When Kevin Durant went down, it wasn’t just the knee that seemingly derailed the historic offense and stingy when engaged defense. Along with Durant went Stephen Curry’s shot and Draymond Green’s intensity and versatility across an entire game. Stated perfectly after the game, Green remarked, “I’ve sucked the past two weeks”.
In Tuesday’s night’s 106-104 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Golden State Warriors trailed by as much as 15 and started the final stanza down 12 and on pace to allow a Dario Saric-led team to over 110 points in a 2017 regular season NBA game. Gone was the Durant steadiness that kept the Warriors in so many early season game. Long vanished has been Stephen Curry’s ability to hit the flashy shots, but recently, the wide open ones. And to top off the struggle, was Draymond Green’s inability to revert back to the offensive playmaker he was last season. It seemed like the regression to the mean would now become the constant.
Then the fourth quarter started. Green solidified his DPOY case even further. He spooked TJ McConnell to the point of embarrassment. The six blocks undersold who he was protecting the rim and suffocating the wings. Without a slow plodding center in the middle, he was able to roam freely and destroy anyone trying to get to the rim. It was a refreshing flashback to last season. On offense, he took back the reins that KD had rendered meaningless for him. 20 points and 8 assists was a sign of comfort that he enjoyed previous and might foretell some of what is necessary and plausible now in KD’s absence.
And on the other side, perhaps the most important development, was the Curry flash that so often buried opponents in an instant. On his birthday, he shot 4/16 from the field. And in the fourth, 4/7 and several threes with his body facing the wrong way in another flashback to the magical 73-win regular season.
Much has been made of the struggles in Durant’s absence. Why are there no pick-and-rolls? Is Stephen Curry still injured? Are the Warriors fatigued? Did Steve Kerr lose the locker room? Is the bench the issue?
The answer perhaps lies somewhere along the lines of those questions but in the aggregate, the two best players outside of KD can carry this team back to where it was. Everyone else will fall in line. Klay Thompson is who he is, great defender with a streaky jump shot. But Curry’s shooting and Draymond’s playmaking on both sides is what is going to get this team back to becoming the West favorites in anyone’s minds. With or without Durant, this team is good enough to beat anyone. Without Curry and Draymond playing at a superstar level, this team is bad enough to lose to the Joel Embiid-less Sixers at home.
The Warriors have a couple more weeks and maybe a playoff series to get back on track. There’s time for Steph and Draymond. And the fourth quarter might be a precursor to what was great about the Golden State Warriors.