Bucks-Nets: P.J. Tucker put on a defensive clinic against Kevin Durant, and the basketball gods rewarded him

There are few options for defending a scorer like Kevin Durant, and none of them are good. You can’t give him space because he’s one of the best shooters on the planet, but if you crowd him, he’s got the handle and athleticism to not just beat you, but make you look foolish off the bounce. 

Mostly, you just try to keep him from his most comfortable spots. If he’s off ball, maybe you try to be physical and push him a few feet farther out than he wants to catch. If he’s on ball, you do everything you can to beat him to his spot. From there, you clasp your hands in prayer and hope he misses. 

Down the stretch of Milwaukee’s 86-83 Game 3 victory over the Nets P.J. Tucker put on a defensive clinic on Durant. He had, for the most part, little to show for it, because Durant is ridiculous. But in a game this close, you sometimes only need one stop to swing the tide. Tucker was eventually rewarded for his efforts, and frankly, he deserves his props regardless of the result. 

We start at the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter. The Bucks lead by two. Durant is bringing the ball up, and Tucker knows Bruce Brown is going to set a ball screen. Rather than allow Brown to make contact, Tucker jumps above the pick and gets around it cleanly. He’s still trailing Durant, but with Brook Lopez in drop coverage, Milwaukee’s only hope for an actual contested shot is Tucker coming from behind. He does that. Contests the shot pretty strongly. Durant still makes it to tie the game. 

On Brooklyn’s next possession, with the Bucks again up two courtesy of another Khris Middleton bucket, Durant again has the ball at the top awaiting a ball screen from Brown. Again, Tucker gets himself above the screen. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Not everyone fights for pre-action position. One step lower and Tucker is running smack into Brown’s chest and Durant is coming off free. Here, Brown does get contact, but Tucker has created enough leverage to still fight through and again contest Durant’s shot from behind. Again, it doesn’t matter. Durant ties the game yet again. 

We move to Brooklyn’s next possession. The game remains tied after a Middleton miss. No secret what’s coming: A Brown ball screen. Tucker refuses to let it happen this time. He jumps all the way into Durant’s space and cuts off his initial angle. Durant gets the ball back on a dribble handoff and Tucker fights over/through a second screen. You cannot contest a shot any better than this, and Durant still makes it. Nets up three. 

Can you imagine how demoralizing this has to be for a defender? You have done everything in your power, and Durant is just too tall and too great. Entering Game 3, 90 percent of Durant’s 3-pointers had been contested (the highest mark of any playoff shooter), and he was still making 50 percent of them. 

But Tucker doesn’t quit. And it pays off. After the Bucks cut the deficit to one with just over a minute to play, they are in dire need of a stop. Remember what I said at the top about beating superstars to their spot and maybe pushing them a bit farther out than they’d like to catch the ball? Well here you go. 

Durant starts off ball (far corner) and Tucker knows he’s going to get it. He winds his way through traffic and cuts Durant off at the foul line, forcing him to come out to the 3-point line for a handoff. Then Tucker even interrupts that, knocking the ball away, taking more time off the shot clock and screwing up whatever rhythm Durant might’ve had off a clean catch. But it’s not over. Tucker moves his feet and cuts off penetration, fights over another screen, forces Durant to give the ball up twice (with some timely help from his teammates) before it finally ends up in the hands of Joe Harris. Who, finally, misses. 

This is Rule No. 1 when it comes to defending superstars: Whenever possible, make someone else make the shot. Yes, Harris is a world-class shooter. He could’ve easily made that shot. But this is the prayer portion of the segment. Tucker did his job. He got the ball out of the red-hot Durant’s hands. It wasn’t easy. He fought for every inch. From there, it was out of his control. Left to the whims of the basketball gods. And the gods rewarded Tucker — if you believe in this sort of stuff — for all his previous work with the one miss Milwaukee needed. 

Jrue Holiday scores on the other end. 

Milwaukee up one. Brooklyn has one more chance. 

We know the Nets are trying to get Durant the ball here. If he gets it, as we saw in the first three clips, he can get his shot off against anyone. And there’s a good chance he’ll make it. Tucker doesn’t let it get that far. Watch as he again navigates the screen and beats Durant to the spot, denies the pass and keeps denying as Durant moves down the sideline. Blake Griffin has no choice. He has to pass to someone else. And all hell breaks loose from there. Durant never touches the ball. 

These are five possessions down the stretch of a one-possession game. You don’t know which one is going to decide the game. Durant won the first three. Tucker won the last two. And those two decided the game. Tucker stuck with a plan and fought his you-know-what off. And now it’s a series. Nets lead 2-1. Game 4 on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET — stream via fuboTV (Try for free). Let’s go.