Can Durant get Allen out of his head?
A few days ago, Durant became annoyed when it was suggested that Allen might be affecting him a little. The presumptive MVP defiantly said he was not being shut down. But some of the worst shooting games of his playoff career have brought some reflection and humility.
After that first step of acknowledging it, Durant is now trying to deal with it.
As he collected himself before Tuesday's vital Game 5 in the tied Oklahoma City Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies mini-drama, Durant said he's got to stop worrying about where Allen is -- whether that be on Durant's hip, behind his back or even in his face.
Durant's focus has been getting blurred by Allen, which is not only the highest achievement a defender can hope for against a player trying to manage Durant's talent but also a huge factor in how this series has played out.
"I'm worrying about a guy coming from behind trying to block the shot," Durant said. "I've just got to focus in on the rim and my shot. I can't go out there and think too much, I have to let my instincts take over."
Durant shot just 35 percent in Games 2-4, all of which went to overtime. His offensive slump has significantly reduced the Thunder's margin for error. Rock bottom, he hopes, was his 5-of-21 shooting in Game 4.
Statistics speak for themselves. But even before Durant admitted the Grizzlies' ace defender was harassing him out of his comfort zone, there were some signs. Durant appears to have fallen into a habit of short-arming his release a bit. His high and smooth stroke seemed at times to become shorter and jerky during Game 4. As did his balance, where it seemed he often wasn't able to get into that trademark form on his takeoff.
Allen has fought through so many screens to crowd Durant, kept so close to him when he's just standing off the ball and become such a pest at denying passes headed Durant's way that it has the scoring champ flustered.
"I'm not being disciplined enough in my shot," Durant said. "I'm either pulling it back too quick or shooting too quick."
The most classic example of what Allen has been doing to Durant might've come in Game 3. In the final seconds of regulation, the Thunder had the ball on the side with 2.7 seconds left. Coach Scott Brooks drew up a nice play to get Durant the ball, running him around two screens as he dashed toward the sideline to get the inbound.
Allen beat the first screen but Serge Ibaka caught him on the second and Durant broke free to catch the pass cleanly and with space to move. Despite having time to catch and square up, perhaps even take a dribble for rhythm, Durant immediately grabbed the ball and shot without fully looking. The result was a bad miss -- he didn't even get the rim -- and the Grizzlies ended up with an overtime they'd eventually win.
Allen wasn't even on him and yet the tenacious defense played that night had forced Durant to rush the important shot.
"[Allen] knows his role and he wants to do it very well," Brooks said. "But I like the shots that Kevin has been getting. He got shots all over the floor and that's one of the things we've wanted to do, spread his looks around the floor."
Brooks said his film review told him that 18 of Durant's 21 shots in Game 4 were what he called "good looks." The implication is that the offense is working and the plays and actions the Thunder are running are getting Durant free from Allen often enough.
Brooks' belief -- and this is a reasonable expectation -- is that those good looks will eventually turn into a Durant turnaround. But that thinking is predicated upon the belief that Durant is executing at his baseline level and the averages correct themselves. As this series has worn on, though, Durant has slowly been pulling away from his typical zone.
So that is what Durant seems to be concentrating on, getting back to that confidence that he has developed when he rose to MVP level this season. He has played against Allen numerous times in his career; this is the third time he has faced him in a playoff series.
He knows how to do it and, frankly, he expects to.
"I'm just staying confident and not reading media or looking at Twitter or Instagram and keeping my mind right," Durant said. "I think before a breakthrough you can go through a tough period so I always put the work in and I have to trust in it."
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