There's a certain stigma that often hounds players who are labeled as defensive stoppers in the NBA, a belief that no small part of their success is derived from the fact that they are simply willing to play like assholes. This was true of Bruce Bowen, who was never all that feisty but wasn't shy about using a dirty trick here and there. This is definitely true of Patrick Beverley, whose defensive strategy is similar to a kid sticking his finger in his little brother's face and yelling, "Not touching you! Not touching you!" Last night, this was not true of Tony Allen.
One of the best plays in a classic Game 2 was the one above. Down 105-101, with two minutes to play in OT, the Thunder tried to run a simple screen to get the ball into Kevin Durant's hands. This wasn't a complicated play by any means—it was the kind of ho-hum action that unfolds without incident dozens of times a game. Tony Allen, however, was hell-bent on making it complicated.
It wouldn't have been strange to see Allen concede the pass to Durant and crouch down at the three-point arc, ready to engage in some defender-takes-on-star hero ball. Instead, Allen attached himself to Durant's hip, fought straight through Russell Westbrook's screen, ran Durant off the three-point line and into the ground, briefly doubled Nick Collison, and then swiped at Westbrook as he went by for the desperation floater. Tony Allen singlehandedly wrecked that play before it even started.
And he did it cleanly, too. That's what makes this play so great. Allen detonated a key Thunder possession late in the game not by bullying anyone with his physicality or getting away with a cheap foul, but by playing perfect, clean defense. That's hard to do, and it requires just as much intelligence, instinct, and physical ability as making a big play on the offensive end does.
This is the kind of thing Tony Allen has been doing throughout the first two games against the Thunder. He's hounded Kevin Durant all over the court, using his body and quick hands to make everything—including simply catching a pass—difficult for Durant. Allen refuses to be screened, swipes at every pass sent in Durant's direction, and never gives his man room to breathe. In two games, Durant is 9-for-25 when being defended by Allen in the half court.
That miracle four-point play that Durant hit at the end of the fourth quarter? It only happened because Allen swatted away Westbrook's initial pass. On the possession before that, Allen picked Durant's pocket as he went up for what would have been a game-tying three. A lot of memorable things happened in Game 2—Durant's shot, Westbrook dunking like his old self, Kendrick Perkins actually doing something useful for once—but the game belonged to Tony Allen's defense, which was as clean and precise as it was punishing.