By Art Spander
OAKLAND — That was a wonderful line by Warriors coach Steve Kerr about Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. “We did a good job on him in the second half,” said Kerr. “I didn’t even notice him out there.”
That’s because he wasn’t out there, and what might have been an exceptionally wonderful line by Durant, in the box score, was not to be.
Oh, he scored 30 points. In 18 minutes. It was announced that nobody had done that playing fewer than 20 minutes since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. Whether that’s accurate is almost beside the point. Durant, the MVP, scoring champ four of his five years as a pro, is oh-so-accurate. And it seems oh-so-fragile. Or unfortunate.
In October, he fractured his right foot and missed the Thunder’s first 17 games. Then, Thursday night at the Oracle, while helping put on a show that if not unprecedented was exhilarating, he sprained the ankle of the same foot just before halftime.
Durant limped off, and the report was that he wanted to return. OKC coach Scott Brooks refused. One game in December was not going to cost Durant and the Thunder a dozen or so games down the road. Who it cost was the usual sellout crowd of 19,596.
They did see the Warriors win, coming back from 17 points down in the first quarter, beating OKC 114-109, and after the defeat at Memphis making it 17 victories in 18 games. What they didn’t get to see was the sort of basket-for-basket thrill that only the NBA can provide. After intermission that is.
Here they were, four of the best shooters in the game, Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. This is what the NBA sells, stars, personalities, gunners. This is what the game had going. Swish, Dunk. Wow. Whoo.
“They just unleashed a barrage on us in the first quarter,” said Kerr. “Kevin Durant was incredible. And Westbrook was rolling.” And the crowd was roaring. Even more so when Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green of the Warriors began to connect.
Then, like that, one of the parts was missing. Even though he was on the opposition, and that was to the Warriors' advantage, it was like an opera without Pavarotti, a ballet without Tallchief. The special few in this world help make our memories.
Curry finished with 34, Westbrook with 33 and Durant, in his 18 wonderful minutes, 30. It was great. Imagine what it might have been.
Indeed, the idea is to end up on top. “No ‘I’ in team,” we’re told. And Michael Jordan would add, “There is an ‘I’ in win.” It was a joy watching Jordan. In the first half on Thursday night, it was a joy watching Durant.
Kerr, who was Jordan’s teammate and knows so well how a player can take control of a game, was asked how one might guard Durant. “If you have any suggestions,” said the Warriors' coach, “I’m open. He’s unguardable. The logical thing when he’s hitting threes from 28 feet — the logical thing — is to get up on him and make him put it on the floor. But he’s pretty good at that too. You have to stay with it and just trust that eventually he will slow down a little.”
Durant didn’t slow down. He fell down. The ankle rolled. The battle was over, at least for this evening.
The Thunder scored 40 points in the first quarter against a Warrior team normally efficient on defense. “That’s because of a guy named Kevin Durant,” said a guy named Stephen Curry.
“I had my shot going,” said Durant after the game. “They had to convince me not to play (the second half). I have been feeling good for the last week or so. I just made a few shots today. That was the difference.”
In fact, he made 10 of 13 (5 of 6 on 3-pointers). He was close to perfection, and the game was tantalizing, mesmerizing. Bombs away. Then his ankle gave way.
“When I wake up in the morning,” said Durant, “I’ll see how I feel. I’m glad nothing serious happened. There are a lot of places I’m glad I’m not in.”
What he was in Thursday was rhythm. He wasn’t alone. Baskets from everywhere. The halftime score was Warriors 65, Thunder 63.
“The way the NBA works,” reminded Kerr, “everybody has talent.” But not talent like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
If only all four had been there at the end.