OAKLAND — Two hours before tip-off on Monday night, Steve Kerr acknowledged the fact that in order for his Golden State Warriors to stay afloat without start point guard Stephen Curry and power forward Draymond Green — both dealing with injuries — Kevin Durant would have to bear the workload of scoring.
Four hours later, the two-time NBA Finals MVP would finish with a season-high 49 points while taking over a third of the Warriors shots against the Orlando Magic.
“Incredible. The guy is just amazing,” Kerr said. “The last few games, he knew he had to kind of put us on his shoulders.”
Durant’s night — which powered a 116-110 comeback win — was his highest scoring output since a 54-point night on Jan. 17, 2014, ironically against the Warriors as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished with six rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and two steals in 40 minutes, and overcame a 1-for-6 start from the field, missing five of his first six shots.
“I done started off one-for-six plenty of nights,” Durant said. “I can’t hang my head if I start slow. I’ve got to keep pushing and keep pushing.”
Regressing to isolation basketball, Durant took contested mid-range jump shots that clanked off of the rim, allowing to Magic to gain a nine-point lead in the first six minutes of the game.
Despite Durant being off kilter, finishing the quarter 3-of-9 from the field, the Warriors took a 26-25 lead into the second period. As a team, Golden State had brushed off a 3-for-12 start shooting, and had gotten their shooting percentage up to 47.6, including 42 percent from three.
Klay Thompson began to find a groove or sorts, scoring eight of his 10 first-half points in the first.
The second quarter, however, would bring the Warriors’ confidence back to earth as Orlando outscored the defending champions by 18 points in that 12-minute span.
Leading the charge for Orlando was former Raptors guard Terrence Ross, who scored 13 of his eventual 28 points in the second. During his nearly 10 minutes of playing time, Ross would knock down all four of his shots from the floor, including both 3-point shots he attempted.
“He had it going tonight,” Thompson said. “He’s had a 50-point game in this league so you can’t sleep on him.”
Heading into the locker room, down by 17, the Warriors knew they had been “embarrassed,” according to Kerr. Not taking that lightly, Durant decided it would be his job to lead the push in the third quarter.
After trading baskets with Orlando for the first six minutes — going down by as many as 18 points — the Warriors would steamroll the Magic in the final six on a 19-5 run, bringing Golden State back within striking distance.
Durant would score 16 of those points on 5-of-9 shooting, earning six of the Warriors eight free throws. He would finish 13-of-13 at the line.
“I felt the third quarter was kind of mine to get us back in the game scoring,” Durant said. “We were able to cut that lead pretty quick.”
Still down by four, Durant was given a rest by Kerr as he and Thompson were staggered to begin the fourth. During the stretch, it was Thompson who began to catch fire as Durant did the quarter before.
Scoring 19 of his 29 points in the fourth, Thompson would burry five 3-pointers. One of the triples came at the the 5:26 mark of the fourth, which gave Golden State a two point lead — their first advantage in over 30 minutes.
With 39 seconds remaining in the game, up by a single point, Durant snagged a rebound off of a Ross missed jump shot. Walking the ball up the court, Durant shooed away Kevon Looney, who looked to set up the pick-and-roll.
As Looney fled, Durant stepped into a high-arching 3-pointer — reminiscent of the pair of triples he hit in the final seconds in Game 3 of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals — hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. It would prove to be the dagger, putting Golden State up by four with 21 seconds to play.
“At that point, we were trying to get the best look,” Durant said. “[Magic forward Jonathan Isaac] is a long player so he could contest pretty well. He still got a good contest but it felt good leaving my hands and I’m glad it went in.”
The bucket would give Durant 47 points on the night and after a pair of free throw on Golden State’s final possession, he would finish the night with 49 — his highest scoring total as a member of the Warriors and second-highest as a pro.
“I still missed 17 shots tonight,” he said. “I tricked off a 50-piece.”
With Curry (adductor) and Green (foot/toe) expected to come back sometime this week after making progress on their respective injuries, Durant will be happy to have some of the load off of his shoulders.
Heading to Toronto to face the Raptors, who currently boast the NBA’s best record (17-4), Golden State will need all hands on deck if they hope to prevail in a potential Finals preview.
“To have Steph and Draymond back in there, definitely two guys that are champions and All-Stars,” said Durant, whose spat with Green before overtime against the Los Angeles Clippers — and in the locker room afterwards — on Nov. 12 sparked a 1-5 stretch for Golden State. “It’s only going to be good for out team when Steph gets back … Draymond on the bench is like a caged animal over there. Can’t wait to have him back.”