If not for Shawn Marion’s defense on Kevin Durant, a championship banner probably wouldn’t be hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, Marion won’t be available for the Thunder’s visit tonight, as he’ll be sidelined by a strained right calf for the sixth consecutive game.
How much will the Mavs miss Marion against Durant? Believe it or not, the stats suggest that Marion is no longer more effective defending Durant than the Mavs’ other options.
That’s quite a contrast to the 2011 West finals, when Marion spearheaded a magnificent defensive effort against Durant.
According to NBA.com’s numbers, Durant shot only 38.2 percent from the floor and 15.0 percent from 3-point range when Marion was on the floor during that series, averaging an inefficient 26.9 points per 48 minutes. Durant’s stats soared with Marion off the floor: 38.6 points per 48 minutes on 55.2 percent shooting from the floor, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range. The Mavs were plus-30 in 163 minutes of Durant vs. Marion and minus-15 when Durant was on the floor while Marion rested.
The stats suggest Durant learned from that experience and developed the weaknesses exposed by Marion’s physical, aggressive defense in that series. Durant was actually more productive with Marion on the floor than when he rested last season, both in the regular season and the Thunder’s first-round sweep.
Durant has dominated the matchup against Marion in the Mavs’ three losses to the Thunder this season, averaging 41.1 points per 48 minutes, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from 3-point range and hitting 25 of 26 free throws. (Oh, those free throws are a sore issue. Marion was fined $25,000 for declaring that it was difficult to “play 5-on-8” after Durant’s free throw-fueled 52-point performance during his last trip to Dallas.)
It’s not like the Mavs have had much success stopping Durant this season with Marion sitting. Durant’s stats in those situations: 38 points in 42 minutes, 45.8 field goal percentage, 71.4 3-point percentage, 11-of-11 from the line. But Durant has committed seven turnovers in those 42 minutes, and the Mavs outscored the Thunder by 15, compared to OKC’s plus-37 when Marion faces Durant this season.
Rookie Jae Crowder is expected to get the first crack at defending Durant (with a whole lot of help) tonight. It’s a glaring mismatch on paper, with the 6-foot-6 Crowder realistically giving up four or five inches to the ridiculously skilled and talented Durant.
However, Crowder has done an outstanding job against Durant, albeit in a small sample size. They’ve been on the floor together for 30 minutes, during which Durant had 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting with three turnovers and the score was even.
There's no tougher matchup than Durant, who is on pace to join Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to lead the league in scoring for four straight seasons. The Mavs' rookie has proven to be ready for the challenge.