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Warrior Wonder: Kevin Durant’s absence should make Dub Nation’s heart grow fonder

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Thursday night’s loss against the Magic gave us all a reminder of what the back-to-back Finals MVP brings to the Warriors and how much they need him.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While there were some quality performances turned in by Golden State Warriors players in this disappointing loss to the Orlando Magic, what stood out was the performance that wasn’t there.

Kevin Durant missed this game as the Warriors gave the hard-working forward some rest. To be certain, a Durant-less Warriors team could (and should ) have beat the Magic. But the way the Warriors let this game slip away, the reasons why they came up short, they all point to the important role Durant plays for this team and what he brings to the table on the basketball court.

With the relentless media speculation rumors still swirling around Durant and the New York Knicks, it’s worth thinking about how Durant can make the difference for this team, whether in a quasi-meaningless late-February game or in a pivotal game in the NBA Finals. If nothing else, Thursday night’s loss should be a wake-up call for those who don’t think it matters whether or not Durant is a part of this team next season.

The Durant-less Warriors’ offense sputters

For a player maligned for being an isolation-only ball-stopping scorer, it is worth noting that the Warriors had one of their worst games in terms of ball movement and assists with Durant not playing. The Warriors tallied just 16 assists against the Magic, the fewest assists the Warriors have had in one game so far this season. The Warriors’ offense came to a halt without Durant and his career-high 5.8 assists per game.

Even when the Warriors were able to generate offense, it came very inefficiently. Stephen Curry ended the game with 33 points, but he needed a regular-season career-high 33 attempts to get those points. Curry gave the Warriors much of the offense against the Magic, including scoring 11 points in a third quarter in which the Warriors out-scored the Magic by 19 points.

But the way he got those points holds this performance by Curry back and highlights how the team missed Durant’s efficient offense.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Orlando Magic
Curry could’ve used Durant out there to pick him up, both literally and figuratively, in the Warriors’ loss to the Orlando Magic
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Curry, along with the entire Warriors team, struggled from three-point range as well. The Warriors shot 22.5% from long distance against the Magic, their worst performance since a November 18th loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Thursday night’s game was also their worst shooting performance from three-point range in a game where they attempted 40+ shots from long distance.

With Durant not there to command some of the defensive attention, the Magic could focus on making things tough for Curry and Klay Thompson at the three-point line. Even if Durant himself might not have boosted those three-point shooting numbers (this season, he’s been shooting 36.4% from long distance, his lowest percentage since the 2010-11 season), his presence would have opened things up and made the attempts easier for the other Warriors players.

Something missing on defense

Durant’s absence was also felt on defense as the players who got the hottest for the Magic were the ones that Durant would’ve likely been defending. Jonathan Isaac scored 6 of his 12 points in the first quarter that saw the Magic lead by as many as 11 points before ending it with a 6-point advantage. Isaac’s play at the beginning of the game, going up against the inexperienced Alfonzo McKinnie as opposed to Durant, gave the Magic a spark and some confidence in this matchup against the defending champs.

The Warriors could have used Durant’s defense against Terrence Ross, who scored 16 points off of the bench. Ross was able to take advantage of the Warriors’ diminished perimeter defense on Thursday night, as the team was without both Durant and Andre Iguodala.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Orlando Magic
One wonders if Terrence Ross would’ve been able to play as well as he did on Thursday night if Kevin Durant had been out there to defend him.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Defense was also one of the strikes against another Warriors player who did have a good game against the Magic. DeMarcus Cousins had one of his better statistical performances on Thursday night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. But Cousins’ defense left much to be desired, showing up in his plus/minus of -16, the worst total for any Warriors player.

Neither Cousins nor Draymond Green could slow down Aaron Gordon, who scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Even if Durant wouldn’t be the primary defender on someone like Gordon, having his length and rim protecting-abilities would have helped with Gordon and could have made the difference in this game.

Warriors can’t close it out

But where the Warriors missed Durant most of all was in the game’s closing minutes. Though they’d led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Warriors found things much closer down the stretch as they led by just 5 points with three minutes to go. But the Magic closed the game on a 14-2 run to pick up the win and hand the Warriors their second-straight loss. During those final minutes of the game, when the result hung in the balance, the Warriors shot 1/7 from the field, part of a fourth where they shot 7/22 from the field and 1/8 from three-point range.

Late in the game, when the other team is charging hard and no one on the Warriors can seem to make a shot, that’s the time when Durant is at his best and usually comes up big. Durant is the Warriors’ counter-punch. Durant is the player who can go down and get a basket that stops their opponent’s run and steadies the ship so that the Warriors can pick up the win. The Warriors desperately needed that to get out of Orlando with a victory but, without Durant in the lineup, there was no one to play that role.

With all of the talent on this roster, it’s perhaps easy to forget how important Durant is to this Warriors team and, yes, how much they need him. This was all readily apparent during Thursday night’s loss to the Magic.

Poll

Who was your Warrior Wonder for Thursday night’s road loss to the Orlando Magic?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Stephen Curry
    (33 votes)
  • 13%
    Klay Thompson
    (17 votes)
  • 3%
    Draymond Green
    (5 votes)
  • 9%
    DeMarcus Cousins
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Alfonzo McKinnie
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Shaun Livingston
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Jonas Jerebko
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Kevon Looney
    (1 vote)
  • 9%
    Jordan Bell
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Damion Lee
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Quinn Cook
    (1 vote)
  • 32%
    Kevin Durant
    (41 votes)
126 votes total Vote Now