OAKLAND — It’s typical for Kevin Durant to be a brilliant scorer one quarter, a terrific defender the next. When the Warriors needed it most Monday night, he became a dynamic playmaker.
It was as if was changing identities on demand. What stayed the same throughout a 117-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies were Durant’s commitment, selflessness and efficiency.
He scored 16 points in the first half because they Warriors needed them. He scored six in the second, but delivered four assists and at least three secondary assists — passing that was needed with Draymond Green sidelined after halftime with a foot contusion.
“It was dictated by the game,” Durant said of his point forward duties. “Obviously, Draymond does a lot of that for us and coach relies on him to do that. But with him in the locker room, I just tried to provide that same punch for us, facilitating the basketball but also being aggressive to score.”
When Durant is in that mode, there is little an opponent can do. At 6-foot-11, he’s tall enough to shoot over his defender, or pass over him. What’s toxic to the opponent is that he’s equally adept at both.
In the third quarter, Durant embraced the role of bringing the ball up the court and getting the Warriors into their offense. He essentially took turns with Stephen Curry setting up offense and teammates.
For his 32 minutes of work, Durant totaled 22 points (7-of-11 shooting from the field, 8 of 8 from the line), six assists, six rebounds and a steal. He had no turnovers and was plus-25 for the game.
“A lot of times, he’ll just have the ball in his hands anyway, but we do occasionally design stuff where he can handle the ball and distribute,” coach Steve Kerr said. “With Draymond out in the second half, the ball naturally gravitated toward KD more.
“And this was kind of a typical Kevin night, where he doesn’t have to shoot a whole lot; he might not even be interested in shooting a whole lot. He’s just out there and when you look at the stat sheet at the end — he’s unbelievably efficient in distributing the ball and he’s a plus-25. The guy is amazing. Night in and night out, his efficiency is just remarkable.”
Durant realized that Memphis was hedging toward the paint, forcing Warriors turnovers and generally frustrating their offense. Curry got caught up in it several times and committed five turnovers as a result.
Indeed, with Durant having success — the Warriors outscored the Grizzlies 34-15 in the third quarter — Curry seemed to willingly relinquish much of his playmaking duties to his taller teammate.
“I just tried to find the right play,” Durant said. “They were helping a lot on drives, so I just tried to make the smart play because early in the game we were getting turnovers. We weren’t ourselves when we went into the paint because they were closing the paint.”
Generally, when opponents play “pick your poison” with Durant, they have to choose whether to play his midrange, his drives or his 3-point sniping. On this night, the Grizzlies had to choose between those options and also his ability to dice up their defense.
They never really had a chance.