OAKLAND -- Exhibit A: 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. A triple-double and two blocked shots. Warriors win in Charlotte.
Exhibit B: 36 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. Warriors win in Detroit.
Exhibit C: 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Warriors win at home over Portland.
Exhibit D, Thursday night at Oracle Arena, in a 112-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.
This is why the Warriors invested time and money and energy 18 months ago in their shameless pursuit of Kevin Durant. This is why a platoon of them took cross-country flights. This is why they embraced the possibility of rejection. This is why any possibility of failing and having to resort to Plan B put knots in their bellies.
For those times when they would be without Stephen Curry, their leader and a two-time MVP, they could turn to Durant, himself a former MVP and four-time scoring champ still in the prime of his career.
“He’s just really, really good,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “KD is one of the most talented scorers to ever play the game. He can make stuff out of nothing.”
Just as Curry found another level shortly after Durant went down last February, missing 19 games, Durant is filling a void perhaps only he could fill. He already has entered Exhibits A-D, and he seems to be working his way through the alphabet.
“I pretty much figure I can do whatever I want on the basketball court if I put my mind to it,” Durant says. “So, whatever position I’m in, I’m ready to conquer it.”
There is a cruelty about what Durant does to defenders when he’s at his best, as he has been over the past four games, ever since Dec. 4, when a sprained ankle took Curry out of the lineup. Durant taunts them without meaning to (maybe). Too quick for 7-footers and too long for prototypical wings, he scores with an ease that leaves observers breathless, if not wordless.
“He doesn’t have many ceilings to his skill set,” says assistant coach Ron Adams, who coached Durant for two seasons (2008-10) in Oklahoma City and is enjoying the reunion.
“He may be the most efficient basketball player I’ve ever played with,” Klay Thompson says. “He makes it look easy out there.”
Thompson is basking in the shelter provided by Durant’s presence. Kerr is delighted to have Durant as, get this, a splendid alternative.
“It’s so amazing,” Kerr says, “to have a player like him, who is a superstar and who, without ever saying anything, without me saying anything to him, with Steph out he just takes over.”
The Warriors are 4-0 since Curry left the lineup. They are 3-0 in games for which fellow starters Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia joined Curry on the sideline. Durant has stepped in the fill a void perhaps only he can fill.
He’s playing at MVP level, averaging 33.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.0 blocks. Through 25 Warriors games this season, Durant had one 30-point game. He has had his three highest-scoring games in the last four.
They were listless in the first half Thursday night, committing ghastly turnovers and playing haphazard defense. They were behind, at home, to a Mavericks team hurtling toward 55 losses.
Except the Warriors had Durant. He was keeping them in the game. He scored 12 of their 24 first-quarter points. When the Mavs tried go up nine midway through the second quarter, he was there was block Harrison Barnes’ layup.
“Kevin is amazing,” says teammate Omri Casspi. “He’s always been great for our team. The past few games he’s just picking up in so many different levels. He’s having Defensive Player of the Year numbers defensively. He’s playing great. Really helping everybody. Blocking shots.”
Shortly after Dallas went up by five early in the third quarter, Durant was there, spoon-feeding Jordan Bell for a layup to cut it to three. A few seconds later, Durant was finding Casspi for a short jumper to bring the Warriors within one.
A Durant jumper pulled the Warriors into the last tie of the game, 61-61, with 7:20 left in the third, and 31 seconds later his 3-point bomb put them ahead for good. Durant followed that by accounting for four of the next six field goals, assisting on one of the other two. Game.
“Frankly, Durant just comes down and jumps over us a few times,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says. “It’s very difficult to stop that if a guy is that good.”
Says Kerr: “There were times where it didn’t look like we had anything going and he just rose up and knocked down threes or put it on the floor and scored. He’s basically un-guardable . . . KD seems to have an answer for everything.”
With Curry and Green out, Durant is absorbing most of their scoring and playmaking and defense. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.
But that’s why he is here. So there is no panic when Curry goes down six weeks into season, even if it’s conceivable he could miss a month. Durant is on it, diving into the challenge in a way he plunged into the NBA Finals last June.
Remember what happened? The Warriors won in five games, Durant coming away with a Finals MVP trophy and his first championship ring.
He was in a zone then, and he’s in one now.
“When Steph and Draymond come back, I’m looking forward to them coming back,” Durant says. “I get back into what my role is.
“I’m ready to conquer anything I have in front of me and I know if I put my mind to it, I can do whatever I want.”