Knowing that Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were both missing Wednesday night’s game in Charlotte, Golden State Warriors fans were likely more worried or concerned over a game against the Charlotte Hornets than they would have originally anticipated. Where would the Warriors points come from? Who would instigate the offense? Who would anchor the defense? Would the Warriors be able to win the game?
Well, there was no need to fear. Kevin Durant was poised, waiting to strike and remind basketball fans just how he can dominate a given game. Durant was the key force for the Warriors, posting a triple-double while leading the Warriors to the 101-87 victory over the Hornets.
Durant (with help from Thompson) make up for Curry’s scoring
That Durant scored prolifically is certainly not a surprise as he’s still one of the elite bucket-getters in the league, both today and for all-time. Durant ended the game with 35 points, a season-high. Early in the game, Durant showed why he is so dangerous as an offensive weapon, namely that he can score in many different ways.
Durant picking up the slack with Stephen Curry & Draymond Green out. Here he is putting Batum on skates pic.twitter.com/6ktH30qZ1z— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) December 7, 2017
The one-legged fade-away shot, the 3-pointer, the pull-up jumper in the paint, the drive to the basket — Durant is a player who can do all with it comes to getting points.
Though the Warriors led for the entire game, the Hornets occasionally cut into the lead, inching back into striking distance. Hornets guard Kemba Walker did his best to keep up with the Warriors offense, scoring a hard-fought 24 points, and was the driving force behind most of the Hornets’ efforts to shrink the deficit. One of those runs came in the third quarter as they closed a lead that had been 26 points to just 12. But Durant provided the Warriors response.
This was, in an essence, the story of the second half of this game: the Hornets making a run and then the Warriors, and Durant in particular, would make a bucket to stop the proverbial bleeding and regain control of the game.
This is what Durant offers the Warriors, what makes him special, and why he was such an obvious choice for the team to pursue when he entered free agency.
OK, that might seem a bit obvious since he is an insanely talented player, but allow me to continue...
Durant is one of the best players in the league at getting his own shot, at being the player who can provide the counterpunch when the opposing team was getting back into the game. Having a player who can provide that offensive effort seemingly at will—particularly when Curry is struggling, injured, or out of the lineup—makes the Warriors a much more dangerous team. It’s not just that the Warriors have so much talent, but that they have so much talent that fits together in this way that allows them to beat you even if they are missing players or if someone is struggling.
That is not to say that Durant was the only Warriors player who contributed on the offensive end — with Curry out, there were going to be a lot of points that needed to be made up for and Klay Thompson was also up for to the task.
Here are 3 of his 22 points that increased the Warriors lead to 21 points late in the second quarter.
Ever a surprise how Klay gets off a three in milliseconds? pic.twitter.com/6l0itSI8SC— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 7, 2017
Durant and Thompson accounted for more than half of the team’s 101 points and the only other Warriors player to reach double digits was Nick Young. Young scored 6 of his 10 points in the second quarter, as he came off the bench to knock down some 3-pointers.
This is a beautiful pass from Klay = Nick Young 3 pic.twitter.com/yi9AvgjNV7— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) December 7, 2017
Beyond assists, the Warriors excel at helping one another score
With both Curry and Green out of the lineup against the Hornets, the Warriors not only had to account for missing points but also assists and ball movement. Durant picked up the slack there as well, totaling a season-high 10 assists.
One of those assists came as he got the ball to Quinn Cook, called up from the Santa Cruz Warriors and placed in the starting lineup for the first time as he replaced the injured Curry.
Durant’s court vision was great, as he was able to see that Cook was open in the corner as the Warriors got out in transition. Durant then got the pass quickly to him so he was able to shoot the 3-pointer while unguarded.
What Curry’s absence might allow Durant to show off are his passing skills, which are often overlooked but are able to shine in the Warriors ball movement-friendly offensive system. Durant’s assists per game have been trending upward every year of his career and his assist ratio (or the percentage of his possessions that end in an assist) are the highest they’ve been in his career. While no one will mistake Durant for John Stockton or Magic Johnson or even LeBron James, Durant’s passing (much like his defense) is a bit underrated.
Durant showed off some of his floor-general bona fides in this game as well, directing traffic on the court that led to an open Thompson 3-pointer.
Even without Steph, the splash is still alive pic.twitter.com/oTaFT2mqaK— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 7, 2017
Durant, in a way that’s similar to Curry, draws the attention of opposing players, his gravity pulling them in and thus opening up other players for easy shots. This is what happened on this lob to JaVale McGee.
Cody Zeller is so focused on Durant and what he’s going to do that he loses track of McGee so that he’s able to move freely to the basket for the alley-oop.
Even without their two leading assist-getters, the Warriors were able to get close to their team average of assists per game, totaling 26 against the Hornets. Though Durant was responsible for 10 of them, he was also the beneficiary of one here early in the third quarter
Rather than trying to force up a shot with multiple Hornets defenders surrounding him, Jordan Bell made the very un-rookie move to find the wide-open Durant to take an uncontested 3-pointer.
Even without their two chief play initiators in the lineup, the Warriors still moved the ball around in an offense predicated on assists and ball movement creating better shots. That the Warriors were still able to play this way owed a great deal to Durant’s passing, his abilities as a leader or instigator on the court, things that we often overlook because we don’t see them all that regularly.
A swarming Warriors defense stings the Hornets
Though their offense executed at a reasonably high level given who was missing the game, a large part of why the Warriors won this game was their defensive effort. That the Warriors were turning in an impressive defensive effort was clear to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater by halftime.
Warriors up 53-38 at half on the Hornets— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 7, 2017
KD/Klay do their job without Curry: 33 combined on 21 shots
Defense stingy: Hornets 17/54 FG
The Hornets would not do much better in the second half, shooting 39.5% from the field to end the game with a field goal percentage of 35.1%, below their season average of 44.3%.
Even without their defensive leader in Green, the Warriors were able to limit Jeremy Lamb, the Hornets’ second leading scorer, to just 6 points. Dwight Howard, meanwhile, was able to score 14 points but 6 of those points came at the free-throw line where he shot a remarkably high 85.7% for the night. Nicolas Batum was the only Hornets player to score and shoot well from the field, scoring 15 points off 6 for 12 shooting, perhaps owing to Thompson being focused defensively on Walker with Curry out of the lineup.
Durant played a large part of that Warriors defensive effort. Durant blocked 2 Hornets shots, continuing to develop as a rim protector and defensive stopper since coming to the Warriors. All of Durant’s 11 rebounds came on the defensive end as well, which is impressive given that the Hornets possess two good offensive rebounders in Howard and Zeller.
But much like with his scoring and passing, Durant was not alone in contributing as he helped lead a team-wide defensive effort. Not surprisingly, it was the rookie Bell, placed into the starting lineup with Green getting a night off to rest a nagging injured shoulder, who had the biggest effort. Here we see Bell and Durant combining to play good defense at the rim on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Bell got another block later in the third quarter on a Walker layup attempt.
This is how you do it ️ pic.twitter.com/5eKYogNLXl— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 7, 2017
Building off of Bell’s great defensive play, Thompson secured the ball and then got it to Durant, who fired a perfectly-timed bounce pass to a streaking-towards-the-basket David West for the two-hand dunk, pushing the Warriors lead to 15.
In their first game without Curry for at least two weeks and with Green out of the lineup as well, the Warriors scored a convincing victory largely because of Durant’s outstanding play. But beyond his excellent numbers and performance, Durant’s game elevated the game of his teammates as well, allowing them to play better and win a game that they could have conceivably lost. So often, Durant is treated as a singular offensive weapon and his effect on his teammates is not fully grasped. Against the Hornets, we saw the different ways Durant can affect a game and help a team to victory.
With Curry missing this time with his injured ankle, Warriors fans will get to see a lot more of the kind of Durant that we saw in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Hopefully he will be in Detroit on Friday night as the Warriors wrap up this six-game road trip against the Pistons.
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