With Kevin Durant out, Warriors' championship resiliency shows up again

With Kevin Durant out, Warriors' championship resiliency shows up again

TORONTO — Tory Lanez hovered over the Warriors’ huddle during a timeout with about three minutes left in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, trying to catch eye contact with any Golden State personnel in sight.

Midway through the timeout, the Canadian rapper -- with the two-time defending champs down six -- motioned to his neck, telling the crowded huddle around Warriors coach Steve Kerr, "It's a wrap."

For the last six months, assumptions of the Warriors' eventual demise have been prevalent, aided by curious losses, All-Star disenchantment and the inevitable end that comes with the construction of a dynasty. Now, after a 106-105 win extended their title run for the moment, Golden State showed its resilience once more. 

"I've seen it over and over again," Kerr said Monday night. "So, it's not really surprising. This is who they are. They have accomplished so much over the years, and that doesn't just happen, and it doesn't just happen with talent."

Their latest feat came with a caveat. Fourteen minutes into Monday's game, Kevin Durant tumbled to the ground while attempting to drive past Raptors big man Serge Ibaka, injuring his Achilles. In the weeks before Game 5, Durant -- who injured his right calf last month -- endured a frustrating rehab process, pushing his eventual return date to Monday.

All the while, the Warriors recalibrated, as Steph Curry averaged 34.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 6.4 rebounds over a nine-game stretch, steering the Warriors to a 6-3 record in Durant's absence. As the Warriors progressed through the playoffs, injuries piled up. DeMarcus Cousins' torn quad sidelined him for a month, and Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney all missed at least one postseason game because of injury. 

In a season that was supposed to put a bow on the greatest five-year run in NBA history, the Warriors offered anything but sustained dominance. Following a 10-1 start to the regular season, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7 in a stretch that was lowlighted by an on-court argument between Durant and teammate Draymond Green. Following the All-Star break, complacency led to curious home losses to the Boston Celtics and lowly Phoenix Suns.

Internal battles with complacency extended to the playoffs, with reminders of dominance sprinkled in. Two nights after dominating the LA Clippers in Game 1 of a first-round matchup, the Warriors squandered a 31-point lead at home, victims of the worst postseason collapse in NBA history. Two weeks later, with Durant out, the Warriors rallied in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, closing out the Houston Rockets on the road. 

"We have been doing this for years, so it's natural," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "It's not that we think we have to take on the scoring load, but when Kevin’s not out there, the ball’s going to find us a little bit more because, obviously, you know what he can do.”

Following Durant's injury Monday, the Warriors somehow maintained their strong play. DeMarcus Cousins scored nine of his 14 points in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 14-point lead. After Kawhi Leonard scored 10 straight points to put the Raptors up 103-97 late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors walked to the bench with Lanez waiting to tell them the best-of-seven series was effectively over. 

What followed was a 10-2 Warriors run, aided by two straight 3-pointers from Thompson and Curry, to put them up 106-103 with 57.6 seconds to go. Fifty-seven seconds later, Green blocked a potential game-winning 3-point attempt from Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, sealing an improbable win.

[RELATED: Warriors keep season alive but can only think of KD injury]

As news trickled out about Durant's injury, the Warriors tried to grapple with their latest test. Kerr walked somberly out of Golden State's locker room, past the tunnel Durant made his final journey down hours earlier, conflicted with the joy of winning and the pain of a star player going down. Curry, clad in a three-piece suit, made a similar, conflicted journey. 

"Tonight was an emotional roller-coaster from start to finish, Curry said. "And we have another game to play on Thursday. So we'll be ready for it, but there's no more statements needed to be made."

About 30 minutes after the Warriors forced a Game 6, Lanez walked through a corridor in the bowels of Scotiabank Arena, making a similar journey past a makeshift press conference room and into the night, having just witnessed the latest display of resilience from the champs. 

T.J. Warren matches Warriors' Steph Curry, Klay Thompson with big game

T.J. Warren matches Warriors' Steph Curry, Klay Thompson with big game

T.J. Warren is the talk of the NBA on Saturday night, and deservedly so. 

The Indiana Pacers guard went off for a career-high 53 points in an important win over the Philadelphia 76ers on a very efficient 20-of-29 shooting from the field, including a career-best nine 3-pointers on 12 attempts. In just over 40 minutes of playing time, he only attempted four free throws and converted all of them.

If that kind of incredible stat line sounds familiar to Warriors fans, it should. Warren became one of three NBA players to score at least 50 points with fewer than five free-throw attempts since 2010.

The other two? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Thompson accomplished the feat most recently of the Splash Brothers, having scored 52 points -- including an NBA record 14 3-pointers -- while going a perfect 2-of-2 from the charity stripe in a 149-124 win over the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 29, 2018. He did all that in less than 27 minutes of action.

Curry has done it as many times as Thompson and Warren combined, and did so within a span of 23 days.

On Feb. 3, 2016, Curry scored 51 points while converting 2-of-3 free-throw attempts in a 134-121 win over the Washington Wizards. Later that month, on the 25th, he scored 51 again with only a single free-throw attempt in a 130-114 win over the Orlando Magic. He was a combined 21-of-30 from 3-point range over those two performances, and played fewer than 36 minutes in each.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

As for Warren's explosion, though, there's likely one team that feels even worse about it than the Sixers. That would be the Phoenix Suns, who essentially gave Warren away for nothing. Actually, it's worse than that.

Last June, the Suns sent Warren and the No. 32 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft to the Pacers in exchange for... wait for it ... cash considerations.


Phoenix traded Warren out of a desire to create cap space, which potentially could be another parallel to Golden State.

The heist the Pacers pulled off is exactly the kind of thing the Warriors hope to do with their giant $17.2 million trade exception.

The Warriors could absorb a huge salary with that exception -- considerably larger than Warren's $10.8 million cap hit this season -- and given the financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there are going to be several teams looking to unload salary this offseason.

Golden State's finances have been severely impacted by the resulting loss of revenue to be sure, but the Warriors inevitably can withstand it easier than most teams. The franchise was valued at $4.3 billion back in February by Forbes, the fifth-highest in all of professional sports. And with the Splash Brothers, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and a top-five pick in the 2020 draft, the Warriors have every reason to be relatively aggressive in pursuit of another championship.

[RELATED: Report: Warriors' $17.2M trade exception expires Oct. 24]

Don't be surprised if some unexpected -- and big -- names are moved this offseason. And, if the Warriors are able to capitalize on that environment with the use of their trade exception, they could end up with someone capable of making a Warren-like impact.

Or, if you really want to get greedy -- even more significant than that.

Warriors' Bob Myers praises Andre Iguodala's impact on 2015 title run

Warriors' Bob Myers praises Andre Iguodala's impact on 2015 title run

The Warriors don't win the franchise's first NBA championship in 40 years without the team's unflappable trio of stars in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Between the red-hot shooting of the Splash Brothers and Green's lockdown defense, the Warriors' dynasty doesn't come close to happening.

But Andre Iguodala's place in Warriors lore can't be forgotten, either. Iguodala joined the Warriors in July 2013 as part of a three-team sign-and-trade with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz. The swingman -- who joined the Warriors already having been an NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist -- was a starter in his first season with Golden State under coach Mark Jackson, with 2012 top-10 pick Harrison Barnes relegated to bench duty.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But after a first-round exit in the 2014 playoffs, Jackson was let go and Steve Kerr was hired as a first-time head coach. Immediately, Kerr wanted to make a major change to the lineup, swapping Barnes and Iguodala to maximize their collective production.

"This is the part of Andre that's so impressive," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on "The Woj Pod." "He says to Steve 'All right, if that's what you think is best for the team.' Not only does he say that, he doesn't then call a reporter off the record and say, 'This is B.S., this guy has never coached a game in his life and he's telling me to come off the bench? And I'm an Olympic champion and I'm an All-Star?' And then goes to practice and mopes, he doesn't do any of that. He authentically says and believes this is best for the team.

"For people to really understand that, I say picture you were the VP in your franchise or organization, you were deserving of the role you had, you had the corner office, and they said, 'Hey John, look you deserve this office, you deserve this title, but we're gonna knock you down to kind of an assistant or director, and by the way, it'll probably be on SportsCenter tonight and just have a good attitude, all right, see you later.' 

"In any event, Andre comes off the bench and it's harder and people interview him after the game and they say, 'Andre how does it feel to come off the bench?' And he says, 'I think this is what's best for the team.' And then the reporter turns off his microphone and says, 'Really, this kinda sucks right, you don't want to do this?' And Andre says, 'No, I will do this.' "

Iguodala accepted his role without complaint and didn't do anything to divide the Warriors' locker room. Not only did Iguodala cede his starting spot to the 22-year-old Barnes, he became the de facto veteran leader for the youthful roster, becoming especially tight with the eventual two-time NBA MVP Curry.

[RELATED: Myers reveals why Warriors aren't actively talking trades]

Golden State made a run through the postseason with Barnes in the starting five, but during the 2015 NBA Finals, Kerr elected to once again switch up the lineup.

"We're down 2-1 in Cleveland to the Cavs," Myers continued. "Steve says, 'Hey, I think I'm gonna start Iguodala.' And I said, 'Well, what do you think you're gonna get out of Harrison? And he said, 'No, I'm gonna start Iguodala for Bogut, we're gonna go small.' So Andre doesn't start all year, doesn't say a word, we're in the Finals and he says, 'Andre, you're gonna start now.' And what does Andre do? He goes out and becomes MVP of the Finals.

"I don't think any of it happens without that specific thing. If Andre doesn't do that and he's frustrated all year, in this day and age, maybe he says, 'I want out of here,' maybe Harrison says, 'I want out of here.' It's holding it together, but it requires everyone."

Iguodala's impact on the Warriors' dynasty can't be understated. The organization showed an emotional tribute video in his first time facing the Warriors with the Miami Heat back in February, and owner Joe Lacob even said in a statement following his trade to the Memphis Grizzlies last summer that he looks forward to Iguodala's No. 9 "hanging in the rafters at Chase Center."