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KD-fense: How Kevin Durant is getting a reputation for his defense

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Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There was a moment Wednesday night when Kevin Durant relished what he had just done ... and it had nothing to do with his sterling offense which is producing, producing, producing at age 34. Brian Lewis describes the sequence:

He blocked a shot by Dejounte Murray, then chased down the loose ball and dove into the stands, deflecting it off a Hawk to force a turnover.

Asked about it, he burst into a Cheshire cat grin.

“I was more fired up about that I was able to save it,” Durant said after the Nets’ 108-107 win over the Hawks. “Yeah, the block was cool, but being able to still recover the ball and get his possession. I think that was the fun part. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to make that dirty play like that.

“You sort of feel good to get my hands dirty a bit, get on the floor, get a couple of floor burns. So it ignites our team, that just deflates their team a little bit, it just does a lot. So, as much as I can try to just make plays defensively. I try to do it and change momentum a little bit.”

Dirty indeed.

Durant spoke as well Wednesday night about the team’s identity as it keeps winning games, 10 in a row, 14 of the last 15, 17 of the last 20. The two discussions are mutually exclusive. The defensive grit KD showed, to his teammates first and foremost, is indeed a big part of the team’s identity: be confident in your ability to shut things down when needed.

Durant is averaging 1.5 blocks a game this season, the most since his first year at Golden State, good for tenth in the NBA. In terms of STOCKS, the combined stat for blocks and steals, he’s 11th. Nic Claxton is second in both categories.

In fact, the two can make an argument that the two are the best 1-2 frontcourt defensive duo in the NBA right now. According one recent stat, the two (“Thin Towers?”) rank first (.85 for Claxton) and second (.86 for Durant) in “Points per Possession” allowed on isolation attempts. Specifically, opponents score 11% or less from the paint against the two.

John Hollinger, in an analysis of the Nets recent success for The Athletic, also focused on Durant’s D ... and how it showed his resolve, his willingness to stay the course after a summer in which he first demanded a trade, then demanded his GM and head coaching be fired.

Citing his defense on Luka Doncic during a December loss, Hollinger wrote amidst a film study:

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him play harder. He put in a season-high 41 minutes and guarded Luka Dončić the entire second half, finishing with 37 points and some jaw-dropping defensive stands,” wrote Hollinger, pointing to the YES Network call. “I mean, look at this! What’s the Slovenian word for ‘stonewalled?’”

Hollinger cited other examples in his story, including from Wednesday’s game when KD forced Bogdan Boganovic into a 24-second violation...

Same thing: not bailing, showing resolve on the other end of the court from where he does his worse damage. Durant is proud of his defense as he noted post-game Wednesday. In fact, he has finished in the top 10 in Defensive Player of the Year voting three times in his career but never got enough votes to put him on the All-Defense team. This year, though, that could change.