“He came out super aggressive, in kill mode,” the Warriors’ Draymond Green said. “That was all the difference for us.”
Durant’s explosion in Game 3 followed a couple of muted efforts for him early in the series. Defended by the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, a 6-foot-1 guard whom Durant has described in recent days as both a “pit ball” and a “pest,” Durant managed 23 points before he was ejected in Game 1, then struggled even more in Game 2: 21 points and 9 turnovers while shooting just 5 of 8 from the field.
At practice this week, Durant had a scrum with the news media that felt more like a doctoral defense. He explained his approach on offense. He talked about strategy and chemistry and shot selection and rhythm. He may have mentioned the officiating once or twice. He also offered a reminder in case anyone had forgotten.
“I’m Kevin Durant,” he said. “You know who I am.”
After Thursday’s game, Durant said the only difference was that the team had run more plays for him while putting him in better positions to score, often on the low block. Consider: He scored 27 points in the first half, but did not make a single 3-pointer. His mentality, he said, never changes. He was not going to force bad shots. He was not going to turn his matchup with Beverley into some sort of me-first duel.
“I don’t do that type of stuff,” Durant said. “I just play.”
The Warriors have had one bad stretch against the Clippers in this series, and it cost them. But they clearly seem more together and more resilient than they were back in November, when they visited Staples Center and lost to the Clippers in overtime after Green and Durant barked at each other on the bench, then feuded in the locker room. The team wound up suspending Green for a game. Durant, annoyed at questions about free agency, later boycotted the news media for about two weeks. The cracks were showing. Was the dynasty crumbling?
The last few days, then, were in some ways a microcosm of their season: The Warriors reassembled the pieces. They recognize how fragile this all is, how rare their opportunity. And if they needed a reminder, they got one in Game 2 when DeMarcus Cousins, their starting center, tore a quadriceps muscle. He will likely miss the rest of the postseason. In his absence, the rest of them will go on — with an understanding that this run will not last forever.
“We realize how lucky we are to do this,” said Klay Thompson, their All-Star shooting guard. “Leave it out there. Nothing’s ever guaranteed in the future, so play to win now and do it collectively.”