The Memphis Grizzlies are no strangers to the league’s favoritism, and neither is Kevin Durant. He is not unfamiliar to being placed on a pedestal in front of the entire NBA. He is held to be this year’s coming MVP, is one of the most efficient players, and is expected to take his team deep into the playoffs – if not the NBA Finals. However, the Grizzlies gave Thunder a bitter taste Monday night after an overtime win that tied the series 1-1. SportsCenter was not shy in showing their bias, tweeting, “In a loss, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shine for OKC.”
The next day, Kevin Durant was still the talk of the league, but in a very different light. This time it was about his apparent struggle against our very own Tony Allen. Instead of hearing the usual praise about his in-game accomplishments, he is now being swarmed with questions of his personal battle with the Grizzlies’ guard. From the second he got off the court, the media was not shy to ask him about Tony Allen and his defensive pressure. For most of the post-game interview after the game, Durant stared solemnly down at the table. His demeanor showed he was unsettled by the loss, but whenever a media personnel asked Durant about knowing what he would get defensively from the Grizzlies and Tony Allen, it clearly caught his attention. The moment Tony Allen’s name was mentioned, Durant sharply looked up at the interviewer and gave a response that avoided singling out Tony Allen’s defense all-together, by saying, “I mean, they play hard. You know, you’ve got to give them credit. They played hard, but we do too.”
On Tuesday, talk of Tony Allen’s defensive performance against the 5 time All-Star was still ablaze. The Oklahoman Newspaper had Tony Allen featured with the title Allen Wrench; Tony Allen Grizzlies Put A Dent In Thunder’s Post Season Run With OT Victory. Articles all over the web spoke of this problem for the Thunder, and some of them tried to provide an explanation and solution for the “Tony Allen Effect”, though none had a true answer. Tuesday afternoon, the media continued to pressure Durant on the Tony Allen issue after OKC’s practice. Kevin Durant seemed annoyed and was pressed about what makes Tony more effective against him than other defenders. He remained quiet for a few moments before looking down and laughing. Then, he bluntly said, “He’s good. He’s good at dodging screens. He’s physical, but everybody plays the same way with me, so…”
This is where Durant is wrong. If Tony Allen was truly defending Durant the same way as everyone else, Tony would be having the same impact as the majority. Against all other defenders, or as Durant put it, “everybody”, he shoots at a high clip, 53%. However, whenever he is matched up against Tony, he is held to a riveting 31%. On a similar note, Durant, who is one of the most efficient players in the NBA, has scored a total of 69 points but had to take 53 shots to get them. Whenever Tony was defending Durant, he was 9-25, a staggering number for the soon-to-be MVP. Clearly, Tony Allen is something else. He isn’t apart of the “everybody plays the same way with me” group. So, what’s different?
For one, Tony Allen uses his unmatched ability to fight through screens. He absolutely refuses to be caught on them. In a great video example above at 2:56, Tony Allen anticipates a pin-up screen being set up by Perkins. Then, he takes the most unorthodox stance, crouching low and putting his shoulder and head against Durant’s waist. Next, almost like a small tractor, he attaches himself to Durant’s hip and pushes through the screen successfully. After Thunder’s practice, Kevin Perkins commented on Tony’s ability to avoid screens, “He’s fast. He’s a lot faster than people think he is, and he get’s small – real small – on screens, so you can’t really screen him. He does a great job at getting on the guy’s hip.” Throughout the many times the Grizzlies have played them, OKC often used screens to try and free Durant; however, Tony is rarely effected by them. When Tony Allen was asked how he is able to get around the screens so well, he replied, “You just do it.” The answer was not extensive nor satisfying, and even when he was pressed with scenarios in which he couldn’t avoid the screen, Tony still didn’t accept and repeated, “You just do it. You don’t get screened.”
Another aspect of Tony Allen’s defense is his ability to expect what Durant is going to do. In the past two games, whenever you observe Tony Allen guarding Durant, you also see his shadow-like disposition. With each step Durant takes, Tony Allen is almost mirroring it. He moves with Durant and adjusts himself every second he is on the court, completely alert. Why is this important? Well, when Kobe Bryant was asked about the toughest defender in the league, he responded with, “Tony Allen. He’s not the biggest guy, but he knows how to guard you.” Tony Allen knows how to guard players, like Bryant and Durant, because he studies them- intensely. It is not new to hear about Tony’s fanatical avocation with studying film. Tony owns an extensive video library with footage of almost every guard and small forward and watches it constantly. It is a known pre-game ritual of his, which he calls “going to the movies”. Even during games, you can find Tony Allen watching clips shown on the TV used by referees during replays. This, almost obsession, with film is what gives Tony Allen another edge over other defenders. This is why Tony seems as if he is a shadow of Durant. With every decision Durant makes, Tony is one step ahead- as if he can read his mind. The reason is because he knows his mind. Tony has studied the moves Kevin makes, how OKC in-bounds the ball, where Durant likes to shoot, and much more. That is why it may appear Tony Allen is his shadow or reading his mind. Because majority of what Durant does is not a surprise. This in turn can be extremely frustrating for Durant and can wear him down physically as well as mentally.
Finally, the endless amount of energy Tony Allen has is also a huge advantage. It is as if Tony is made of adrenaline. The physicality and intensity that Tony plays at never dissipates. Whether it is 1st quarter or OT, Tony Allen is playing with the same high-level defense as if he was on the floor for only 1 minute. Even when he is not on the floor, he is up and moving around on the sideline. Furthermore, most players would feel a heavy amount of pressure during clutch moments in a hostile stadium; however, Tony Allen appears to feed off of the energy. There is really no good explanation for how Tony Allen is able to uphold the same defensive intensity for so long. Though, this bottomless pit of adrenaline is a superb reason to why he is on another level against good defenders. Kobe Bryant explained how this ability to never tire was one of the reasons why Tony was considered his toughest defender. During All-Star weekend, Bryant conveyed how most of his defenders will start out good, but as the game goes on, his defenders will become fatigued. Then, by the fourth quarter, they are no longer good and back down. With Allen, it’s a different story. He stays on you the entire game, never seeming to tire. “Tony doesn’t back down. He’s like a hungry dog,” says Bryant.
There’s also high-level competitiveness in Tony Allen that isn’t seen in many players. Zach Randolph said himself that Tony Allen has a different competition level. Fans may see this arise more as the series go on. “I take pride in this,” Tony Allen says about his defense, “I don’t like to be scored on.” Kevin Durant has plainly showed his annoyance for the attention the “Tony Allen Effect” has been receiving. After practice on Tuesday, Durant made clear that he hasn’t been locked down and hasn’t been nonexistent. He then added, “I don’t know what you guys have been watching,” likely referring to the large amount of media attention. After the Memphis Grizzlies practice yesterday, Tony Allen was asked if Durant was the toughest matchup in which he replied, “Next question.” Things may be getting slightly testy between the two players as their competitive natures begin to show. If so, Durant may look to aggressively score tonight while Tony Allen may look to shut the water off.
With game 3 of the series this evening, OKC will try to make adjustments to free up Durant. They will most likely run more pin-up screens to allow him just enough breathing room to pull up for jumpers. Thunder has also spoken about moving the ball better to help with Tony Allen’s ball denial. Nevertheless, the adjustments they make to try to disrupt and slow Tony Allen may all go down in vain. As most know, a hungry dog never tires. You try to fight it off, and it will only latch on stronger. The dog will not stop until it gets what it wants, and when it does, it will only then want more. Thunder fans may call it a lockdown. Tony Allen will just call it a good old-fashioned TCB (Taking Care of Business).