As the San Antonio Spurs took the Oklahoma City Thunder apart Thursday night on their way to winning Game 5 by 28 points, Thunder forward Kevin Durant quietly battled to finish with 25 points. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s still short of the sparkling numbers he had been putting up before the NBA’s Western Conference finals began.
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Durant had been magnificent, averaging 31.4 points per game and hitting the 30-point mark in nine of 13 games. In the five games against the Spurs, Durant has hit the 30-point mark just once, and in the Thunder’s three blowout losses, he’s averaged just 22.7 points.
Durant’s efficiency has also suffered. His shooting accuracy from different areas of the floor hasn’t been significantly different, but the Spurs have forced him away from his preferred spots. Shot location statistics from NBA.com show how the distribution of his true shot attempts has changed in these games (true shot attempts include field goal attempts and trips to the free-throw line, essentially all non-turnover possessions).
Kevin Durant’s Distribution of True Shot Attempts
In the Thunder’s three losses against the Spurs, far fewer of Durant’s true shooting attempts have come around the basket. Durant has been pushed back into the inefficient mid-range zone.
This may seem like splitting hairs; we’re talking about a potent scorer from anywhere on the floor. But even a great scorer like Durant is much more efficient in some areas. For example, during the regular season, a Durant trip to the free-throw line had an expected value more than twice that of one of his mid-range jump shots.
In fact, if we give Durant his shooting percentage from the regular season but his shot selection from the three losses against the Spurs, Durant would have a true shooting percentage of 54.4. That’s far less his 63.5 regular-season number, which ranked second in the league this season and was the best in NBA history by a player who used at least 32 percent or more of his team’s offensive possessions.
Defensive pressure usually conjures images of blocked shots and steals. But by making Durant change his shot selection, the Spurs’ defense turned an elite scorer into merely a good one.