NBA Film Room: How Celtics Are Shockingly Containing Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

The Boston Celtics arrived midway through the 2021-22 NBA season with thunder and never slowed down. On Jan. 6, they were at 18-21, without an identity, and possibly approaching a major shakeup. Since that day, they’ve gone on an outstanding 33-10 run to finish the season with the second-seed in the Eastern Conference and are now approaching a sweep against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.

Even though both teams proved who they were throughout the regular season, fans and analysts expected that the sensational offensive talents of Durant and costar Kyrie Irving would make this one of the most competitive series in the first round.

While each game has had a relatively dramatic finish, the inspired play of Jayson Tatum has instilled much more confidence in the Celtics to close games, as opposed to the Nets who have had to claw for every point against this historically stout Boston defense.

The Cs’ defenders have done an especially impressive job of taking away Durant. Throughout the regular season, KD averaged 29.9 points, and 6.4 assists, with only 3.5 turnovers and shooting marks of 52 percent from the field and 38 from deep. Through the first three games against Boston, he’s putting up just 22 points, and 5.3 assists, with 5.7 turnovers while hitting just 37 percent overall.

How exactly have the Boston Celtics neutralized one of the greatest offensive weapons in NBA history?

It all starts with Jayson Tatum, who’s been Kevin Durant’s primary defender throughout the series. Tatum’s blend of size, length, and discipline make him a perfect foil for Durant’s offensive gifts. Tatum has put together a masterclass of bothering KD on the perimeter, not allowing the Slim Reaper to get easy looks from deep. Once Tatum runs Durant off of the arc in the above play, Payton Pritchard is quick to show KD another body.

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Durant’s been seeing these consistent double teams all series, getting stuck with multiple defenders draped on him as soon as he crosses the 3-point line. Clearly frustrated with this suffocating defense and the Brooklyn Nets’ lack of success so far, KD commits an offensive foul while trying to clear some airspace to get off a good shot.

By sending multiple bodies at Durant when he’s slashing, the Boston Celtics have essentially shut down the paint from KD’s slithering drives.

Through three games, Durant’s only attempted eight shots in the paint so far, with only four coming at the rim. On the few paint looks he’s gotten, he’s only converting at a 38 percent rate.

The few times he’s gotten two feet in the paint, he’s met with intense physicality and strong resistance which has clearly affected his finishing.

Without a true point guard on the roster, Kevin Durant has been tasked as Brooklyn’s primary initiator and has absorbed the majority of the focus from Boston’s defense. Like Durant, Kyrie Irving has also struggled, averaging only 21.7 points on 44 percent shooting. Irving has been unable to command extra defensive attention from the Boston Celtics and free up Durant for better opportunities.

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Durant now has to serve as both the Brooklyn Nets’ floor general and their primary offensive engine. For a stretch in Game 3, he was bringing the ball up the court. While Brooklyn did experience a small amount of success with KD as the primary ball-handler, it also made it easier for Boston’s defense to keep Durant in front of them.

At this point, it seems that Boston’s swarming defense and endless length has started to negatively impact Durant’s psyche. In the above play, he’s expecting a double team before it even comes, leading to a rushed bounce pass to Irving that’s ultimately picked off by Tatum.

If the Brooklyn Nets are to become the first team to ever overcome a 3-0 series deficit, they’ll need to find a way to revert Durant to his natural role as a play finisher and self-starter on offense. Kyrie Irving has to be better. Even if he’s never been a pure point guard or table-setter, he needs to at least establish himself on offense and draw some defensive attention away from Durant.

Irving is a wizard with the ball and one of the greatest offensive creators in the history of the game. He needs to showcase those skills, put pressure on Boston’s defense to stop him, and eventually create open looks for Durant and his other teammates off-ball.

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Ben Simmons’s return should help alleviate some pressure off of both Irving and Durant, as well as afford Brooklyn a natural playmaker. With his coming back after a year off from basketball, though, there’s no telling how effective he’ll be or if he’ll be able to command the defensive attention necessary to find open looks for his new teammates.

At the very least, though, he’ll be able to shoulder some of the ballhandling responsibilities and find Kevin Durant off-ball for jumpers. If Simmons can at least help KD establish a rhythm, they’ll be in much better shape for Game 4.