In a previous post, I suggested that the Kansas defense must "contain" Kevin Durant, thereby implying that Kevin Durant could, in fact, be contained. I said: "he's going to get 10–15 points no matter what you do," and anything in excess of that was a matter of the opposing team's defense shutting him down. Against Kansas on Saturday, he rattled off 12 points in a row between the 17:41 and the 14:14 marks in the first half, and had 20 points just five minutes later. (Thanks to ESPN's play-by-play for this). And it wasn't like the Texas offense was getting him a lot of open looks: He was burying every shot, no matter who was guarding him and no matter where he was on the court. 22 feet away, Julian Wright's hand in his face: Rattled in. Pulling up from 27 feet at the tail end of a fast break: Swish. Texas didn't even need to run an offense, they just needed to get him the ball and then worry about getting back and playing defense. In the first half, this worked. In the second half, different story. Two things changed (at least): Brandon Rush was on Durant, rather than Julian Wright. It was hard to say whether Durant just cooled off, or whether Rush cooled him off, but the fact was that he missed 4 of 5 shots before going down with a twisted ankle. Second thing: Another player immediately double-teamed Durant on the perimeter whenever he got the ball, and Texas failed to exploit this for easy low-post baskets. (Nice call by Coach Self. Not sure why he didn't go to this earlier, but I'm just glad that it worked). At the same time, I can't believe Texas couldn't exploit this. I mean, teams must be doing this all the time. Why weren't they able to find Damian James for easy baskets underneath, or Augustin on cuts to the basket? (I share Bill Simmons's assessment of Texas coach Rick Barnes, by the way: "How can you not run more plays for Kevin Durant? Post him up and he has 27 different ways to score. Curl him off picks and he makes 15-footers like they're layups.") Speaking of bad coaching, I was mystified that Texas didn't start fouling sooner. Kansas wasn't even in the bonus until the 2:20 mark, and Texas didn't start fouling until the 1:18 mark when they were down by 8. RussRob missed the front-end of a one-and-one, and Texas cut the lead to 6. Then, on consecutive possessions, Mario makes one of two; RussRob makes one of two; Julian makes one of two. HEART ATTACK TIME. Instead of a 6‑point lead, it's a 3‑point lead, and Texas has a chance to tie. This is a huge, huge issue going into the post-season, both for the Hawks chances and my own physical and mental health.Incidentally, with this in mind, I deeply enjoyed a recent piece by Gene Weingarten about FT shooting: "If I took a year off and practiced all day, every day, I could then defeat the NBA's best free-throw shooter in head-to-head competition" (via kottke).
Watching the Longhorns repeatedly (and ultimately successfully) drive a stake into the heart of Acie Law IV last night, I got to thinking about Saturday's showdown between the Longhorns and the Hawks. (I also penciled in A&M for the Final Four. Is there any team in the nation — other than UCLA, I guess — that has such a perfect blend of March-ready qualities — go-to guy, great defense, grit, gumption? Totally g'ed up). Anyway, here's the big stuff that KU has to address:Contain Kevin Durant. I know, I know. Obvious. Duh. Everyone tries to do this. But I think Kansas has a chance to succeed. Yes, he's going to get 10–15 points no matter what you do. He'll be everywhere — around the basket, out on the perimeter, getting put-backs, rolling off picks and taking jumpers. The challenge for the Hawks is to make sure he doesn't get 30–35, to limit the number of open looks he gets on the perimeter, and to make sure that he doesn't get anywhere near a rhythm like he had against Texas Tech (37 points, 23 rebounds). Durant thrives when teams don't have someone who can get in his face when he's away from the basket. At 6'9", he's going to shoot over the kind of guy who will take away the drive, but he's also fast and agile enough to go around most guys his size. All of that said, I think he's going to have problems with KU's long, fast, and highly disruptive defenders — Julian Wright and Brandon Rush. I think it's totally possible for them to contain him, as long as they stay out of foul trouble. Disrupt the supply chain. DJ Augustin kept them in the game last night when Durant went into a funk. In many games this year, I've seen him slice through defenses, get to the basket, and generally create the kind of chaos that leads to easy put-backs for Durant. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins have to keep him from driving, and complicate his distribution of the ball. Run them ragged, and don't get beat by AJ Abrams. Or anyone like him. Last year, the relatively quiet Abrams exploded for four three-pointers during a first half run, singlehandedly demoralizing the Hawks. The good news is that, this year, the Longhorn weaponry is far from secret. Abrams, Augustin and Durant play pretty much all game, every game. This is an opportunity for the relatively deep Hawks to be relentless in their defense — Maybe even press a little? C'mon, Coach. Gimmick defenses have stunned KU twice recently (A&M, OU). Why not break one out once in a while? Making free throws. The mere thought that this game will come down to free throws makes my stomach hurt. The last five minutes of the Oklahoma game was excruciating in that it almost turned into A&M, Part II. Unfortunately, it's no secret that Kansas can't shoot free throws. They're going to get fouled late in the game; with any luck, Chalmers and Robinson will control the ball and hit their freebies.Lastly, Collins and Arthur must contribute, and Rush has to get his shots. It's pretty amazing that the Hawks could get by OU without contributions from any of these guys, but there's no way that a win versus Texas is possible without them.