HOUSTON -- Even with Stephen Curry still seeking rhythm and Klay Thompson unhappy with his 3-point shooting and Draymond Green missing four of his five shots, the Warriors proved plenty capable of piercing the improved Rockets defense.
That, after all, is why Kevin Durant is on the team.
If nothing else working beautifully, there is Durant to touch up opponents, as he did Monday night in lifting the Warriors to a 119-106 victory over Houston in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
“We want to keep the ball moving,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But, obviously, Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you just throw him the ball. He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on earth.”
Durant poured in 37 points, shooting 14-of-27 from the field, 3-of-6 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the line. He didn’t do a whole lot more -- three rebounds, one block, one assist -- but he didn’t need to. Crushing the Rockets on the scoreboard was enough.
When the Warriors fell behind early, 12-4 and then 21-12, Durant was there to take corrective action, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. That was enough bring the Warriors within one, 30-29, before the quarter ended.
When the Rockets stayed with the Warriors in the third quarter, there was Durant, unloading 13 more on them.
The Warriors never trailed in the second half, because Durant wouldn’t allow it.
“He was ready for tonight,” Curry said. “Just us building up momentum throughout the regular season, the playoff and getting to this point, he was appreciative of the moment.”
So tuned in was Durant that when Kerr subbed him out with 2:14 left in the third, Durant was, well, displeased. He was rolling and wanted to stay in. Kerr wanted to rest him and bring him back in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, he wasn’t really thrilled,” Kerr said. “And I probably should have left him in.”
The Warriors were up 85-72 when Durant went to the bench. Houston immediately reeled off five points in 24 seconds, turning it into an 8-0 run that brought them within five (85-80) before Durant returned drain two free throws in the final seconds of the quarter.
“I wanted to stay in the game at that point,” Durant said. “But that’s the best part about it. I trust Coach and we can move past these conversations pretty quickly.”
The Rockets wouldn’t mind seeing a little less of Durant. Like pretty much every team in the league, they have no answer to the problems he can cause.
“He’s been doing it for so long, man,” said James Harden, a former teammate of Durant in Oklahoma City. “He’s what, 6-11? He can shoot over anybody.
“We’ve got to do a better job of being more physical, getting him off his spots. But he’s going to take tough shots. We’ve got to do a better job of contesting and make it even harder for him.”
The metrics show Houston’s defense is improved over last season. The eye test shows the same thing. But when Durant is as assertive as he has been over the last three games -- averaging 33.0 points, on 54.2-percent shooting -- there isn’t a lot a team can do.
“We always need him to stay aggressive like that,” Green said. “Sometimes, when you play on such a great team, with other great scorers in Klay and Steph, you tend to sometimes think, ‘Oh, man, I need to get him a shot.’ The way our offense is set up, the ball is going to find those three guys and they’re going to get their shots.
"So when he’s playing aggressive like that, we’re really tough to beat.”