When you have Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, things can only go so wrong. A lot of Golden State’s comeback against San Antonio will be chalked up to the third-quarter departure of Kawhi Leonard, who left the game after apparently reinjuring his ankle. With Kawhi on the floor, the Spurs were plus-21. Without him, they were minus-23. They lost the game by two points, 113–111. When he finally tapped out, after Zaza Pachulia (intentionally or not) slid underneath his jump shot, it was like watching the end of Logan. Leonard’s absence was huge, and the Warriors had a couple of superheroes of their own to exploit the void.
Durant and Curry scored 74 points in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, the most they’ve ever combined for as teammates. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are on the same team. It still feels really weird to write that. But if you want to know why the Warriors got Durant, this game is the answer. San Antonio led by as many as 25. But Durant and Curry are the Warriors’ kill switch. There is no such thing as being out of it if you have them together. You cannot step on Golden State’s neck. If one of them is off, the other is there to make up for it. If both are on? Take cover.
Through the first two and a half quarters, the Spurs were playing with amazing defensive intensity, still lathered up from beating Houston in the Rockets’ own gym last Thursday. The Warriors missed their first five 3-point attempts, and looked like a team coming out of a week off and psyched they didn’t spend it in Utah.
But when Leonard left the game, there was some kind of transference. Up until that point, the best two-way player in the league was the best player on the floor, notching 26 points and eight boards, and extending a vice grip on the proceedings. Leonard wasn’t just good, he was controlling.
What happened next was both stunning and plausible.
When Doris Burke announced that Leonard would not return to the game, whatever the score was seemed irrelevant. When Steph gets a steal and runs the break with Durant and Klay Thompson heading for the wings, there’s really nothing that can be done. San Antonio was on life support, and Durant and Curry proceeded to pull the plug. Curry scored 19 in the third, hitting four 3s, and handing out three assists.
And when he seemed to tweak a muscle in his arm toward the end of the third and fade away a bit, and you were thinking, Oh, innnnntttteressssting, it was like, no, it’s not interesting.
Durant scored 12 in the fourth — 5-of-6 from the field (and 2-of-3 from behind the arc) — ending with 34. This is the second straight Spurs-Warriors meeting where the Dubs have stormed back after getting jumped on early by San Antonio. Last time, on March 29, the Warriors didn’t have Durant. This time, we saw what they are capable of at full strength. Adding Durant wasn’t unfair in a rich-get-richer sense, it was unfair because if they are clicking, Durant and Curry are capable of generating so much offense — from behind the arc, as playmakers, from the post, in transition, with a hand in their faces. Several times during the Golden State run, a Spurs player would turn to face a rotation he simply couldn’t make — this happened to Manu Ginobili a couple of times. The ball was whipped around the perimeter, and all of a sudden, Durant or Curry or Thompson had a lane or an open shot. The look on Manu’s face said, "What am I supposed to do about this?"
After the game, Ginobili said, "It’s very hard to bounce back from a game like this. I always prefer to lose by 20." I get that. The Spurs dominated the boards and slowed the game down, exactly like they wanted to. Their game plan worked, but it was designed to keep the game close, not protect a big lead. The Warriors were losing big early because they couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn, not because San Antonio split the atom. You cannot split the Curry-Durant atom. If Gregg Popovich can’t solve this, there is no solve. Leonard, who was reportedly getting an MRI on his ankle Sunday night, is obviously essential to whether the Spurs can make a series out of this. But even if he can play, he can guard only one of them.