The question isn’t whether the Warriors are better with Kevin Durant. Of course they are. Any team is better with Durant, a surefire Hall of Famer.
But the Warriors’ style of play without Durant makes for better viewing. Or, to put it another way, it’s all about us. If you’re in it for fun, for not seeing a great thing get mucked up, then you want Durant and his strained right calf to be watching the NBA Finals the way you will be: seated.
On the surface, it might seem ridiculous to want one of the best players in the history of the game sidelined. But the Warriors are so much more enjoyable with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green doing their thing without having to keep Durant involved.
The way they swept the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals without Durant was a throwback to their pre-KD days. The ball movement was mesmerizing.
If the Warriors beat the Raptors and win a championship with the original core of Curry, Thompson and Green, it would be another dent in Durant’s legacy. That legacy is: great player who won NBA titles in 2017 and 2018 by hitching his Maserati to a team that probably didn’t need him to win those titles. So a Durant-less title this time would only add to a weight he already carries on his back.
His status for the Finals is fuzzy. He’s sitting out Game 1 on Thursday, but you can bet he’s doing all he can to get back on the floor to avoid that damning storyline. When the playoffs are over, he can get down to the business of joining other superstars in another city and trying to prove, once and for all, that he can carry a team. What a strange existence for such a talented player.
Sorry, KD, but there’s something almost magical about the Warriors when you’re not in uniform. With one fewer star to oblige, the ball movement is a thing of beauty. There’s a freedom there, a looseness, when Curry, Thompson and the others are sharing the ball. Defenders run around with a haunted look in their eyes.
All of this fun is predicated on the Warriors making their shots. That’s not a given, but it’s the closest thing to a given that there is in the NBA. During the regular season, they led the league in shooting percentage (49.1) and were third in three-point percentage (38.5). Oh, and they were first in assists (29.4 per game) and second in points (117.7).
Almost all of that was done with Durant in the lineup, so it would seem to be madness to want to see Golden State play in the biggest series of the season without him. All I know is that, if you’re into basketball aesthetics, the beauty of the Warriors without Durant surpasses the beauty of them with him. Perhaps this is like quibbling over which supermodel is prettier. We win either way.
But Green, a physical force and an irritant extraordinaire, seems to come to life when Durant’s not around. That was the case in the conference finals when he roused his bothersome self and made life difficult for the Trail Blazers. He still complained to the refs on almost every single play, but more of his energy was devoted to getting up and down the court than to getting a call. Golden State was better for it.
Curry has given a lot of young kids who aren’t tall the idea that there’s a place for them in this game. That’s a good thing, but it needs to be pointed out that the sport has never seen anybody like him. No one has had his shooting range and his ability to get past a defender.
How do you stop that? You don’t. You pray. You pray that he goes into a slump. You pray that he swallows that gnarled mouth guard of his. You pray that the Warriors get sloppy with the ball, that with their blink-of-an-eye passing, they suddenly become all thumbs.
The Raptors have given up 99.6 points a game in the playoffs, just behind the Pacers (99.3), who were swept in the first round. The last time the Warriors scored fewer than 100 points in a game was in a 126-91 loss to the Mavericks on March 23. Coach Steve Kerr gave Curry the night off.
It’s hard to see Golden State getting bogged down by Toronto’s defense the way the Bucks did in the Eastern Conference finals. The Raptors were able to devote two or three players to Giannis Antetokounmpo whenever he drove to the basket. They wanted him to kick the ball out to his three-point shooters.
The Bucks didn’t have a second option like Thompson, who almost shoots as well from outside as Curry does. It means that the Raptors are going to have to pick a poison on every Golden State possession. There are a lot of ways to die.
The Warriors would indeed be better with Durant on the floor. They’d have another answer for Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard. But they would not be more fun. And, when it comes down to it, it’s all about our viewing pleasure, isn’t it?