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BOSTON – There’s no stopping Kevin Durant, especially in the playoffs. The best a team can hope for is to find a way to slow him down, which is exactly what Celtics accomplished during Sunday's first-round series opener, as they held the four-time NBA scoring champ to his lowest postseason point total as a Brooklyn Net with 23 points on 9-of-24 shooting in a 115-114 Nets loss at TD Garden.
It was KD’s lowest-scoring output in a playoff game since Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals – the night he ruptured his Achilles tendon after scoring 11 points in 12 minutes of action in his final game as a Golden State Warrior. His plus-minus rating of -13 Sunday night was also the worst he’s ever had in a single-digit playoff loss.
So how did Boston do it? One word: physicality.
Durant said the C's "did a good job of making me see bodies" throughout the afternoon, as they threw multiple defenders in his face, barely giving him any room to work with.
Having both played against and coached for Durant in the past, C’s head coach Ime Udoka knew that would be the best way to attack the lanky superstar.
“He’s such a talented scorer that you want to stay in his airspace at all times,” Udoka reflected Tuesday afternoon. “We weren’t switching everything, but doing some things to keep specific matchups on him and then when he does have a favorable one, we can go after him a little bit there. I played against him his rookie year, first few years in the league, and that’s what I tried to do: be physical back then. He’s adjusted to that, grown and seen everything. So it’s just a matter of keeping him off balance and keeping different matchups, as you saw several different players guarding him.”
Jayson Tatum was the primary player that was put on Durant, defending him for 38.3 possessions while giving up just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. Though, Tatum had a lot of help from his teammates, as he noted that the key to guarding Durant is to make sure that the defender is not left alone with him on an island.
“You’ve gotta take pride in guarding him 1-on-1, but listen to the guys behind you,” said Tatum, who outscored KD by eight points. “Everybody’s helping, and it’s not just one guy contesting; it’s probably going to be two guys. Just try not to give him any easy looks, that’s all you can really ask for.”
Oftentimes, Durant finds ways to convert even the toughest of looks, which is why the Celtics have to be on their toes entering Game 2 Wednesday night.
There’s also the fact that Durant tends to come out with a vengeance in bounce-back efforts. For example, last postseason he averaged 41.8 points in the four games that came after a Brooklyn loss.
“Obviously he’s a great player and he’s going to make adjustments,” Derrick White said following Wednesday morning’s shootaround ahead of Game 2. “He’s going to probably come out aggressive tonight. So it’s going to be a battle for 48 minutes, just making him work, making it tough for him to get to his spots and make it tough for him to catch the ball.”
Durant will surely aim to increase his offensive output in a bounce-back effort, so the Celtics must be ready to retaliate by upping their physicality even more.