the post where drawing a foul is more likely. Also, Tony's aggressive Grit & Grind style can generate fouls quickly. I don't think I need to argue that the Grizzlies are a better team with TA on the court. I would rather have TA guarding a wing and staying on the court than guarding Durant for 38 minutes and possibly being forced to the bench by fouls.
Who is the Defensive Focus
So far against the Grizzlies, the Thunder have been remarkably consistent, scoring 93 points in both games. Durant has scored 35 and 36 points respectively in games 1 and 2. What's the minimum number of points Durant will score? Durant's a potential MVP every year; he will get his points, especially when he trying to make up for an injured Westbrook. I believe despite the grindiest of effort by the Grizzlies, Durant would still get about 20 points. If the Grizzlies held Durant to 20 points the Thunder would theoretically score 78 points. If the Thunder score 78 points, I believe we could chalk that up as a Grizzlies' victory 9/10 times.
However, there is another way to hold the Thunder to 78 points: limit everyone not named Kevin Durant. In games 1 and 2, Kevin Martin and Derek Fischer respectively have played way above their average. Martin had 25 in game 1 which is 11 points above his average. Fisher had 19 in game 2 which is also 11 points above his average. There is no doubt that TA (and other Grizzlies) could shut these two down... not just hold them average but have them finish with 4 points. Limiting the Thunder role players to average is easier than limiting Durant to a poor night.
I believe it makes more sense for the Grizzlies to use their best defensive player (TA) to limit everyone not named Durant, especially the Thunder perimeter players (the Thunder front-court is not scaring any Grizzly fan). Though fans may not like I believe we will see more of Prince guarding Durant (I feel Prince is due for a great defensive game). That doesn't mean we won't get the pleasure of watching TA harrass Durant; in late, close game situations I fully expect TA to be guarding Durant. Even with Durant playing at this level and scoring 35 a game, by focusing on limiting the offensive production of the rest of the Thunder, the Grizzlies will have a strategy that can earn them a win Saturday in the Grindhouse.