LOS ANGELES -- In Hollywood’s backyard, in a game with high stakes for the Warriors, against a team redefining the word “grit,” Kevin Durant took 42 minutes Friday night to remind everyone that when he’s on top of his game, there is no more defense-defying scorer in the world.
When Stephen Curry rolled his right ankle in the first quarter and left the game for a spell, Durant was there to fill the void.
While Klay Thompson was scoring two points in the first half, Durant was doing more than enough for the Warriors to flourish.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers sent four different defenders at Durant and they all failed. Not until the second half, when he resorted to traps and double-teams, was Durant slowed. Too late. Durant by then had 38 of his career playoff-high 50 points while leading the Warriors to a 129-110 win in Game 6, finally ousting the stubborn Clippers from the playoffs.
“That was one of the great performances I've ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen some good ones” coach Steve Kerr said. “I've been around some decent players.”
Among Kerr’s teammates during his 13-year NBA career were Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen and a man named Michael Jordan. Kerr also played against such greats as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.
Even in that group, in this context, Durant stood out as utterly spectacular, particularly in the first half, when he tied Barkley’s record for most points in the first half of a playoff game.
Though Durant’s second half was mere mortal (12 points, 3-of-9 shooting), his first half was a study in absurdity. He was 12-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-8 from deep and 10-of-10 from the line. The Warriors had a 72-53 lead at halftime because they played superb defense while KD was scoring most of their points.
To put a finer point on it, Durant scored 23 of the team’s 37 second-quarter points while taking only eight shots.
“We tried everything,” Lou Williams said, laughing the futility of it all. “We tried everything. We had several different coverages for KD.”
Clippers teammate Patrick Beverley butted in, saying, “It didn't work.”
LA was trailing by 19 at the half despite Curry and Thompson combining for 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Durant was, quite simply, a problem without a solution. He was pulling up off the dribble, finishing in the paint, launching from deep and drawing fouls that sent him to the line.
“We played just about everybody on him,” Rivers said. “There were four times in the first half where we actually made a defensive mistake where we kind of helped but not really. They threw it to him; we got out there, and he still made them.”
This was a continuation of a scoring rampage that Durant has been on since Game 2, when he committed nine turnovers and took only eight shots. He scored 38 points in Game 3, 33 in Game 4, 45 in Game 5 and then the 50-piece that sent the Clippers home.
In the four games after reminding everyone that he is, in fact, Kevin Durant, he averaged 41.5 points, on 57.3-percent shooting from the field, including 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“He just carried us these last couple of games of the series,” Kerr said. “He's the ultimate weapon because there's no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot. And he knew we needed him badly. And he just took over the game in the first half and set a great tone.”
Durant was only mildly impressed with his work, which also included six rebounds, five assists, one block, and one steal. He’ll take it, but clearly believes he left points on the floor.
“I scored 50 points, but I missed some good shots tonight,” said Durant, who was 15-of-26 overall. “I feel like I could have made a few more. But I felt great. I felt great. It was a fun game, for sure.”
This “fun” game is why the Warriors rolled out the red carpet for Durant nearly three years ago. Games when Steph isn’t quite Steph and Klay isn’t quite Klay. Games when, no matter the pace, the Warriors need a jolt that only Durant can provide.
The challenge now is in Durant trying to take this level of heat into the highly anticipated second-round matchup against Houston. The way he’s playing, with blowtorch intensity and unfair efficiency, it’s risky betting against it.