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Without Durant, Warriors turn focus to defense

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Golden State is playing its best defense of the season with the playoffs right around the corner.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — It has been quite a month for the Golden State Warriors.

After losing Kevin Durant to a sprained knee on the last day of February, Golden State players limped into March with an ominous cloud of uncertainty looming above them. Durant told The Ringer’s Bill Simmons on Friday that doctors initially misdiagnosed his injury as a broken leg.

“The first diagnosis we got was that I broke my leg, fractured my tibia,” Durant said. “And that’s a four or five month recovery. That’s what he told me: four-five months. I just bust out crying. I’m like, not again … This is my first year with the team, we’re playing very well at the time. I was playing well individually. It was definitely a good time for our team.

“We checked the scans again, we got a CT scan to see the condition the bone was in and they told me it was just a bruise there and I sprained my MCL, and that reaction in the car was like second to none. That emotional roller coaster was something out of a movie.”

Thankfully, Durant’s injury was not season-ending. However, it left the Warriors scrambling to fill the void of one of the NBA’s most dynamic all-around players. Golden State stumbled into spring with a 2-5 record over the first two weeks of March — their worst stretch of basketball since Steve Kerr took over as head coach.

But just as Durant’s knee seemed to magically regenerate from a broken fibula to a sprained MCL in a matter of hours, the Warriors were able to recapture some magic of their own.

Something would need to change as the Warriors could no longer rely on their ability to score 120+ points on any given night. In fact, Golden State has only surpassed the 120-point plateau once in the 16 games since Durant’s injury.

So, instead, the Warriors have ratcheted up their defense to make up for the loss of KD’s 25.3 points per game. “It’s been a great week and a great couple of weeks,” said Steve Kerr after the Warriors’ 10th straight win. “The biggest thing is that our defense, during this 10-game streak, has been fantastic.”

The Warriors have completely shut the water off from behind the arc by holding opposing teams to just 30% shooting from deep over the last 10 games. That includes two games against the Rockets (who have made more three’s than any other team in history this season) and the Spurs (who lead the NBA in three-point percentage).

During their current 10-game win streak, Golden State has allowed 100+ points only three times. This includes holding their opponents under the century mark in four straight games — their longest such stretch of the season.

This doesn’t mean that the Warriors are better defensively without Kevin Durant. Instead, it shows the overall well-roundedness of the mighty bridge-bearing baydestrians.

With Durant, the Warriors possess the most lethal offense in NBA history, wielding three different players whose offensive skillsets are capable of snatching a defender’s soul right out of his chest.

But, without Durant, the Warriors are forced to rely on their adroit defense, led by DPoY frontrunner Draymond Green and all-world reserve Andre Iguodala. And if you’d like some insight into Green’s defensive philosophy, it’s really quite simple:

“Just really going to stop them any way I can,” Green said, regarding being challenged on defense. “I know sometimes guys may think they have a mismatch or anything like that, but I take it personally. So, when I’m one-on-one with a guy, I just think like it’s a battle. It’s personal to me.”

The Warriors are hopeful to see Durant return to action before the end of the season. As far as Kerr is concerned, the Dubs have yet to lock up the one seed and will continue to play out the remaining six games of the season.

While there is much to speculate about — how easily Durant will slide back into the rotation, chief among them — one thing is for certain: if the Warriors can sustain this level of defense, they will be nearly impossible to defeat.