|Kevin Durant stood on the tracks when the train was coming through on Thursday. (Getty Images)|
Of LeBron James' 32 points in Game 2 on Thursday night, 18 came inside the paint. For a player so often criticized for his perimeter play and reluctance to go to work down low, James was a mecha-robot-bear monster in Game 2, with more points on free throws coming on perimeter penetration. In short, LeBron cut out the nonsense with playing wing and went to the rack.
What's fascinating is the different tactics that yield different results.
The first clip in his video shows Durant guarding James on the wing post, and keeping an arm braced on the hand check. He's allowing James space instead of bodying him. This goes against much of what we know of NBA post defense. But what's crazy? It works. James reacts to the knowledge he's not being bodied by concluding that he has an open turnaround. And he goes for it, yielding a miss. From there, though, that's when things get bad for Kevin Durant.
You'll notice what happens when LeBron doesn't wait to see how Durant is defending him, and instead creates the contact on his own. Durant flies back off him like a pinball. This makes LeBron's hook that much easier.
You'll also notice the help defense falling asleep. This may have been the biggest problem with the Thunder. Yes, Serge Ibaka got his adorable blocks in, but overall, the Thunder defense let Durant try to check James on his own. That worked in Game 1 when James went to his jumper. Not so much when LeBron used his size advantage.
But like so many things in this series, the other team adjusted.
You'll see here how much better the Thunder help defense was in the fourth quarter. This is what the Mavericks did to James on the pick and roll in the Finals last year. Guard him with your entire team, but particularly, trap on the pick and roll, bring a third defender for help if he goes away from the screen, and have another defender low ready to help if he somehow breaks the press. The result is first a great job of forcing him to pull-up further out than James wants.
From there, you'll see in the second clip, Durant does a good job forcing James to his right. When Serge Ibaka has to help to his right, he suffers, and James torched him several times that way. But here Durant sends him in a line drive against Ibaka. The result is a block and a fastbreak opportunity for the Thunder.
So what's the lesson here? The Thunder were able to keep James out of the paint on the pick and roll in the fourth, and the Heat didn't go to the post enough. But the rest of the game causes issues for the Thunder, trying to guard James. More than anything, this may be an indication that for all the talk about LeBron James guarding Kevin Durant, the bigger issue may be Durant's inability to guard James one-on-one. How the Thunder adjust in Game 3 is going to be huge.