OAKLAND -- The Warriors opening the NBA playoffs with a wire-to-wire rout of the respected but assailable San Antonio Spurs was not the result of flipping of some mystical, magical switch.
It was, according to Kevin Durant, more of a flipping of the mental calendar from six months of tedium and disparate objectives to two months of full commitment to single-minded purpose.
“Throughout the regular season, so many guys are playing for so many different things,” Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday. “You have guys playing for All-Star positions, for MVPs or best records. There are so many different agendas you’re playing for.
“Now there’s just one thing you want to do, and that’s to win.”
The Warriors owned Game 1 and will seek to do the same in Game 2 on Monday in hopes of taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
For unlike the regular season, the actual number of wins is the only thing that matters in the playoffs. Four per round means advancement and anything less than 16 results in a sour conclusion.
Players clear their minds of regular-season debris because that book is closed.
“Stats start over, techs start over and all you did in the regular season doesn’t matter once the playoffs start,” Durant said. “You’re 0-0 again. Everybody is .500.”
The game changes in mid-April, as do the games. The magnitude of the moment is impossible not to feel. There was an intensified vibe in every home arena from Oakland to Boston this weekend.
“Everybody knows when it’s playoff basketball if you’ve watched the games for a while,” Durant said. “We can’t approach the playoffs like the regular season. Every possession is important and we’ve got to know that. It’s just us, but every team in the playoffs understands that. That’s the beauty of playoff ball.”
After coping with a litany of injuries and a obvious measure of ennui during the regular season, the Warriors were charged from the opening tip on Saturday. They played a complete game with a minimum of miscues.
The Warriors never let the Spurs breathe on offense and didn’t allow themselves to be contained by their defense. Durant wasted no time exhibiting his elevated fury, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, grabbing four rebounds and recording four assists in the first quarter.
Along with the entire starting lineup, JaVale McGee in particular, Durant set a searing, aggressive tone that rarely wavered during the 113-92 victory in Game 1.
“I just never know how teams are going to guard me,” said Durant, who rang up 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 32 minutes. “I don’t think a team is just going to let me do what I want to do out there. So sometimes, I’ve got to go and take it. I can’t come out there relaxed, thinking I’m going to get as much space as I want or catch the ball where I want to. Or get an open shot.
“I’ve got to kind of take everything I have out there. It’s like an anxious, nerve-wracking feeling you have before the playoffs because you just never know how teams are going to guard you.
“It’s fun though.”
It’s not as if the regular season lacks motivations and consequences for players and coaches. Jobs are more often at stake in the regular season, after which there is the firing of coaches and the decisions to part way with players.
When a team has reached the NBA Finals three consecutive seasons, as have the Warriors, there is less concern about changes among the core group.
“You still want to win in the regular season, but you also want to play well,” Durant said. “You also want to hit incentives. You want to average this many points or chase the MVP or Rookie of the Year or Most Improved. You want to do those small things along with winning.”
“But then you erase all of that, and it’s all about the wins. And you realize what’s most important.”
Durant has been Rookie of the Year (2008). He has been MVP (2014). As a nine-time All-Star, he has no need for incentives. The regular season for him is mostly about preparing for what is now at hand.
It’s not a switch that gets flipped. It is, instead, a calendar that flips, ringing in the NBA’s version of the New Year.