MEMPHIS -- Part of Kevin Durant's personality is to default to politeness, so much so that the marketers in his life once felt compelled to launch a "KD is not nice" campaign to coarsen up his image.
Within competition itself, though, Durant's nature often changes. Or perhaps it's better to say that nature reveals its full self. The proof: 15 technical fouls this season, second-most in the league.
The juiciest takeaway from the two games in Oklahoma City was the relative success Grizzlies ace defender Tony Allen had against Durant. In addition to just watching how Allen made it a mission to get around screens and get in between Durant and the man passing him the ball, ESPN Stats & Information says Durant is shooting just 36 percent when he's being guarded by Allen in the first two games, including 4-of-11 in Game 2.
Regarding this topic, Durant is not being so nice.
"It's not like I'm just totally getting locked down," said Durant, who had 36 points in the overtime loss Monday. "He's making it tough, but it's not like I'm just nonexistent. I don't know what you guys have been watching. He's just making me work, like everybody else will."
Allen, meanwhile, couldn't care less about the next-level statistics.
"He had 36 last game," Allen said. "He don't get frustrated."
The Grizzlies and Thunder have met in the playoffs three times in the past four seasons, and Durant has put up 35 or more points on them -- and yes, at least partially on Allen -- five times in 14 games. That is nothing to brag about.
Durant and Russell Westbrook both took 28 shots Monday. Durant missed 17 of his, Westbrook missed 16. Some of that was due to the Grizzlies, in Stage 1 of playoff desperation mode, playing with more defensive edge than in Game 1. Some of it was fortune.
"For a guy like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, if you can get 28 shots in a playoff game, then you are capable of going 20-of-28 and getting 40 points," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. "Everyone wants to know who the X factor is. Look, it's still about Durant and Westbrook."
When facing off against Durant in a playoff series, teams generally get used to living with a steady dose of fear (Joerger was more than willing to admit that with a nod to karma heading into Game 3.) Durant may have missed a lot of shots in the loss, but he also made a ridiculous falling 3-pointer with 18 seconds left that resulted in a 4-point play. That sort of ability will scare anyone.
But one of the reasons the Allen-Durant matchup is so intriguing is that Allen plays without fear and without concern of consequence. He is not afraid to be called for fouls or to be physical, so he gets into Durant's body. He is not afraid to get embarrassed, so he does everything he can to deny Durant the ball, even though he is probably giving up 8-plus inches, and sometimes it can lead to a basket that looks too easy. If Durant scores on him three straight times, Allen will be unaffected.
"I'm going to gamble whether it helps the team or not ... that's what I do, that's what makes me who I am today," Allen said. "If I convert, it's a pat on the back. If I don't and it hurts the team, I'll try to get it back on the next possession."
Tactically, there likely will be some subtle differences in Game 3. The Thunder will probably try to move Allen off Durant a little by using more screens. Oklahoma City is used to teams setting up layers of defense in front of Durant, and it didn't react well when Allen was in full denial mode 25 feet from the basket, forcing the offense off its rhythm and Durant off his spots.
But the X's and O's only go so far. It'll be Durant's unmatched scoring machinery against Allen's unmatched tenacity. One of them is mad and the other is relentless. It's the type of theater that is the basis of playoff competition and intrigue.
"All I'm going to do," Allen said, "is play him 24 seconds at a time."