If Kevin Durant didn’t know any better, he might think the Curry brothers are dissing him.
I think Durant does know better. But the comments are coming one after another.
First, when Durant got hurt against the Rockets, Warriors teammate Stephen Curry said, “During the timeout, we all looked at each other, and there were a couple smiles in terms of what that meant for us as a team and the guys that were going to need to step up in those moments. Again, next-man-up mentality.”
“I think they are harder to guard (without Durant),” Seth said. “They move around faster when he’s not out there. They’re definitely not a better team, but they’re harder to guard. Obviously, they play a different style of basketball when Steph and Klay (Thompson) are the focal points offensively, and we haven’t played that team in a while. We’ve got to reshift our focus and make some adjustments coming into Game 2.”
We went through this a couple years ago, when Tyronn Lue said the Celtics’ sets were harder to defend than Golden State’s.
In a very narrow sense, Lue and Seth Curry are correct. It’s harder to get in position against the Durant-less Warriors, who have much more ball and player movement without him. There are a lot of actions to stay on top of.
But Golden State is not easier to defend without Durant when it comes to the primary purpose of defense – preventing scoring. The Warriors don’t pressure defenses to keep up in the same ways when Durant plays, but he’s still an elite scorer. He doesn’t need complex sets to get good shots. So, the defensive game plan can be simpler to execute. It’s just harder to defend effectively.
Seth Curry essentially acknowledged this. When he said the Warriors definitely aren’t a better team without Durant, Seth Curry didn’t mean because of Durant’s defense. Seth Curry meant they’re better offensively with him. Lue, whose Cavaliers were in the midst of a rivalry with Golden State, might have been at least partially trying to tweak the Warriors.
And it’s not as if Golden State completely stagnates with Durant. He, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala still play plenty of beautiful basketball. But there is a give-and-take between style preferred by Durant and the style preferred by his star teammates and Steve Kerr.
As for Stephen Curry’s comments about smiling, the phrasing was weird. I think the idea was the Warriors, as competitors, relished this opportunity to prove themselves. Durant might even respect that.
He also might feel, if they want to prove themselves without him, he can give them that opportunity by leaving in free agency.
As I’ve said all along, this postseason run will matter toward Durant’s decision. His injury adds a wrinkle. How will Golden State play without him? How will he feel about that?
Another question: How will he receive what people say about the Warriors’ play without him?