No one has ever suggested the Golden State Warriors are better without Kevin Durant. Draymond Green reiterated as much during a recent podcast collaboration with J.J. Redick, insisting the Warriors wouldn’t have subsequently dethroned LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after their epic collapse in the 2016 Finals if Durant hadn’t spurned the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with Golden State in free agency.
Durant’s impact on the Warriors was layered, befitting his status as an all-time great who can scale up and down the lineup while guarding multiple positions. But the most obvious benefit of his singular presence came when Steve Kerr deviated from his egalitarian, motion-heavy offense to let arguably the most gifted individual scorer ever go to work one-on-one.
Suddenly, Golden State didn’t have to rely on incessant movement from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson creating creases in the defense for easy baskets. Giving Durant the ball on the left block extended, or pretty much anywhere else, and getting out of the way was just an efficient brand of offense, especially when the Warriors needed a score late in games against elite playoff defenses.
Conventional wisdom coming into the 2022 NBA Finals was that Golden State would struggle in those circumstances without Durant. By the time they were celebrating a fourth title in eight seasons, though, it had become abundantly clear that even an all-time defense like the Boston Celtics had no answer for Curry when he got to cooking. Why? As Green sees it, the additional strength Curry has added in recent years has made him “unstoppable” in isolation.
“The reality is is we got to a point where we needed to be able to give someone the ball that can just go get a bucket, and Kevin was already there. I don’t think Steph was there yet,” Green, referencing Golden State’s past title teams, said. “So it gets us through those two years, we get those two championships, but while we’re doing that Steph is continuing to work and evolve, and most importantly, becoming the strongest dude on our team. And to this day, he’s the strongest guy on the team. And that allowed him to score whenever he wanted because you can no longer bump his off his path…That’s where Steph turned a corner and he became unstoppable, and now we’re able to continue wining championships because he’s unstoppable.”
The swarming defensive attention Curry demands every time he passes halfcourt was on full display in the Finals. The Warriors’ offensive rating with him on the floor was a team-high 115.8, per NBA.com/stats, and dipped all the way to a putrid team-low of 88.6 when he sat. That incredible efficiency discrepancy alone should’ve been enough to win Curry his first Finals MVP.
But what made him a no-brainer selection for the only team or individual accolade that’s ever proved elusive is how Curry abused the Celtics’ array of quality defenders when Ime Udoka dared to leave them on an island. The ridiculously difficult step-back threes are better for highlights, but what makes Curry an “unstoppable” one-on-one scorer now is that he can absorb contact off the bounce while keeping his balance and staying on course.
Strength is hardly the defining aspect of Curry’s game. Playing without Durant, though, his physical evolution has become an increasingly vital part of the Warriors’ success.