In defense of Matt's defense

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

A Thunder blogger called the Clippers Durant's dream matchup. On paper, maybe, but in fact Durant had his issues against the Clippers during the regular season.

I've said all along that the Los Angeles Clippers will have a nightmare trying to contend with Kevin Durant. I've viewed Oklahoma City as perhaps LA's worst Western Conference matchup for the sole reason that they have no one to defend Durant. Not that any team does, but the Clippers in particular are pretty lacking in wing stoppers. They sure don't have a Tony Allen to turn to.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to stand idly by while someone else criticizes Matt Barnes for the exact same reasons!

Over at Welcome to Loud City, Justin Danzinger is calling the Clippers Durant's dream matchup. He's obviously got a point. Durant just finished a series where he and Allen shared a shirt for seven games. Had the Warriors prevailed in the first round, Durant would be seeing some combination of Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. If OKC advances, KD will have to go against either Kawhi Leonard or Nicolas Batum. Barnes is not in the same class of any of those other defenders, who are all longer and quicker than Matt.

Which all begs the question: why did the Clippers manage to contain Durant as well as they did during four regular season meetings?

Long time readers of the blog know that I'm not a big fan of using isolated film clips to illustrate broad points -- not without more general statistics to back up the points. Danzinger shows various plays where Barnes made mistakes and Durant scored. Big deal. I could find plenty of clips where Barnes scores on Durant as well. Besides, this is Kevin Durant we're talking about here: of course he's going make a defender look bad in lots of ways with lots of regularity.

I don't actually disagree that Durant has a huge advantage against Barnes or indeed any wing defender the Clippers can run at him; a point I've made many times myself. However, the fact of the matter is that the numbers tell a different story. Durant averaged 32.5 points per game in the Thunder's four meetings with the Clippers this season, slightly above his season average of 32. He also played big minutes against the Clippers, and his per 36 average of 28 was actually a couple of points below his season per 36 average, for what it's worth.

But more importantly, Durant's True Shooting Percentage against the Clippers of .567, while very good for a mortal human being, was actually very, very bad for Durant. Durant scored more efficiently against 13 other Western Conference teams this season -- only the Spurs held Durant to a lower TSP.

Barnes may not have the ideal skill set to defend Durant -- but he sure as hell is going to work on him. As is Jared Dudley. As is any other Clipper who gets the assignment. Moreover, Doc Rivers is going to scheme the crap out of Durant -- the Clippers are going to tilt the floor to KD and do what they can to force someone else to beat them. It remains to be seen if they can succeed, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Clippers actually contained Durant much more effectively than most teams did this season, and with an entire series devoted to stopping him, I think they can do even more.

I'm the first to admit that we're dealing with a tiny regular season sample size of four games here. And KD took more than a dozen free throws per game against the Clippers, a trend that I fear will be amplified in the playoffs. But whereas I can point to all the reasons that Durant SHOULD light up the Clippers and Matt Barnes, the simple fact of the matter is that for the most part, he did not. Not during the regular season.

It's like Barnes' use of the 'N' word, coincidentally after he was tossed out of the first meeting with OKC: he's allowed to say it, but others are not. In this case, I'm the only one allowed to say that he can't guard Durant. If someone else says it, I've got his back.

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