Philadelphia 76ers: Who can defend Kevin Durant in the playoffs?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

If there was one singular statistic that sunk the Philadelphia 76ers‘ chances of defeating the Brooklyn Nets in “Game 1,” it was shooting percentage.

I know, I know, it’s hard to distill an entire game, especially one as buzzer to buzzer bad as Philly’s March 10th showing, down to a single statistic, but when one team shoots 56 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3 and another shoots 32.3 percent from the field, and 38.9 percent from three, not even a 13 free throw advantage can make that game close.

If James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and really every Sixers player not named Joel Embiid didn’t lay an egg in the first half, the Sixers probably aren’t down 20-plus out of the half. If the Sixers make more than five shots from the field in the first quarter or the Nets make less than 17, maybe the team doesn’t have to force as many shots in the second quarter and thus return from the half with a more manageable workload.

But for that to happen, the 76ers would have had to slow down Kevin Durant, and unfortunately, that proved all but impossible. In 32 minutes of action, the “Slim Reaper” led the Nets in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and both field goals shot and made, and could have had more too if he played more meaningful minutes in the fourth quarter.

Was this performance by Durant an aberration? No, not really; he actually averages four more points in any given game and is good for 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists to go along with them.

Needless to say, if the Philadelphia 76ers end up drawing the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs, they’ll need to draw up a better plan to shut down Kevin Durant, which could be tough, considering the team really doesn’t have an ideal defensive matchup defender.

The Philadelphia 76ers need a creative solution to a slim problem.

Doc Rivers likes things done a certain way.

While his offense has evolved a decent bit since James Harden came to town, and he’s finally abandoned the All-Bench lineups in favor of staggering the minutes of his star players – at least for the most part – an observant fan can set their watch by his rotation and predict when either team will go on a run as a result.

Versus the Brooklyn Nets, Rivers chose to put Matisse Thybulle on Kyrie Irving, and while he did get some run on Kevin Durant, it was Tobias Harris who was largely tasked with shutting down one of the best scorers in the world.

*spoiler alert* it didn’t go well.

Now granted, part of that is because Harris isn’t exactly having the best defensive season of his career. Of the 253 players in the NBA who have logged at least 900 minutes so far this season, Harris ranks 237th in defensive RAPTOR according to FiveThirtyEight, which is the fourth-worst mark among poor forwards behind only Doug McDermott, Marcus Morris, and Saddiq Bey.

While I doubt Rivers particularly cares what the advanced analytics have to say about Harris’ defense, or would have allowed them to shade his defensive decision-making either way, it’s not like he had many other options to slow down the four-time scoring champ; not in his regular rotation anyway.

Of the eight players to take the court for the Sixers before things got out of hand and the bench got cleared, no one has a similar athletic profile to Durant. Embiid could probably shut down Durant for a few possessions or even a few minutes at a time in a tight playoff game, but expecting him to go 32 minutes on KD is just unrealistic.

Matisse Thybulle could also serve as defensive quicksand for the 12-time All-Star when he’s on the court, as his 7-foot-2 wingspan is long enough to challenge even the highest of shots, but he might be better suited to cover a player like Irving, as the Sixers really don’t have another rotation player who can guard him either.

No, for the Sixers to truly have a shot against Durant and Irving, they need to take a page out of Steve Nash’s playbook and trap the ever-loving heck out of them.

Granted, if trapping could shut down any given player, every team would simply swarm the ball handler on every single possession and call it a day. Because of Durant’s height, length, and passing prowess, he’s a more than capable playmaker who can dish easy dimes to shooters like Seth Curry, but if the Sixers can give more minutes to defensive specialists, at least situationally, it can do a big part in disguising where the doubles are coming from and thus “steal” away a few possessions.

Can Paul Reed slow down Durant on his own? I mean, he did slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, so it’s possible, but over 34 minutes, his shortcomings might get exposed. How about Charlie Brown Jr. or Jaden Springer, aka the Sixers’ forgotten man? While those players are probably better suited to defend Curry and Irving, they wouldn’t be a nightmare switched onto Durant for a few seconds at a time.

If the Sixers can’t magically go out and secure perimeter shooting upgrades at this point in the season, their next-best option might be to try to stifle their opponent’s shooting percentage and thus keep the games closer in time for clutch scoring opportunities in the fourth.

Next. At least Andre Drummond secured a free frosty. dark

When the Philadelphia 76ers close out the season, be that after the first round, Eastern Conference Finals, or even the NBA Finals, their first priority has to be landing a bigger wing who can match up on players like Kevin Durant. While that’s easier said than done, as seemingly every team could use another 3-and-D forward, there are players like Otto Porter or Nicolas Batum who would look really nice in a red, white, and blue uniform. But for now, Doc Rivers would be wise to learn from his shellacking versus the Brooklyn Nets and try to tap a player like Kevin Durant should they meet again, especially with some of the team’s lesser-used defenders like Charlie Brown Jr., Paul Reed, and Jaden Springer.