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Did Billy Donovan tell Mo Cheeks he “can’t play Kanter?” Sure looks like it.

Billy Donovan

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)


Enes Kanter came off the bench for the Thunder Sunday and played 16:29 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds. That’s five minutes, six points and almost four rebounds off his average.

Kanter is a good offensive big man, but it’s no secret he gets exposed when he has to move his feet and make decisions on defense. Which is exactly what the Rockets started to do to him in the second half of Game 1. Not coincidentally, he was -7 in the half and played when the Thunder began to pull away.

It culminated in the play below — Kanter was yanked 17 seconds later — but check out Thunder coach Billy Donovan’s reaction and words to Mo Cheeks next to him.

Sure looks like he said, “I can’t play Kanter.”

To be fair, we can’t be 100 percent certain what Donovan said (you can be sure he’ll deny it). Also, he could have been referring to this specific bench matchup.

However, what he said is pretty accurate — Kanter’s defensive liabilities are the kinds of things teams hone in on in the playoffs. If Kanter is in, Houston is going to drag him into a pick-and-roll nearly every time down and make him defend it. And when he can’t Donovan will have to find another option, and he doesn’t have a good one.

Billy Donovan has an ace in this series in Russell Westbrook, but Mike D’Antoni has been dealt a much better hand to play. The Rockets have James Harden, but they also have real depth and versatility. They will use that to go at Kanter all series.