2019 NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors reminding us that Kevin Durant is more luxury than necessity
Golden State is giving us a glimpse into a future without Durant, and it looks a lot like their championship past
After defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 110-99, on Saturday to take a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals, the Golden State Warriors have now won four straight playoff games without Kevin Durant. If you count the gutsy win in Game 5 vs. the Rockets, in which Durant missed most of the second half, they've essentially won five straight playoff games without Durant.
Now, let's flip the script. Let's say it was Stephen Curry, rather than Durant, who got hurt against the Rockets and went on to miss the rest of that Game 5 and the four subsequent games. Are the Warriors still 5-0 in that span? Think before you answer, and don't take the lazy way out by laughing off the idea that a basketball team might actually be better, or at least largely unaffected, without arguably the best player in the world.
Really think about it.
Are the Warriors 5-0 if it's Durant playing instead of Curry?
From the moment Durant took the floor for the first time with the Warriors back in 2016, fans and media alike have been obsessed with the "Curry or Durant" debate. Whose team is it? Who's the better player? On one level, these are pointless questions. Golden State has both of them. Who cares which one is better? But on another level, they might not have both for long. Most people think Durant is gone this summer, and if that indeed proves true, the question of what this Warriors team is, and can be, without him is a very important one.
"Put it this way: They'll be the favorite to win the title as long as Durant is there," a league exec recently told CBS Sports. "Without Durant, I don't think they would be the favorite. I don't know who would be. It would be pretty open, I think. We'll have to see how the summer shakes out. But Golden State would still be very good, but not the favorite in my opinion. I mean, we're talking about Kevin Durant."
In fairness, we're also talking about Stephen Curry, who has now scored 207 points in 213 minutes since Durant went down against Houston. Have you any idea how ridiculous that is? That is 46.6 points per 48 minutes, the length of one NBA game. When you look at what is happening to Damian Lillard in this series, watching him all but disappear under the weight of the Warriors' constant traps and double teams, it only makes you appreciate Curry's greatness even more.
Curry, after all, has been seeing that type of defense for the last six years, the same defense that can render one of the 10 or 15 best players in the world virtually invisible, and he's still managed to do what he's done. Two MVPs. One the only unanimous vote in NBA history. A mind-boggling 1,578 made 3-pointers, on 43-percent shooting, over the last five seasons, including an NBA record 402 in 2016 before Durant ever showed up. A scoring title. A 26.5 PPG scoring average.
Most importantly, the Warriors won a championship when it was just Curry leading the charge. The next season, they won an NBA record 73 games and went to Game 7 of the Finals. And still, somehow, there is this idea that Curry and the Warriors "need" Durant to win. They don't. This has been proven a hundred different ways. Are you ready for this? Over the last 31 games that the Warriors have played with Curry and without Durant, they are 30-1.
You can trace this all the way back to when Durant arrived in 2016. Since that time, in the 37 games that Curry has played without Durant, the Warriors are 33-4. That's better than a 73-win pace over an NBA season. Over that same time frame, when Durant has played without Curry, the Warriors are 28-18. That's a 49-win pace.
From the moment the Warriors embarked upon this postseason, there's been this sort of "last hurrah" narrative attached to their run, as if to imply that when and if Durant leaves this whole thing is going to come to an end. What evidence is there that such a notion is even remotely accurate? I'll give you a hint: There isn't any. In fact, 100 percent of the evidence points to the contrary -- that when it comes to this Warriors team, as long as Stephen Curry is around, Kevin Durant is more of a luxury than a necessity.
People won't take it this way, but this is not a knock on Durant, who is clearly one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. The simple truth is that Curry is also one of the greatest players to ever live, and he is restrained next to Durant. And when Curry is even relatively restrained, there is something different about the Warriors. Something not quite quantifiable but palpably real.
After Game 2, Seth Curry said what a lot of people have been thinking, that the Warriors are harder to guard without Durant. It's true. Everyone moves more. Shares more. Stands around less. There is an inclusivity to a Curry-led attack, a joyful, almost rambunctious energy that trickles through the team like sugar at a birthday party. Yes, Curry is a monster playing off the ball, running around as part decoy/part Reggie Miller reincarnation. There is no doubt about that.
But Curry WITH the ball is a whole different beast. Curry completely unleashed as an off-the-dribble playmaker, as the head of an ever-swerving snake hunting shots from all angles, is the single most dangerous weapon the NBA has seen since Michael Jordan -- while the Warriors, by extension, with or without Durant, are the single-most dominant team since those Bulls.
We have been reminded of that these past five games.
And if Durant does decide to leave this summer, we'd be wise not to forget it.
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