OAKLAND — This was scripted out last summer, the Warriors adding a piece — which was not necessarily missing but unique — special enough to help return the championship they let slip away.
Kevin Durant was looking for the title he lacked, and the Dubs gleefully — if not inexpensively — brought him on board as a free agent, the man who would make a difference.
The Warriors had Steph and Klay and Draymond, but they didn’t have anyone like Durant, KD, who is taller than his listed 6-foot-9 and can put the ball on the floor when he’s not putting it through the rim. And in the opener of the 2017 NBA Finals Thursday night at the Oracle, he did plenty of both.
This was Warriors basketball to the max, forcing the issue but controlling the ball, a lot of fast breaks with very few turnovers — is four few enough for you? — and letting Durant show what he was supposed to show, versatility, brilliance and big numbers in the box score, 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
With Stephen Curry getting 28 points and 10 assists of his own, the Dubs, in inimitable fashion, a burst of 10 points to open the second half, crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-91.
What Durant gave the Warriors was the inside scorer they needed on a team that lived outside the 3-point arc. Except he also can hit the three, keeping the other guys off balance and out of synch.
“[Durant] is 7-feet, and if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, if he’s outside the 3-point line, you can’t help off him that much,” said Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown. “We feel like our opponents have to pick their poison.”
In the postseason, nobody’s found an antidote. The Dubs have played 13 games and won 13 games. The Cavs shadowed the Warrior shooters, so Durant dashed inside for dunks.
“Our game plan was kind of backwards,” said Tyronn Lue, the Cavs coach, “but when Kevin Durant has the ball you don’t want to leave him and get to the shooters.”
Durant had to find his niche on a Warriors team with great talent and extrovert personalities. He is quiet and carries the memory of a mentor who was gunned down when KD was a teenager in suburban Washington, D.C. Chucky Craig was 35 when he was killed in 2005 and according to a fine piece by John Branch in the New York Times, that’s why Durant wears 35.
Draymond Green, asked why Durant is particularly important in the playoffs, unhesitantly said, “Because he can go get a bucket. And that’s one of the things we need, a guy who can go get a bucket, get to the free throw line. One thing about K: He can get to the basket any time he wants.”
But last winter, as he adjusted to the Warriors and the Warriors to him, what Durant wanted was to be just another member on a team loaded with stars. He acted as if he was just one of many, although as he showed against the Cavs he’s one of a kind.