SALT LAKE CITY -- This is why the Warriors moved heaven and earth and most of its seas to add Kevin Durant to their roster.
Not the regular season, though it’s important, but the postseason.
And not just any postseason game or series, but those moments when Stephen Curry isn’t magical and Klay Thompson isn’t on one of his absurd scoring sprees.
It’s those times when the stakes are high and Warriors need someone else’s back to board.
That was Durant on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, bringing high emotion and stellar production in leading the Warriors to a 102-91 victory that has them one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the third consecutive season.
“Myself, the other 19,000 people in the arena and everyone else watching on TV saw the same thing I saw,” Curry said.
“When he started getting going early, I just felt like it could be a big night for him,” acting head coach Mike Brown said. “And it was.”
Scoring a game-high 38 points -- 13 in the opening quarter -- grabbing a team-high 13 rebounds and engaging Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the briefest of shoving matches in the final minutes of the game, Durant delivered on the vision shared by coach Steve Kerr, general manager Bob Myers and CEO Joe Lacob.
Durant found points when nobody else could, gifting the Warriors with a victory they otherwise would not have earned. He shot 15-of-26 (57.7 percent), while his teammates combined for 22-of-58 (37.9 percent).
Durant made threes, four of them. He got in a couple dunks. He thrived in isolation, at one point torching Jazz forward Gordon Hayward on three consecutive possessions.
“I’m going try to say this is humbly as I can,” Durant said. “But I’ve been doing this for so long and every time I roll out of the bed and we have a game that day, I feel like I can go out there and score.
“It’s the other things I try to do. Defensively helping my teammates, get them open shots, moving and setting screens. Scoring . . . it’s not easy, but it’s what I do the best. I try to do the other things . . . and once I do that, I feel like it opens up my scoring a little bit more.”
Curry, who was 4-of-18 through three quarters before draining both his shots in the fourth, took note of Durant’s rhythm.
“It’s an easy decision at that moment, try to set a screen for him, get him in the right spot and he does the rest,” he said. “We’re smart enough basketball players and know what’s going on at that moment, and just try to make the right decision, and let a talented scorer like he is, like he said the way he approaches the game, let (him) do what he does.”
Given the circumstances and the opponent, the Durant explosion was bound to happen. In a league where only a handful of players can hope to contain Durant, no one on the Utah team has a whispered rumor of a chance to slow him.
In the wake of Game 2, when Durant scored a team-high 25 points on 6-of-13 shooting, he pointed out that he was just starting to get his legs back. He missed nearly six weeks in March and early April with a knee sprain and bone bruise, and then sustained a calf strain in Game 1 of the first-round series against Portland.
Durant had not played four full games in a row since February.
Having played in Game 4 as the Warriors ousted the Trail Blazers, Game 3 of the series against Utah was his fourth consecutive game. Durant was comfortable, inviting contact and destroying anything that got in his way.
When Gobert shoved him an elbow in the fourth quarter, Durant shoved back -- and paid for it. He was whistled for a flagrant-1 and a technical foul.
“He rose up and was playing like who he is,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder, unable to conceal his exasperation.
The Warriors knew when they sent a recruiting team to the Hamptons to persuade him to join them that Durant is a game-changer. And there it was, on full display, when the Warriors absolutely needed it.