Kevin Durant's fireworks launch Warriors past Clippers and into Rockets

Kevin Durant's fireworks launch Warriors past Clippers and into Rockets

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.”

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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.

Why Warriors will retire Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala's jersey numbers

Why Warriors will retire Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala's jersey numbers

When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City in 2016, reaction from the only franchise he had known was petty and short-sighted. The Thunder deemed the best player in their brief history unworthy of a video tribune upon his return and, one year later, issued KD’s No. 35 to a rookie on a two-way contract.

That stung Durant. Moreover, players around the NBA took note of OKC’s flagrant disrespect toward someone who represented the franchise so well for nine seasons.

Six years earlier, in Cleveland, there was an even more display of sheer immaturity by Cavaliers chairman Dan Gilbert, who upon LeBron James’ decision to head to Miami wrote a screed to Cavaliers fans in which he described James as a narcissistic, cowardly deserter.

That, too, got around the league – as if it weren’t hard enough to sell NBA players on the merits of Cleveland and OKC.

The Warriors, it seems, are determined to avoid such self-defeating behavior.

Durant announced he was leaving the Warriors for the Nets on June 30. Roughly 24 hours later, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob issued a statement praising KD, concluding with this line: “As long as I am co-chairman of this team, no player will ever wear #35 for the Warriors again.”

This elicited more than a few eye rolls and looks of confusion, folks wondering why such a grand gesture for someone, no doubt great, who was a Warrior for only three seasons.

Lacob is ahead of such people. Maybe not light years ahead, but far enough to see the benefits that may be derived.

In the nine years since Lacob, Peter Guber and friends purchased the Warriors, the franchise has been committed to deep analysis, routinely soliciting a variety of opinions, occasionally resulting in conflict, before proceeding.

Every decision considers not only the next year or two but also the next 10 or 20. The goal is to become the world’s No. 1 franchise, transcending the NBA and sports.

The decision to trumpet the intention to retire Durant’s number was, to some degree, about honoring KD for his contributions. To a greater degree, it was about recruiting for the future.

The message to all future big-name free agents is this: If you come to our team and play an important role in its success, you will receive the highest honor we can give a player.

When the Warriors announced they were trading Andre Iguodala to Memphis on July 7, Lacob was even quicker with his recruiting pitch. The second paragraph of the press release is a statement in which the CEO thanks Iguodala “for all of his contributions and look forward to seeing his number in the rafters at Chase Center.”

Great players on the free-agent market are looking for more than money, minutes and a chance to win. They’ll get at least two of those. They also place value on how a franchise treats its employees. They’ve already canvassed prospective new teammates and wouldn’t be meeting if they didn’t like what they heard. But they also want to hear what those at the top of the business have to say.

There is not a player on earth who wouldn’t be moved by the idea of having, as I can imagine Guber saying, a visual monument to your greatness that will stand forever. Retired numbers have such status, as do statues.

Dangling easily visualized possibilities is perfectly legal as a recruiting tool, part of the routine for college coaches at powerhouse basketball and football programs. There’s a chance Zion Williamson was impressed when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski pointed to retired jerseys -- Grant Hill and J.J. Redick to name two -- hanging in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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Durant and Iguodala earned their way to such distinction at Chase Center, even if neither plays a game in the building as a Warrior. It’s gracious of Lacob to state his intention to thank each man with more than a handshake.

But that’s not the only reason for making such firm statements, which can’t be reconsidered without severe backlash.

Lacob understands the value of image and that a positive one can be profitable. Shows of appreciation make their way around the league. No matter how he may feel about a player leaving, he wouldn’t convey pettiness or bile. He’s looking beyond the moment. Far beyond it.

Kevin Durant shares rehab photos as he recovers from Achilles tear

Kevin Durant shares rehab photos as he recovers from Achilles tear

It's been 39 days since Kevin Durant suffered a ruptured Achilles in game five of the NBA Finals, completely altering the landscape of the NBA and the ensuing free agency period. It was announced within minutes of the start of free agency that Durant and Kyrie Irving would be joining the Brooklyn Nets next season, with each signing four-year contracts with the team. 

KD recently updated his fans with some photos of the rehabilitation process from his home in Los Angeles.

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It has been widely reported that there is little to no chance of Durant returning to the hardwood anytime during the 2019-20 season, so for now the only action photos we'll be seeing of KD will be in street clothes.