After Kevin Durant suffered a calf-injury against the Houston Rockets, it was questionable as to whether the Golden State Warriors would be able to survive without its lethal-scoring superstar. The Warriors then showed—and are continuing to prove—that they are fine without KD. Seeing the Warriors play against the Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers gave a sense of relief to Golden State fans, as the original big three of the teams’ dynasty showed that they are more than capable of dominating without Durant.
What’s most important to take away from the two games the Warriors played without Durant is that Steph Curry is still an absolute force to be reckoned with. Prior to playing Houston in game six, the Warriors were 27-1 without Durant and with Curry, but it had been a while since anyone had actually seen this occurrence, especially since people had become accustomed to KD’s unbelievable scoring-run throughout the playoffs. As Durant thrived at the offensive end, Curry had been struggling to find his signature three-point shot. Throughout the first five games against Houston, he shot 26.3% from three-point range while taking 11.4 attempts per game. Hence, people had every right to think that the Dubs would have trouble without Durant.
In the first half of game six, Curry had played just how people expected, only worse. He shot 0-5 from the field and got into foul trouble early, finishing the half with zero points. That’s not a spelling error. The two-time MVP had zero points. Miraculously, the Warriors and Rockets were tied 57-57 at halftime due to Klay Thompson stepping up and recording 21 first-half points including five three-balls. Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, and Andre Iguodala each tallied eight points of their own as well.
It was a tale of two halves for the baby-faced assassin. Curry came out in the second half as the point guard that led the Warriors to become world-champions. He had a different look in his eye and was playing with a little more urgency and desperation. Curry put up 33 points in the second half alone and shot 9-15 from the field, leading Golden State to a 118-113 win over Houston to seal the series.
The Warriors utilized more of its weapons in the absence of Durant and each member of the big three had stellar games. Thompson finished with 27 points, and Green with eight points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Iggy ended the game with 17 points and five steals as well.
Durant’s absence has exposed the Warriors true core and given opportunity for other players to step up. KD is one of the best scorers in NBA history. He’s 6’9 and can move and dribble like a point guard and shoot the lights out. He’s arguably the best player in the NBA. But in the Warriors system, he has a tendency to take a lot of isolation shots—because he can. This works for the most part since any shot he takes is nearly impossible to defend, but it’s not the traditional way the Warriors run its offense.
The Warriors offense has been so unstoppable in the past because of its ball movement and high pick and rolls—usually between Green and Curry. The Warriors swept Portland, 4-0, as basketball fans are feeling a sense of déjà vu watching Golden State play. The core big three that started this dynasty are emerging once again and showing they can be just as dominant—if not more—as they were before the addition of the slip reaper.
In the series against the Blazers, Curry averaged an unbelievable 36.5 points, 7.3 assists, and 8.3 rebounds while shooting over 42 percent from behind the arc and just under 50 percent overall. Curry is a deadly scorer, and arguably a better scorer than Durant when he leads the charge of the Warriors offense.
After a 114-111 loss to the Warriors in game two—where Curry dropped 37, 8, and 8—Seth Curry, brother of Steph and guard for Portland, noted that, “[The Warriors] move around faster when [KD’s] not out there. They’re definitely not a better team, but they’re harder to guard.”
Curry’s scoring rampage is made possible by Green and complimented by Thompson. Green has debatably excelled the most in Durant’s nonattendance. Green was an essential piece to the Warriors success pre-Durant, but when the team added the superstar, his role with the team decreased incrementally.
During the regular season, he averaged 7.2 points per game, the lowest it had been since his second season in the NBA. His stats also decreased in the rebound, assist, and block categories. Additionally, he was not selected as an All-Star after receiving the honor for three consecutive years before that. While Green was still important, he became more and more irrelevant to the squad.
However, since Durant’s injury, Green has stepped up and destroyed competitors with his all-around play-style. In the four games against Portland in the Western Conference Finals, Green averaged a staggering 16.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.8 blocks, all while shooting 54.2% from the field. In addition to his own improved playing, the former Michigan State power forward has also enhanced the performances of Curry (as explained before) and Thompson. Thompson, the second member of “the Splash Brothers,” has averaged 24 points per game without Durant on the court after averaging 17.5 points throughout the playoffs prior to the injury.
Are the Warriors more talented without Durant? Absolutely not. But is their chemistry more in sync without him? Yes. It’s evident from these playoffs that the Warriors are fine without KD and will be fine without him in the future is he chooses to leave and sign with another team (hopefully the Knicks). Due to the unbreakable chemistry between the core group that began the reign of Golden State, the Warriors can still run the Western Conference and compete for championships in the post-Durant era (if there is one).
A criticism that is commonly brought up when discussing the Warriors without Durant is the bench. Many people say that Golden State’s bench before signing KD had much more depth. Before the signing, bench players on the Warriors included Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Brandon Rush, Looney, Mareese Speights, and Ian Clark.
The Dubs still have Iggy,* Livingston, and Looney,* who each continue to make solid contributions off the bench. But the other players on that list who are no longer with the Warriors were important to the team as well. Speights and Ezeli were two average big-men who could post-up, rebound, and block shots, while Rush and Clark were talented shooters. Barbosa would make good contributions off the bench too. However, after leaving Golden State, they all basically disappeared.
Ezeli signed with the Trailblazers, but never even played a game and was soon waived. Speights had a one-year stint with the LA Clippers and last played for the Orlando Magic in the 2017-18 season. Rush appeared in 47 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2016-2017 season after leaving the Warriors and hasn’t played since. Clark is currently on the New Orleans Pelicans, where he has played a very moderate role for the past two years. Finally, Barbosa played for just one year after departing from Golden State and is most likely finished with his career. Hence, just one of those vital bench players that left Golden State is still even in NBA.
The Warriors current bench is probably better than the bench players of the championship team. The current bench—outside of Iguodala, Livingston, and Looney—consists mainly of Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Bell, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Damion Lee. They are each fairly young talents that have made just as good, if not better, contributions to the team than the pre-Durant bench players.
The Warriors are always entertaining to watch in the postseason, but it’s been especially fun to see how its greatness can be continued without the guy that many think of as the best player on the team. The strong chemistry between the members of the original championship team resumed immediately after Durant’s injury. Golden State continues to be a powerhouse among other teams even upon the loss of a key player, which proves that the team will be just fine in the future if Durant decides to take his talents elsewhere.
*Iguodala and Looney sometimes start depending on the injury situation of the team, but they have typically played bench roles.