Normally, this would be a post that our fellow writers over at The Dream Shake would be writing about. But this is special, because Kevin Durant is special.
When you lose the best scorer in the world, arguably the second greatest player in the NBA, and the man who has carried you hard throughout the playoffs so far, let us be clear — there is no ‘replacing’ Kevin Durant.
But as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and company have pointed out, the Warriors have identified and will continue to identify with the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra. Which, in this case, is all that they can do. Whether that mentality fits in through the likes of Curry and Thompson’s scoring, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala’s defense, or Kevon Looney’s persistence on the glass, the Warriors will have to fill in pretty big shoes in multiple aspects of the game.
Still, this is a team that has championship-level play and experience seeping through its blood, and with what we have seen from Curry and Thompson in the past, there’s a good indicator that those two will step up in the face of some adversity and try to minimize the impact that the loss of Durant has on the team.
If there’s one team that was built to overcome these odds, it’s the Golden State Warriors. Shots will likely be tighter, and the defense will have to be pristine, but the Warriors have proven time and again that they can execute such plays.
For the Houston Rockets, there actually shouldn’t be too much change. The Warriors are likely to start Kevon Looney in Durant’s absence, which means Houston will have to continue to fight hard for rebounds. The loss of Durant impacts the Warriors’ offensive attack, obviously, and with the team looking to Curry and Thompson as their primary scorers, Houston’s efforts should go to neutralizing the Splash Brothers efficiency from beyond the arc and mid-range. Whether that means double-teaming, playing more aggressively on ball, or highly contesting on close outs, they will still have to make sure their defense does not let up.
The remaining group of the Warriors, despite all their accolades, stand in front of an obstacle that they haven’t faced since the 2016 NBA Finals: the playoffs without Durant. And despite being without the best player on their team, the Warriors find themselves in a position that they have overcome before, and I believe they will overcome again.
The Rockets, however, have to be salivating at this opportunity. James Harden has proven he is here to take it from the reigning champs. P.J. Tucker has played well, and the team has gotten some major contributions from the likes of Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon. I don’t think I am ready to say that Houston now becomes the favorite, but this opportunity becomes the greatest chance that they have had to beat this team of Warriors to this date.
It will depend on the play of James Harden, Chris Paul, and the rest of the team. And more importantly, it will depend on how the Warriors are able to respond to the likely surge that they will be feeling at the Toyota Center this evening.
This series has become nothing short of exhilarating, and this crucial game 6 will continue to prove it. I have no doubt that both Curry and Thompson will step up in some capacity, but I fully expect James Harden to do the same.
Next man up.