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Kevin Durant’s defense shines in elite two-way performance

Kevin Durant stonewalled a Kevin Love postup, blocked Love’s baby hook with his left hand, snatched the loose ball, tucked it under his arm and turned to read the court.

As he looked ahead, he saw no peers.

Durant turned in a devastating defensive performance – five blocks, three steals and 11 defensive rebounds – in the Warriors’ 132-113 Game 2 win over the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals on Sunday. The only players to get even three-quarters of those defensive stats in an NBA Finals game since the league instituted a 16-team playoff in 1984:

  • Dwight Howard in 2009 Magic-Lakers Game 2 (four blocks, four steals and 13 defensive rebounds)
  • Tim Duncan in 2003 Spurs-Nets Game 1 (seven blocks, three steals and 17 defensive rebounds)
  • Hakeem Olajuwon in 1986 Rockets-Celtics Game 4 (four blocks, four steals and nine defensive rebounds)

That’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Howard), 15-time All-Defensive teamer (Duncan) and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (Olajuwon).

And Durant.

Durant infamously entered the NBA unable to bench press 185 pounds then built a reputation as a lanky finesse scorer. But through sheer force of will, Durant has developed into one of the NBA’s better defenders. A de facto 7-footer, his length is a huge asset – especially considering his mobility. He can block shots on and off the ball and erase passing lanes. He has gotten strong enough and tough enough to body traditional bigs, and his defensive awareness is off the charts.

“Kevin’s defense was unreal, and it was probably the key to the whole game,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who deployed Durant at center in Game 2.

Engaged like he is in these Finals, Durant rivals Kawhi Leonard and even LeBron James as the best two-way player in the NBA. Remember, Durant was in the thick of the MVP race until he got hurt. The 28-year-old is summoning another gear in the Finals, one the 32-year-old LeBron is struggling to maintain.

Durant’s offensive performance tonight would’ve stood up on its own: 33 points, six assists and two offensive rebounds. He’s just taking it to the Cavs.

After blocking Love, Durant pushed the ball against a retreating Cleveland defense, blew by LeBron and banked in a shot as Love pushed him down. Draymond Green, who enthusiastically celebrated the sequence by flexing on the bench, was asked whether he transferred his flexing power to Durant.

“That was a man play. I don’t really know if I could put this power,” Green said while showing off his bicep then tapping Durant’s, “in these arms, though.”

Don’t let Durant’s frame fool you.

His shoulders can carry plenty of weight.