This is what the Warriors wanted and the fans, Warriors Nation, if you will, expected, Kevin Durant playing not so much against his former teammate Russell Westbrook, and that literally is what he did. But also playing against Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and even his new teammate, Steph Curry.
This was KD unleashed, unstoppable, almost unbelievable, although if you’ve noted what he’s done in the past, and what Curry and Klay Thompson have done when they get a basketball in their hands, nothing seems unbelievable.
The Dubs grabbed Durant this past July, stole him from under the noses of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a free agent who cost them big, $54 million for two seasons and Thursday night at Oracle, seemed worth every penny. My, the man can shoot. But you already knew that, right?
He was 15 of 24 against his old team, 7 of 11 on 3-pointers (tying a career high) for 39 points as the Warriors, once trailing by 10, crushed the Thunder, 122-96. It was a personal triumph for Durant, trash-talked by some of the OKC guys, and numerical triumph over ex-teammate Westbrook, who was 4 for 15, with 20 points.
Because the Warriors’ energetic and boastful Draymond Green said the Dubs wanted to thrash OKC, Steve Kerr was asked if the game plan was to set up Durant. The Warriors coach was slightly negative, insisting a play on the opening sequence was set for Curry but Green passed to Durant. Wham: 3-pointer.
Curry, by the way, had 21; Thompson, finally back in rhythm, had 18. Oh yeah, the Dubs, after that dreadful banana-peel slip on your ego opening game loss to San Antonio, have won four straight.
“The beauty of what Kevin does,” said Kerr, “is he kind of senses what is needed. He’ll take over a game he has to but doesn’t force it.”
The defense that helped win a title and then reach the NBA Finals in successive years, missing the first three games of this long season, was by blocked shots, steals and constant pressure.
“That was the key,” affirmed Kerr. “We were able to get out and run.”
Durant ran, leaped, soared and mostly scored. Kerr kept him on the floor in the fourth quarter to give the subs a chance to find out what it’s like to play with the newest star on a franchise of stars — not to enable him maybe to hit 51, which Westbrook did a few games back
Durant was properly humble about his performance. He knows what is possible — he once scored 54 against the Warriors — knows the challenges, mental and physical. If somebody, OKC’s Enes Kanter, could chide Durant on Twitter for fleeing the Thunder, well, Durant could yell a few insults once play was underway. All in good fun, of course.
“I keep trying to move forward,” Durant said of leaving the Thunder and joining the Warriors, “and friends and family keep pulling me back.” Also journalists, who won’t let go of what Kerr correctly recognizes as one of the subplots to the KD story.
Kerr is media savvy, having worked in TV. He knows what people want to read or watch. Surely after nine seasons in the NBA, Durant does too.
“I missed some shots,” said Durant. “Missed a free throw. Had two turnovers. I can be better.”
The Warriors and the crowd at Oracle will accept what he gave them, a game in which he showed the brilliance that brought him to the Bay Area.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Golden State WarriorsKevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder