When the Golden State Warriors added the superstar Kevin Durant to the greatest regular-season team in N.B.A. history, the general reaction was that the season was effectively over. Fans, sportswriters and even opposing players began to speculate on who could actually beat them, how many more titles the Warriors would win and how many records they would break.
But with the N.B.A. season about half over, it has not worked out quite as expected for the Warriors. The team has the best record in the N.B.A., but has amassed seven losses, compared with nine in all of last season. On Monday night, they lost, 105-102, to the Miami Heat, who are enduring a miserable season at 15-30.
Klay Thompson was 8 for 18, Stephen Curry was 7 for 19 and the Warriors allowed Dion Waiters, who is averaging 14.6 points a game, to match his career high with 33.
Golden State’s 38-7 record is outstanding, but the preseason bar was ridiculously high: Normally unexcitable observers were saying Golden State would be virtually unbeatable with Durant.
At the end of the regular season, few doubted Golden State Warriors were favourites to win the NBA Finals. Their record to that point was impressive, registering just 15 defeats in their 82 games with San Antonio Spurs 21 defeats the next best.
Who was going to stop them?
The answer – or received wisdom, at least – was themselves. Kevin Durant’s return from injury would have a negative impact on Stephen Curry’s form and the Warriors would suffer more than they gain, the logic told us. It hasn’t happened although the statistics make a strong case for that being the truth. Or not, depending on which side of the fence you sit.
Curry’s averages when Durant is in the side are lower than when he is not. Points scored (24.8 vs 26.9) while assists (6.3 vs 7.5) while steals and rebounds are also impacted. So negligible are the differences that it’s hard to make a credible case for believing Durant is harming Curry’s performances.
The bigger issue, if statistics are the discussion point, is why his average points has dropped from last year’s 30.1 per game to 25.3?
That’s where the limitations of statistics take in isolation shines through. With Durant out of the side, Curry’s workload increases and his role within the team undergoes a subtle change, evidenced by the increase in his turnovers per game, up to 3.4 without Durant against 2.9 with.
It is a team game and with any sport at the elite level, there comes an expectation of selfishness, ego. Some time ago, Durant observed that his teammate didn’t have an ego; the selflessness of his team play confirms that to be true to the benefit of the Warriors.
THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN TEAM BUT ME, I’M THERE
However, Curry knows that winning titles comes through teamwork and the chastening experience of losing last year’s final to the Cavaliers in the final game of the series showed Golden State the ruthlessness they needed to win the NBA’s biggest prize.
This year, no sentiment has been displayed in the play-offs. In 2016, Portland, Houston and Oklahoma City took the third game of the Conference games. Twelve months on, the Trail Blazers were brushed aside 4 – 0 and Jazz are heading for a similar whitewash.
The real benefit of Curry and Durant in the side is seen in the second game of the Jazz series. Durant led the way with 38 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Curry subsumed himself into the background, contributing 23 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists.
All of which reduces the Warriors to a two-man team, which they clearly are not. Draymond Green may be forgiven for jumping up and down, shouting “Over here! Over here!” He trailed Durant by four points, four rebounds and an assist in Game 2 in Utah. Compared to his career averages, it was a good day at the office which diminishes his contribution to the here and now.
The trio highlights the great strength of this squad; there is no one ‘go to guy’ when they find themselves in a hole; they have three or four who can produce when results need to be scraped from an ‘average’ performance.
It’s looking likely that the Warriors motivation will be amplified if (when) they reach the Finals. Houston and San Antonio are tied in a gripping series, 2 – 2 which is likely to go down to the wire. The destructiveness of Golden State’s offense in the post-season must be raising eyebrows in both camps, a notion reinforced by the 3 – 0 lead they currently hold over Utah.
In the Eastern Conference, the Cavs loom large. They are cruising through the play-offs, intent on setting up a repeat of last season’s Final. And you sense that the Warriors are more prepared this season, better set to repeat their 2015 victory and take Cleveland in a best-of-three finals series.
It’s impossible to conceive of the notion that Kevin Durant wouldn’t improve any of the other NBA sides. When he arrived, becoming the fourth NBA All-Star in the side, the bookmakers installed Golden State as clear favourites before a ball was thrown in anger. Since then, Golden State odds have shortened further and Betway Sports currently (09th May) have them at odds of -250.00 for their second NBA title.
Who can stop them?
There’s a big red button with a warning sign, “DO NOT PRESS THE BIG RED BUTTON”; the question is whether Golden State – Durant, Curry and all – can resist the temptation.