As the Los Angeles Clippers found out Friday night, the best way to explain Kevin Durant when peaking is that everything he does feels inevitable. You can put a hand in his face, double the post, send two at the ball, or even just pray. But he’s 7-feet tall, and more or less, always open. So, generally speaking, his shot-making displays aren’t especially flashy other than the fact the ball goes in much of the time. Durant has a case as the most difficult player ever to defend, just because on some level, you can’t really do anything about him at all.
On the strength of that premise, Durant and the Warriors closed the Clippers out 129-110 at Staples Center on Friday, setting up a second-round rematch with the Rockets that had been delayed by a pair of pesky L.A. efforts. The tone in this game was immediately different, spurred on by the insertion of Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup, shifting the Warriors into versatile, ball-moving mode from the outset. Most importantly, it was obvious that Golden State was trying. Sometimes, that’s the only thing of consequence.
And so this one felt over after a half—Durant’s first half, to be specific—after he racked up 38 points (second-most in playoff history) on 17 shots, made all 10 of his free throws, played engaged defense and rested for approximately one minute of clock time. Durant’s bad Game 2 was simply a blip; this is the guy who’s going to carry the Warriors when it counts. He finished with 50 on the night, on 15-of-26 shooting, yet nothing really felt forced, and of course, the shots kept falling. The Warriors led 72-53 at the midway point. The second half was more of a formality: at one point in the third, the Clippers cut it to nine. Less than two minutes later, the Warriors again led by 18.
There’s been a discussion about Golden State’s perceived overreliance on Durant, particularly as the playoffs continue to thicken, but here, it was wholly appropriate. There’s simply never a great case for why he shouldn’t be shooting the ball. Winning in the playoffs usually involves the guys you trust to make shots. Well, making their shots. Friday, Durant was all Golden State needed, with Klay Thompson quiet and Steph Curry missing for a second-quarter spell after rolling his ankle (and perhaps never at 100 percent). Encouragingly, Draymond Green looked something close to his best, totaling 16 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and four blocks.
Golden State turned in a unified defensive effort that began with its stars, and their opponents wore down. L.A. deserves full-throated praise for what it did in this series, antagonizing and clawing and stealing not one, but two results, forcing the Warriors to leave more on tape than they intended. Still, you can’t help but feel like some of what happened in this series was as much the Clippers’ effort as the Warriors’ lack thereof.
The Rockets want this matchup badly and should provide stiffer competition. The Clippers set the bar high. The Warriors, certainly, will be more engaged from the outset. Curry and Thompson are going to play better, at least some of the time. Durant may not play this well all of the time. But we know by now with this group that drama generally precedes results. Their backs weren’t exactly against the wall at any point here, but the Warriors flipped the switch when it counted. As long as that involves an engaged Durant, their formula works. And on nights like this one, the formula can simply be him.