OAKLAND — Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley has long been one of the NBA’s most irritatingly effective trash talkers. His head coach, Doc Rivers, has said it’s because he has good material. That’s why his victims engage.
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant engaged Beverley twice on Saturday night, and got a pair of technical fouls and an ejection for his trouble. After shootaround on Monday, Beverley was a bigger subject than the Warriors’ 14 blocks, or their 21 turnovers.
“I don’t want to get in the way of what’s going on out on the floor and be a huge distraction,” Durant said. “I don’t want that to be a part of the series. I just want to play.”
Both Beverley and Durant were ejected with about five minutes left in the Warriors’ Game 1 win. If Durant continues to engage with Beverley, it could not only hurt him, but endanger Golden State’s chances at a fourth title in five seasons long after what’s expected to be a short first-round series with Beverley’s Clippers is in the rearview mirror.
Like Beverley, Warriors forward Alfonzo McKinnie came up in Chicago’s Red-West League, playing for Marshall Metropolitan High School in the Red-West League. Four years Beverley’s junior, he long heard of and observed Beverley’s verbal assaults and relentless defense.
“You kind of know about the superstar guys in high school, and he was one of those guys,” McKinnie said. “Everything that you see him do on the court, I tell people, he’s been doing that for years. That’s just him. That’s what he was taught. Me coming up in that same program as him, that’s just things that they taught us. I’m just not as wild as him.”
Beverley’s famed antagonism — something the Clippers rely on to force the big-name stars to make mistakes — could very well wind up costing Golden State down the road, long after the first-round series that’s expected to be a formality for the two-time defending champions. With two technical fouls already, Durant has to mind his P’s and Q’s the rest of the postseason, should he run into the seven-technical threshold that triggers a one-game suspension.
Durant, whether it be due to his impending free agency, media and public scrutiny or other factors, has been particularly testy on the court this season. Only four times in his career has ever surpassed eight technical fouls in an entire NBA season. Two of those happened in the midst of his tenure in Oklahoma City, when he had 12 in 2012-13 and 16 in 2013-14. Last season, he had 14 for Golden State, and then a career-high 17 this season (though one at the end may wind up being rescinded).
Knowing Beverley’s playbook as well as he does, coming from the same roots with the same philosophies espoused in the same high school and AAU scene, said there is one sure way to not let Beverley impact Golden State long after the Clippers have gone by the wayside.
“Just not let Pat get under his skin. That’s part of his game,” McKinnie said. “That’s part of Pat’s game, is to get in people’s heads.”
But, McKinnie acknowledged, that’s no easy task.
“It is easier said than done,” he said. “You being a competitor, people talk smack all the time, and when it’s constant and constant and constant … You’ve just got to look at the big picture. You don’t want to get too many techs and stuff like that. It’s really just a mindset thing. You’ve really got to lock in on not trying to fall for the bait.”
Kerr gently admonished Durant in his post-game press conference on Saturday, saying, “We took the bait. He took the bait … We already talked about it for two days. That’s one of our keys, don’t take the bait, and we took it, so you just can’t do it.”
Asked on Saturday about whether he was worried about any additional technical calls, and how they could impact his availability, Durant said, flatly: “No, I can control myself.”
Six times on Monday, Durant was asked about various aspects of his interactions with the tempestuous Clippers defender, and five times, he answered. Finally, he put an end to the line of questioning.
“This is not about me or Patrick Beverley,” he said, tersely. “It’s about the Clippers and the Warriors.”
It could be argued that the two are one in the same.
Losing Beverley could hurt the Clippers defensively — although, giving up eight inches to Durant, he still allowed him to score 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting —but it doesn’t do much to Los Angeles on the offensive end: Beverley averaged 9.0 points per game throughout his career, and 7.6 during the 2018-19 regular season.
Durant, on the other hand, is the best scorer of his generation — arguably ever. While Golden State didn’t miss Durant much for the final five minutes of the game — the win was well in hand — if Durant continues to engage, it will not only hurt them in the current series, but is more likely to hurt their quest for a fourth title in five years if Durant gets suspended in a later-round series.
Andre Iguodala missing four games of the 2018 Western Conference Finals pushed that series to seven games, and Draymond Green’s suspension in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals cost the Warriors an NBA title. While the Warriors do have arguably four other Hall of Famers to lean on, missing a piece that spaces the floor and can score from anywhere like Durant makes them more vulnerable.
Durant expected the verbal sparring, and even called it fun after the game. He had smiled, almost reveling in his interactions with Beverley on the court, bending over at the waist to get into his face after knocking the ball out near the scorer’s table — the very incident that got both men the heave-ho. “In the moment,” Durant said, “it was cool.”
“You see him smiling after every altercation because it’s nothing personal,” McKinnie said. “It’s just people competing.”
After some time to reflect, on Monday, Durant was more contrite.
“I don’t want to disappoint my coaches and my fan base, who expect me to be out on the floor,” said Durant. “I mean, in the moment, it was cool, but the reaction after the game, I don’t want my coach, my team, my organization upset because of some shit that I did.”