Warriors didn't need Kevin Durant, but they needed him out of OKC
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday night in Portland, Draymond Green approached Steph Curry.
Green didn’t just give Curry a triumphant high five on a triumphant night. Green threw his arms around Curry, wrapping his Golden State teammate in a bear hug. A moment later, Green did the same to Klay Thompson.
Curry. Thompson. Green.
The Western Conference Finals reminded us how great that three-headed monster is. Not how great it has been, but how great it is. Present tense. Right now.
It makes you realize the Warriors didn’t need Kevin Durant.
Don’t twist those words. Even in the aftermath of Golden State’s demolition of Portland, punctuated Monday night with a series sweep, the Warriors are better with Durant, who has missed the past five games after injuring his leg. I know some people have suggested otherwise since Golden State is rolling without Durant, but better without him? That’s kooky talk.
Durant is one of the top three players on the planet. Of course, the Warriors are better with him.
But they’re really, really good without him, too.
It's increasingly clear Golden State's pursuit of KD in the summer of 2016 was about much more than improving its roster.
Back then, the Warriors were coming off the disappointment of the NBA Finals. They not only lost to LeBron and the Cavaliers, but the Warriors also blew a 3-1 lead. Golden State had three chances to close out that series and win its second consecutive title, but it couldn’t do it, not even with two of those three games on homecourt.
The Warriors seemed vulnerable.
But not necessarily because of what happened in the Finals. That was a case of a transcendent player putting a team, a franchise and a city on his back and carrying it to victory. What LeBron James did in those three games will go down in history.
Game 5: 41 points and 16 rebounds.
Game 6: 41 points and 11 assists.
Game 7: a triple double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
The Warriors fell victim to a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence in the Finals.
Their bigger concern back then had to be what was happening in the Western Conference, specifically in Oklahoma City. The Thunder looked like a true threat. It had taken down a 67-win San Antonio team in the conference semifinals, reducing the Spurs to a bumbling, stumbling wreck by the end. That San Antonio bunch was the best defensive team in the league that season, and OKC scored 111, 95 and 113 points respectively in the last three games of the series.
The Spurs had no answer.
The Warriors knew the feeling for much of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder scored 108, 133 and 118 points in getting out to a 3-1 lead in the series.
We know, of course, what happened after that, but still, the Warriors had to be worried about the threat posed by the Thunder. OKC had superstars in Durant and Russell Westbrook coming into their prime. Had a supporting cast with a great mix of defenders (Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams) and scorers (Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter and Ibaka). Had a coach who could go toe-to-toe with the best in the business.
The Warriors knew, too, if Durant re-signed, the Thunder would only get better.
That was driven home before free agency even began. When the Thunder traded for Victor Oladipo, everyone knew that it was game on. If Durant re-signed, who knows what other free agents might’ve joined Team OKC?
Scuttlebutt was, Bay Area basketball big wigs decided to make a run at Durant months before the postseason began. The playoffs had to solidify that resolve. Even though the Warriors wanted Durant to help them beat LeBron and the Cavs in the Finals, Golden State had to know that getting to the Finals was going to be increasingly difficult if KD remained in OKC.
Maybe the Warriors would’ve won the last two titles without Durant. The recent play of their original Big Three indicates they’d have been in the mix. But if Durant hadn’t been in Warrior blue, he might well have been in Thunder blue. Maybe that dents the dynasty. Maybe that even derails it.
So, yes, the Warriors absolutely needed Kevin Durant — needed him to be somewhere other than OKC.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.