Milwaukee Bucks: Is P.J. Tucker the answer in defending Kevin Durant?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 10: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 10: (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

As the Milwaukee Bucks rose up into a sudden title contender upon the arrival of Mike Budenholzer during the 2018-19 season, they represented a new challenger to the superpower standing in the Bay Area.

The Bucks saw a window of opportunity as the Golden State Warriors, the reigning back-to-back champions, had slipped into dysfunction and turmoil within the locker room that centered around Kevin Durant’s then-impending free agency. That challenge never came as the Bucks collapsed in the Eastern Conference Finals and they saw the Toronto Raptors topple the great Warriors as they saw traumatic injuries strike both Durant and Klay Thompson.

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Now, nearly two years later, Durant is at the center of the Bucks’ title window in what could be the dissolution of the Mike Budenholzer era.

The Bucks have already have fallen down in a 2-1 hole to the Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Durant, along with Kyrie Irving, are absolutely tormenting the Bucks in every facet of the game.

Durant has increasingly put in masterclass performances as he’s now averaging 30.3 points on 35-for-71 shooting (8-for-18 from three, 13-for-15 from the foul line), along with 8 rebounds and 4.7 assists through the series’ first three games.

Milwaukee Bucks have struggled to contain Kevin Durant in the Conference Semifinals

All throughout this series, the Bucks have entrusted P.J. Tucker to take on the brunt of dealing with Durant on the offensive end.

To that end, the Bucks big midseason acquisition has struggled to keep up offering up his trademark resistance since being inserted into the Bucks’ starting lineup going into the start of the series. Per, Durant has scored 22 points on 17-for-33 shooting (4-for-10 from three, 2-for-2 from the free throw line) across 84.1 partial possessions this series.

There’s no question that it’s been a heated battle, even in spite of it largely favoring Durant and the Nets at the moment. The very minor scuffle between the two Longhorn alums in the third quarter of the Bucks’ Game 3 win last Thursday night was certainly an indication of that.

For Tucker, these are the times and moments for why the Bucks brought him after making the deal with the Houston Rockets a week before this year’s trade deadline. Even as he previously had a more limited role for the Bucks since arriving to Milwaukee and so far this postseason, he’s been deployed in big-time matchups like most recently Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat.

Durant, though, poses a different problem entirely for the Bucks and Tucker. Between his size,  exceptional ball handling and shotmaking skills, it’s not unfair to say that Durant has been better than ever, even when taking into account the fact that he’s two years removed from an Achilles’ tear.

Tucker can try to fend off Durant using his strength to throw him off his spots, but the disparity in mobility between the two veteran forwards shows up in big-time shots like the following one Durant hit late in Game 3.

In far less crucial moments, Tucker has had more than his fair share of troubles trying to keep up with Durant and there’s no greater matchup that will determine whether the Bucks can do the unthinkable and toppling the mighty Nets. Especially after the serious hole the Bucks dug for themselves to start the series.

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Durant’s injury and subsequent recovery while arriving Brooklyn nearly two summers ago may have opened the glimmer of opportunity for the Bucks to grow into a Finals contender. Now he stands in the way of whether the Bucks are drifting backwards and the potential end to the Mike Budenholzer era.