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The Golden Breakdown: He is Kevin Durant, and he showed us exactly who he is

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Durant reminded everyone of who he is, scoring 38 points and leading the Warriors to a dominant victory over the Clippers in Game 3.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Three

I’m Kevin Durant.

No need for an unnecessarily long and winding lede. No need to weave a complicated fabric of words to entice you, the reader, to spend some of your time reading this breakdown.

I’m Kevin Durant.

The two-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, 2014 NBA MVP, 2019 All-Star MVP, four-time scoring champion, and well on his way to becoming the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA reminded everyone what his name is.

I’m Kevin Durant.

Now all he needed to do was to show that he is, indeed, who he said he is.

In Game 2, people saw a player turning the ball over more times than he shot it. A player who seemed flustered by a defender nearly a full foot shorter than he is, a defender who could do nothing but attempt to get in his head and affect his psyche, because there is simply no other way to stop this 7-foot scoring machine. A player who garnered six fouls and was taken out of the game during a crucial stretch of the game when his team needed him the most.

That wasn’t Kevin Durant.

This is Kevin Durant.

Durant didn’t need to have something drawn up for him to score, didn’t necessarily need Patrick Beverley to be unglued to him to get that open mid-range jumper to go in. But having a screen set for him by Andrew Bogut in a pinch post set-up was an added layer of luxury, additional assurance that Beverley wouldn’t be able to get away with grabs and other forms of defending that skirt the fine line between good defense and fouling.

Beverley was sure to be up in Durant’s grill; he is full of fiery energy, and rest assured, he isn’t full of quit. He will keep on fighting over screens, keep putting pressure on Durant as much as possible physically and mentally, and will try his hardest to take away Durant from his comfort zone. Durant is more than capable of cooking Beverley by his lonesome, but having the likes of Bogut using a hard screen to take Beverley out of commission is a great help.

It was clear the Warriors wanted to get Beverley off of Durant as much as possible during the initial stages of the game. Here is another screen by Bogut for Durant, where the Warriors manage to get Danilo Gallinari switched onto him. At 6-feet-10-inches, Gallinari is more physically suited to cover Durant, although his reputation as a defender doesn’t quite precede him as much as Beverley’s does. Gallinari does a good job of smothering Durant initially, but Durant rises up and buries the shot anyway.

Here is one possession where the Warriors manage to get Beverley off of Durant through a simple off-ball interchange with Stephen Curry. Beverley is forced to switch onto Curry, while Landry Shamet takes on Durant. The rookie has no hope of trying to contain Durant, who simply goes up for the mid-range jumper.

But for all the talk of what complicated tactic or strategy the Warriors needed to whip out to address the fact that Durant was being covered by Patrick Beverley, the honest-to-goodness truth is that there didn’t need to be any drastic adjustment. Durant just needed to be himself, to take matters into his own hands. The desire to play within the system, the genuine eagerness to move the ball around and act as a distributor is admirable. But Durant’s identity as a walking points factory is what made him the player the Warriors so greatly coveted, what made him become the Finals MVP these past two years.

“No, there wasn’t an adjustment,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “He had a different mindset tonight than he had the other night. ... His teammates were excited about the way he started the game, and I think that was infectious and it carried over to our defense. I think our defense was fantastic tonight.”

The Warriors’ defense was indeed fantastic, holding the Clippers to 37.2 percent shooting from the field, 21.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc, and posting a decent defensive rating of 104.0. Furthermore, the Warriors were able to hold the explosive bench duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to a combined 31 points. Williams was able to get to the line to knock down 7 free throws out of 8 attempts, but was otherwise limited on the floor, shooting 4-of-11 from the field (36.4 percent) and 1-of-3 from three-point range (33.3 percent). The Warriors — Andre Iguodala in particular — simply defended him better, forcing him to go to his left, smothering his drives and not allowing him much space to work with, and forcing him out of his comfort zone several times — a textbook example of defending exceptional scorers.

Durant’s sublime play didn’t just inspire the Warriors’ defensive performance — it also carried over to the others on the offensive end. Curry finished the night with 21 points, and could’ve gotten more if he wasn’t saddled with foul trouble all night long, which limited him to only 20 minutes of playing time. Klay Thompson buried some timely shots, despite finishing with only 12 points. Iguodala chipped in 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting, while Kevon Looney continued with his recent stretch of excellent offensive showings, finishing with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Draymond Green was his usual playmaking self, finishing with 8 points and 10 assists, while Bogut finished with 8 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists, while continuing to be a force in the paint on defense as well as setting hard screens to free up the Warriors’ deadly offensive weapons.

It was clear that last night, the Warriors needed Durant to take the lead, and that the rest of them would follow. They needed him to be himself, to stop overthinking things. More often than not, Durant will be matched up against someone who is at a severe size and height disadvantage. Beverley is an irritant, a pesky defender who depends as much on his ability to sow frustration within the minds of his defensive assignments as he does on his genuine ability to lock them down. The truth of the matter is that for all of Beverley’s pedigree as a defender, he simply cannot lock down Durant straight up — he’s too short. His only hope is to discourage Durant, and to possibly lure him into more technical fouls that could very well disqualify him for a third straight time in this series.

All Durant simply had to do was to not bite. To be himself. To be the unstoppable force of nature that he is. All he needed to do was to rise to the occasion. To rise to the challenge. To rise over the much shorter Beverley and simply put the ball in the bucket.

“He came out super aggressive. Kill mode,” Draymond Green said after the game. “That was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there in the first quarter and never lost control of it. ... Not many people can stop Kevin if Kevin don’t wanna be stopped, so he showed that tonight.”

Perhaps Durant kept all of his cards to himself before Game 3. He disagreed with Kerr’s assessment that he needed to be more aggressive, that he would need to shoot 20 or 30 shots per game. When Durant was told of that notion, he didn’t embrace it, because according to him, that wasn’t how he played the game.

Durant is right, in the sense that he doesn’t necessarily need to shoot that amount of shots to be effective in a game. He places a high premium on his ability to be efficient, the ability to pick his spots and his matchups, and to assess when and where he will shoot that will garner him the highest probability of putting the ball in the bucket. While Kerr’s call for Durant to shoot more may have been publicly brushed aside, one cannot help but feel that Durant took that statement to heart, and responded in kind to his coach’s honest but fair assessment.

Durant did end up shooting the ball 23 times last night and made 14 of them, good for 60.9 percent from the field. As he has proven last night and many times before, Durant can shoot 20 shots and still be efficient. It’s just who he is — someone who doesn’t shoot for shooting’s sake, who doesn’t rely on sheer volume to pad the points column. He knows his strengths; he is well aware of his few weaknesses; and he embraces them and knows how to use them to his full advantage.

“I’ve been here for 12 years. I’m 30. I don’t need to show nobody nothing at this point,” Durant said after the game. “A lot of people who watched the game thought that I should be engaging in a one-on-one, physical battle, whatever that is to other people, with Patrick Beverley. I don’t do that type of stuff. I just play. That’s what I was trying to let people know.”

For all the talk of Beverley getting into his head, for all of the hype for a player who is far from being an equal getting into an elite scorer’s psyche, it ultimately meant nothing. Durant was locked in from the beginning and did not allow all the hype of him being matched up with Beverley penetrate into his mental state.

Durant is notorious for clapping back at people who slight him, especially when it happens within the confines of social media. But he almost never allows it to bleed into his work on the court. While he shuts out every decibel of outside noise in the process of doing his craft, he doesn’t forget the criticisms, the unfounded observations of those he feels cannot fully understand what he goes through on a nightly basis. He takes those to heart — and for someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, he laid his response out there during Game 3 for everyone else to see.

I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am.

Just in case anyone else needed a reminder.

Two wins down, 14 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.