Durant: “How would you like me to play?” pic.twitter.com/OpLjV8pNuv
— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) April 17, 2019
OAKLAND — Steve Kerr wants Kevin Durant to shoot. Durant’s teammates — including Andrew Bogut, who called him the greatest scorer ever after practice on Wednesday — want him to shoot. At the end of Monday night’s stunning 135-131 first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, fans certainly wanted him to shoot.
Yet, as Golden State suffered the biggest collapse in playoff history, frittering away a 31-point lead midway through the third quarter, Durant shot the ball just two times in the final 19:29 of the game.
“I’m not going to go out there and just shoot 20 or 30 shots,” Durant said. “I don’t play like that. We were up 30 points, I had five shots, everybody’s shots were evenly-distributed around that time, and we were up 30. Me taking two more shots after that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”
Durant — who did not speak to the media after fouling out of Game 2 — at turns sparred with and explained his thought process to the media at length on Wednesday, giving his thoughts centering on Los Angeles’ “gimmicky” defense, the ways in which Golden State went away from its tenets during their Monday collapse and, unprovoked, discussed his personal noted pest, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. For arguably the greatest scorer of his generation, one of the most efficient shooters in basketball history, that it was a curiously uninspired performance, both on the court and at the podium.
“The guy is the most skilled basketball player on planet Earth,” Kerr said. “There’s nobody who can do what he can do. Playoffs, defenses are more locked in, they play everybody tougher. I don’t know how many shots he got, seven, eight, I mean, absolutely, he needs to be more aggressive. It’s the playoffs. He can get any shot he wants any time. I want to see him get 20 shots, 30. With nine turnovers, it wasn’t his night, but he’s the most skilled basketball player on Earth.”
Durant is the most sensitive of Golden State’s five All-Stars, the most susceptible to psychological games and the touchiest when it comes to perception.
His almost defiant stance on Wednesday — that he didn’t need to be more aggressive — directly contradicted what his head coach insisted, and how his teammates have roundly praised him. It also came against the backdrop of his impending free agency and the likely-season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins. All of that funnels down to the likelihood that this may be the final year of the current dynasty, and Durant is at the epicenter of the discussion, whether he wants to be or not.
When queried about his lack of aggressiveness in Game 2 — during the final 19:29 he took two shots, had four offensive fouls and five of his career-high nine turnovers, many committed out of frustration or inattentiveness — Durant bristled.
A four-time NBA scoring champion and a league MVP, Durant has averaged 27 points per game during his NBA career. During the finalweeks of the regular season, though, he averaged 10.8 shots over nine games, and 17.6 over the previous nine. He averaged 17.7 shots per game during the regular season, averages 18.7 for his career and 26.0 per game in the playoffs.
Durant cited the Warriors’ ball-movement-centric offense as a reason why he didn’t look to score late in the game on Monday. True, he has largely accepted his role in the star-studded offense without complaint during his three seasons with the Warriors, but there have been times where he has taken over when needed, as he did often against the Houston Rockets in last year’s Western Conference Finals.
“When I get the ball in my position to score, I would love to score,” Durant said. “If I don’t have the option to score, I’m looking to pass. We run a lot of plays here. We move the ball every time we’re on the court, so every time I touch it, I’m not just going to break the play just to be aggressive because I need to get up 30 shots because there looks like there’s something wrong. I’m going to play basketball. We won Game 1 that way, and we were up 30 in Game 2, but we just need to stick with the game plan we had the first three and a half quarters and do that for 48 minutes.”
Kerr — who spoke moments before Durant after practice on Wednesday — said that he’d like his star forward to be more aggressive. That’s especially important in situations like Monday, when the Clippers are playing outside of both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
“[Their defense] takes us off the 3-point line,” Durant said. “We like to set a lot of those pin screens, and they’re just sitting on top of the 3-point line, not letting us get space the traditional way of turning it into a one-two, or a hop-back jump shot. We’ve got to use a couple more movements for us to get up in the top block, so backdoors might be there, just continue to move and be patient within our offense. We can move this team for at least 12 or 13 seconds until we find something, and if not, then as scorers, we can go to work.”
Durant has had just 24 total shots over the first two games of the series, along with eight assists and 12 turnovers. By way of explaining those numbers, Durant invoked Beverley and a Los Angeles defense that Bogut agreed was one he’d only ever rarely seen, and even then, only on tape. Durant, though, in the same interview, said he’d seen every type of defense a team could throw at him. Then, he explained why he had trouble with this one, in particular.
“They’re just forcing guys inside the 3-point line, so for us, when I get the ball in my spots, I’ve got a pest, Patrick Beverley, who was up underneath me, who I could definitely shoot over the top and score every time if it’s a one-on-one situation,” Durant said. “But, we’ve got a guy that’s dropping and helping, and we’ve got another guy that’s just sitting under, waiting for me to dribble the basketball. If I put the basketball on the floor, I could probably make 43 percent of my shots, if I shoot them like that, but that’s not really going to do nothing for us.”
After taking Beverley’s bait and getting ejected with two technical fouls in Game 1, Durant showed contrition and regret for allowing Beverley to get into his head. In Game 2, again defended by Beverley, Durant showed frustration with a Los Angeles defense that, he said, forced him into committing those four offensive fouls, after he had just 21 offensive fouls all season. He attributed that number to the fact that Beverley, at 6-foot-1, is giving up eight inches when he’s defending him.
“We hear David and Goliath a lot growing up,” Durant said. “That story is prominent in people’s minds, so when you put him out on the court against me, the refs are going to give him a little bit more. When he runs up on me like a pit bull, grabbing me, holding me, I don’t mind it. That’s how he makes his money. That’s how he feeds his family, but if I throw something back, then let us play … I’m just trying to figure out, each possession, how I can be more effective without getting offensive fouls.”
Both Bogut and Draymond Green on Wednesday said the best way to deal with Beverley is to not engage, and to not let him get inside one’s head. Unprompted, Durant kept going back to him. More than the lack of shots, more than the turnovers, that should be Golden State’s biggest concern. That said, in Game 3s of series during his time with Golden State, Durant has averaged 31.1 points, 9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 20 shots per game and has shot 55% from the floor (77-for-140).
“He’s a champion, a two-time Finals MVP,” Kerr said. “This guy, he’ll be coming out firing tomorrow.”