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Kevin Durant’s brilliance pushes Utah to the brink of elimination

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Kevin Durant, seen here on May 4. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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The Golden State Warriors didn’t play particularly well on Saturday.

They threw just 17 assists, two more than their season low. The Splash Brothers combined to shoot 7-for-29 (3-for-15 from deep).  Draymond Green earned his first technical of the postseason.

But, even as the rest of his team struggled in Game 3, Kevin Durant thrived.

The 2014 MVP carried the scoring load by raining in 38 points on 26 shots. He also grabbed 13 rebounds as the Warriors went on to take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 102-91 win.

The Warriors’ scouting report for their Western Conference semifinals opponent indicated the Jazz would have problems matching up with Durant, who offers problems for most teams.

On Saturday, it was the pick-and-roll that allowed Durant to do so much of his damage. As seen in the second clip of this video:

The Warriors targeted Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert in those sets, liking the fact the center tends to gravitate toward the paint.

“If whoever Gobert’s guarding sets a solid screen, KD is going to come off wide open,” Golden State acting head coach Mike Brown explained to reporters. “KD can shoot from 25 feet, 20 feet, 17 feet or get to the rim — it doesn’t matter: That puts Gobert in a predicament.”

“It’s simplistic basic, backyard basketball. You find where you think you have an advantage,” he continued.

Typical to his deferential nature, Durant didn’t think his scoring was the story of the game.

He pointed to the Jazz being limited to 41 points after halftime and the Warriors not committing a turnover during that stretch.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the team’s first half in the playoffs without a turnover in at least the previous 20 years when the NBA started recording statistics by quarters and halves.

Game 3 marked the third time this postseason the Warriors tied a franchise-low for number of turnovers in a playoffs game at seven.

Durant was combative throughout the contest, playing in front of a hostile crowd in Salt Lake City.

Cameras caught him taking umbrage with the Jazz mascot lingering on the floor after a timeout, trading barbs with fans and — during game action — getting into a spat with Rudy Gobert late in the game.

Gobert was aggressive establishing his position in the post and Durant responded with a shove that earned himself a flagrant and technical foul.

“Just basketball,” he explained for what happened, “…That’s why they call our league soft. We call flagrants for stuff like that.”

Reflecting that same edge, Draymond Green ended his streak of technical-free games by arguing a call from the bench. He was whistled moments after taunting the crowd.

The tech came in the second quarter, when the Warriors were outscored 33-22, allowing the Jazz to take their first lead of the series.

But it was in the fourth quarter when Golden State proved again why it’s the favorite to win the NBA Finals.

Durant and Curry combined to score 23 of the Warriors’ 30 points in the period.

The Golden State win moves Utah to the brink of elimination as the Jazz will play for their season on Monday.

“I don’t want to be too dramatic or too fatalistic,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder told reporters after the game,
“but, I think it’s obvious, when you’re down 0-3, what’s going on next game.”

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