When Kevin Durant left Game 5 of the Warriors' second-round playoff series with the Houston Rockets, everyone assumed the two-time defending champions were in a world of trouble.
But after a rocky first half in Game 6, the Dubs brushed aside the Rockets and went on to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals all without Durant, who continues to rehab his calf strain ahead of the NBA Finals.
The return of the old-school Warriors (if 2015-16 can be considered old school), has led many to wonder if the Dubs are actually better without Durant.
This, of course, is insane. But you don't have to take my word for it.
Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni had the misfortune of facing both versions of the Warriors during Houston's second-round loss, and he knows it's ridiculous to think the Warriors are better without the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
"They play a little bit differently, but I know one thing: When Kevin went out, everybody and every player and every coach and everybody in the country … who was against them was relieved that Kevin (wasn’t there)," D'Antoni told Sam Amick of The Athletic. "That gives you a clue, to me, that they’re better with him when everybody says, ‘Oh, thank goodness (he’s out).’
"Now, does that mean they’re not (capable of winning it all without him)? Heck, they were really good (before him). They won 73 games and a championship without him one year, and they probably should’ve won two. So it doesn’t mean they can’t win and be an unbelievable team, but Kevin Durant is just a special player. And again, I think without a doubt they’re better with him. But they’re really good without him also."
The Warriors have taken their play to another level with Durant out. D'Antoni thinks the improved level of play is a mixture of desperation and letting other players shine in different roles.
"Well, I think it puts them into more of a desperation mode," D'Antoni said. "We don’t have Kevin, and so yeah (they’re) more desperate. Do they turn it up a ways? Yeah, probably. But again, I think where they’ve gotten beside the point (in that discussion) is that we know how good the Splash Brothers and Kevin are, but Draymond Green is playing at a very, very high level, and he’s as valuable – if (not) more valuable – than anybody.
"They’ve got a bunch of players who can go, and missing one, I just think, made them more aware of what they needed to do. "
Without Durant, the Warriors looked vulnerable. But the Rockets swung and missed at the champs yet again, allowing Steph Curry to explode for 33 second-half points in Game 6 to eliminate them.
So, what went wrong for Houston?
"We gave them too many shots," D'Antoni said. "You cannot give them extra possessions. We did that. We didn’t rebound the ball well, so that means we weren’t in transition as much as we should’ve been. And their defense, in a set half-court, is really, really good. I think the combinations of those two things, just getting out in transition and how we couldn’t do it because of the rebounding, I think that killed us. That killed us.
"We actually shot, probably, better than them for most of the series. I don’t know about the last game, but most of the series we shot better. So we did our parts on a lot of it, and I thought our defense was good. They made some great individual plays at the end of Game 6 – some great individual plays. What Steph did on a couple shots, and Klay (Thompson) in the first half (in which he had 21 of his 27 points), and then Steph in the second half. They have that championship mentality, and we just couldn’t snuff it out of them.”
After losing to the Warriors yet again in the playoffs, the Rockets have to go back to the drawing board to find a way to knock off the champs.
That's no easy task, no matter what Durant decides to do in free agency.