The Clippers list Chris Paul at 6 feet tall. Oklahoma City Thunder forward (and NBA MVP) Kevin Durant may be listed at 6 feet 9 but, with his miles of arms, is in effect more like a 7-footer.
At crunch time of arguably the most important game in Clippers history, Coach Doc Rivers turned to Paul to guard Durant -- despite the glaring height disadvantage.
“That’s called desperate coaching,” Rivers said after the Clippers’ 101-99 victory. “Yesterday as a staff, we said Durant was beating us off the dribble. If you put a guard on him, you could make him more of a post-up player.”
Naturally the Clippers sent help, with an aggressive defensive rotation. While Durant finished with a game-high 40 points, the strategy was effective.
Yes, he was able to pull up for a jump shot over Paul, but Durant’s 10 points in the fourth quarter weren’t enough to stall the Clippers’ dramatic comeback from a 22-point deficit.
"[I] just tried to make it as tough as possible for him,” said Paul. "[He] still finished with 40.”
Durant downplayed Paul’s defense as a factor, instead blaming the loss on his own team’s fourth-quarter defensive breakdown. The Clippers outscored the Thunder 38-24 in the period, surviving an epic slow start.
“It’s not one-on-one,” said Durant. “When I catch the ball, they sent in a double team. When they sent the double team, they did a good job of crowding me, making me get rid of the ball.”
“When it’s one-on-one, I got the advantage,” he continued. "It was our defense. Offensively we were good.”
The Clippers had to find a way to win to avoid a 3-1 deficit with Game 5 in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
The answer for Rivers was to go “ultra-small,” with Darren Collison, Blake Griffin, Danny Granger, Jamal Crawford and Paul.
Collison and Crawford scored 18 apiece of the bench. Paul’s 23 points and 10 assists were vital to the win, but so too was his defense against one of the NBA’s top stars.