There are few opportunities to defend a goal scorer like Kevin Durant, and none of them are good. You can not give him space because he is one of the best shooters on the planet, but if you push him together, he has the grip and athleticism to not just beat you, but make you look foolish out of the jump.
For the most part, you just try to keep him away from his most pleasant spots. If he’s out of the ball, you might try to be physical and push him a few feet further out than he wants to catch. If he’s on the ball, do everything you can to hit him in his place. From there, you squeeze your hands in prayer and hope he misses.
Down the stretch of Milwaukee’s 86-83 Game 3 win over Nets PJ Tucker put a defensive clinic on Durant. He mostly had little to show for it because Durant is ridiculous. But in a game that is so close, sometimes you only need one stop to swing the tide. Tucker was eventually rewarded for his efforts, and honestly, he deserves his props regardless of the outcome.
We start at the 2:30 mark in the fourth quarter. Bucks leads by two. Durant brings the ball up and Tucker knows Bruce Brown will set up a ball screen. Instead of letting Brown get in touch, Tucker skips the election and comes clean around. He still follows Durant, but with Brook Lopez in drop coverage, Milwaukee’s only hope of an actual contested shot is Tucker coming from behind. He does. Competes the shot pretty strongly. Durant still makes it to tie the game.
On Brooklyn’s next possession, with the Bucks again up two with permission for another Khris Middleton bucket, Durant again has the ball at the top and awaits a ball screen from Brown. Again, Tucker comes across the screen. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Not everyone fights for a position before action. One step lower, and Tucker runs slapped in Brown’s chest, and Durant comes free. Here, Brown makes contact, but Tucker has created enough leverage to still fight through and once again contest Durant’s shot from behind. Again, it does not matter. Durant ties the game once again.
We’re moving to Brooklyn’s next possession. The game remains a draw after a Middleton miss. No secret what’s coming: A brown ball screen. Tucker refuses to let it get bigger this time. He jumps all the way into Durant’s room and cuts off his original angle. Durant gets the ball back on a dribble, and Tucker fights over / through another screen. You can not contest a shot better than this, and Durant still does. Nights up three.
Can you imagine how demoralizing this must be for a defender? You have done everything in your power and Durant is just too tall and too big. By the time he got into Game 3, 90 percent of Durant’s 3 pointers had been challenged (the highest mark of any playoff shooter), and he still earned 50 percent of them.
But Tucker does not stop. And it pays off. After the Bucks reduced the deficit to one with just over a minute to play, they have a great need for a stop. Do you remember what I said at the top about hitting superstars into their place and maybe pushing them a little further out than they would like to catch the ball? Well, here you go.
Durant starts the ball (far corner) and Tucker knows he’s getting it. He twists through the traffic and cuts off Durant at the violation line, forcing him to get out to the 3-point line for a transfer. Then Tucker even interrupts it, knocks the ball away, takes more time from the shot clock and screws up, no matter what rhythm Durant may have had a clean catch. But it’s not over. Tucker moves his feet and cuts off penetration, fighting over another screen, forcing Durant to give up the ball twice (with some timely help from his teammates) before it eventually ends up in the hands of Joe Harris. Who finally misses.
This is Rule # 1 when it comes to defending superstars: Whenever possible, let someone else take the shot. Yes, Harris is a world-class shooter. He could have easily made that shot. But this is the segment’s bundle. Tucker did his job. He got the ball out of the red-hot Durant’s hands. It was not easy. He fought for every inch. From there, it was beyond his control. Left to the whims of the basketball gods. And the gods rewarded Tucker – if you believe this kind of thing – for all his previous work with the one Miss Milwaukee needed.
Jrue Holiday scores at the other end.
Milwaukee on and. Brooklyn has one more chance.
We know the Nets are trying to get Durant the ball here. If he gets what we saw in the first three clips, he can get his shot at someone. And there’s a good chance he’s done. Tucker does not let it get that far. Watch as he again navigates the screen and hits Durant to the spot, denies the pass and continues to deny as Durant moves down the sideline. Blake Griffin has no choice. He must pass on to another. And hell breaks loose from there. Durant never touches the ball.
These are five possessions down the stretch of a game with a possession. You do not know who will decide the game. Durant won the first three. Tucker won the last two. And the two decided the game. Tucker stuck to a plan and fought for his know-what. And now it’s a series. Net leads 2-1. Play 4 Sunday at 15.00 ET – stream via fuboTV (Try for free). Let’s go.