Durant’s Case for All-Defensive Team Honors Stronger After Christmas Day Performance

[CSNBY] Durant's case for All-Defensive team honors stronger after Christmas day performance
Monte Poole

OAKLAND -- The quiet hum that is Kevin Durant's campaign for the NBA's All-Defensive team got a lot louder on Christmas Day.

It's becoming a real thing, deservedly so, the latest proof coming against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 99-92 Warriors victory. That Durant's exhibition came on national TV, in the league's marquee game, is bound to awaken many of those that have been sleeping.

Not that James is among the snoozers.

"He's right up there, if not the best," James said of those whom he faces at small forward. "Kawhi (Leonard) is up there."

Durant contained James and, as is becoming his habit, won the individual battle. Cleveland's leading scorer and the conductor of its offense, James totaled 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting, six assists -- and seven turnovers.

Asked why Durant guards James, rather than take an easier defensive assignment that would have less of an effect on his offense, Warriors coach Steve Kerr kept it simple.

"He wants to guard him," Kerr said. "I mean, he asks for the assignment."

It was Durant's play against James last June in the NBA Finals that earned the 6-foot-9 forward his first Finals MVP award. Though James is widely considered the best player in the league, Durant was better during the five-game series.

He was better again on Monday, finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists and five blocks, the last of which was against James on a crucial play with 24.5 seconds remaining and the Warriors leading 95-92.

"I just like guarding my position," Durant said. "Small forward is supposed to guard small forwards . . . I just like guarding my position."

That's minimizing Durant's effect. He guards his position well, but he doesn't stop there. He covers big ground, which is why he ranks second in the NBA in blocks and has rejected at least two in nine consecutive games.

"Defense is about wanting to do it; he's brought into wanting to play defense," Draymond Green said. "If you watch the evolution of Kevin's career, he came in and could just score. He could go get you 20 every night, but that's all he could do. Over the course of the years, he became a better passer. He became a better rebounder. And, this is just a part of the evolution, he's become a much better defender.

"That makes our defense tough. When you've got your small forward protecting the rim the way he does . . . that's stifling for an offense."

The Cavaliers shot 31.8 percent, and only 25 percent (13-of-52) inside the 3-point arc, which is fast becoming Durant's domain.

"He can play every position, 1-through-5, but he's so long and athletic that he gets to a number of those shots where there are guys that are trying to take quick jumpers over him or guys trying to finish at the rim," Cavs big man Kevin Love said. "He's one of those guys that has really stepped up his game defensively."

Durant has six games with at least four blocks, and four of those games have come this month. He's enjoying the action.

"He's more engaged with his shot blocking," Kerr said. "He's coming over from the weak side. He's coming back down on shooters. Rather than just standing on the perimeter watching the flight of the ball, he's coming back in, digging, helping, trying to block shots on the backside. Just the activity level is the main thing."

What's next? Recognition. Durant was ninth in blocks last season, 30th the year before -- his last in Oklahoma City.

With defensive gurus Ron Adams and Mike Brown on the Warriors staff, it's an altogether busier Durant on defense, particularly in the painted area.

Durant last season received zero votes for Defensive Player of the Year, an award that went to Green. More telling, eight forwards -- including Paul Millsap and Robert Covington -- received more votes than Durant for the league's All-Defensive team.

With the season Durant is having that's sure to change.

"He's getting more respect, as of late, about his defense," Green said. "But if (Durant) was someone that just played defense, it would still be more.

"But you're doing Kevin Durant a disservice if you just talk about his defense because he's so good offensively. He's getting more credit for it, which is great, but it'll never overshadow his offense."

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