They did what any NBA team would have done in their situation when the Brooklyn Nets needed a basket against the Boston Celtics: They gave Kevin Durant the ball and got out of his way.
Jayson Tatum Blocks Kevin Durant’s Final Chance
When Durant isolated his defender, ran to the basket, slowed down and made a fadeaway jumper over his head, his teammates might as well have been standing in Fenway Park. Never before in human history had someone of Durant’s stature acted so gracefully in such a difficult situation. Nor had there ever been anyone harder to stop. NBA defenders have seen this exact sequence so many times that they can picture it ending with a swish in their head.
This time, however, that was not the case. Durant has attempted thousands of the most unstoppable throws in the history of basketball, but what happened on this particular occasion was very unusual: the throw was blocked.
This happened in the first game of the playoffs between the Nets and the Celtics. Then it happened again in the second game. Both of these improbable drops were caused by the same person.
Although LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Giannis Antetokounmpo have all blocked Durant’s jumper in the past, no one has done so more effectively in the playoffs than Jayson Tatum.
It is extremely rare for Durant to be blocked by anyone in the world. According to research by Stats LLC, only 2% of Durant’s jumpers were blocked by outstanding athletes and defenders who were supposed to defend him. In other words, he attempted 16,269 jump shots, all of which were successful.
Hands on 354, which is less than the total number of offensive fouls Durant has committed in his career. It turns out that blocking the shot of a 6-foot player who drops the ball several feet higher than normal is so ridiculously difficult that NBA players have more success getting run over by him than they do blocking his shot.
Tatum, on the other hand, gives the impression that it’s easy. In addition to his two blocks against Durant, he now has a total of six in his career, all scored in the playoffs.
There is nothing more symbolic than watching Tatum crush Kevin Durant’s throws in the best series of the first round of the NBA playoffs. While Game 3 is in Brooklyn on Saturday night, the Celtics took a 2-0 lead over the Nets, in large part because the league’s best defence stuck to Kevin Durant like sunscreen. There always seems to be someone standing between him and the light of day.
Tatum often finds himself in the tangle of limbs that surround Durant when he touches the ball in a game against the Celtics. Tatum isn’t the best defender on a team with Marcus Smart, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, but his size, length and instincts make him an expert at causing problems for Durant, who goes through a bad streak while being guarded by Tatum. Despite firing 11 of 28 shots against the other Celtics, tracking data shows Tatum limited Durant to eight points, seven turnovers, no passes and two of 13 throws – including those spectacular blocks – in the second half.
Only 15 players in NBA history have managed to block Durant’s throws at least five times in their careers. A small group of stars, including James, Leonard, Antetokounmpo, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Dwight Howard, defensive specialists like Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, and Durant’s specialists like P.J. Tucker, harassed Durant so much that he chased him down in the preseason playoffs, are on that list. In any setting other than a basketball court, his actions could have been considered illegal.
Shawn Marion is the only other player who has had the pleasure of dissing him more often than Tucker. They met 33 times, with Marion recording 11 blocks against Durant. Tatum has already surpassed half of his previous season’s total after just 14 games.
One rule of the NBA is that anyone who thinks they know how to counter Durant will almost certainly be wrong very quickly. Tatum isn’t going to end Durant’s run. There is no one. He’s not even ready to take credit for the times he’s successfully stopped him.