The simple truth behind the Warriors’ Game 1 win

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The simple truth behind the Warriors’ Game 1 win


HOUSTON — It wasn’t the Warriors’ best game.

Far from it, in fact.

But the Warriors have Kevin Durant on their roster, so they won Game 1 of their much-anticipated Western Conference Finals series with the Houston Rockets 119-106 Monday.

Is that a simplistic explanation? Of course.

But, frankly, you don’t have to overthink the Warriors’ Game 1 win.

The Rockets might have a couple of superstars and future Hall of Famers in Chris Paul and James Harden, and they might have entered the series with home-court advantage, but they don’t have anyone who can guard Durant one-on-one, and the Warriors exploited that glaring mismatch time and time again, all the way to a victory.

The Rockets couldn’t double-team Durant — lest he pass the ball to a wide-open and nearly-as-lethal teammate — and they couldn’t prevent a 7-footer with the ball handling skills of a point guard, the jumper of an elite shooting guard, and the height of a center from scoring 18 of his 37 points on mid-range jump shots.

All Houston could do was try to withstand the barrage and try to outscore an offense centered around an unstoppable offensive force.

Harden scored 41 points and the Rockets jumped out to an early lead in front of a raucous home crowd, but they faded late and the Warriors simply never stopped scoring.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni chalked up the Rockets’ loss to “mental mistakes” — turnovers, poor defensive switches, imprudent offensive judgment — and almost considered Durant being a phenomenon a constant.

“KD, he’s tough. Obviously, [he was] on tonight. You can live with that. You can’t live with that and make mental mistakes,” D’Antoni said.

And the combination of those two things?

“Devastating.”

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) congratulates teammate Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) after a basket during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Monday, May 14, 2018. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 119-106. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant (35) congratulates teammate Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (23) after a basket during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Monday, May 14, 2018. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 119-106. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

While it’s only Game 1 of the series, you could see that devastation on the faces and in the body language of the Rockets late in Monday’s contest. With 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and down by 10 points, the Rockets made it clear through their play that they had no interest in making a late push. They conceded the game to the Warriors.

In some ways, that defeatism makes sense — it’s hard to imagine the outcome of any future games being much different than what went down in Game 1. The Warriors knew it coming into the series, but the Rockets found out first hand on Monday that there’s simply no adjustment or scheme change that an opposing team can implement to stop Durant — save perhaps for a collective prayer that he misses shots in bunches.

Durant has been in a daze since Game 4 of the Warriors’ second-round series with the New Orleans Pelicans. Following a Game 3 loss, Warriors forward Draymond Green — the vocal leader of the team — sent Durant a late-night text, imploring him to take control of the next game.

Green was fed up, and he laid out the truth of the situation — one that the ever-conscious and often overly deferential Durant sometimes forgets: no one can guard No. 35.

Durant had one of the best games of his Warriors career — perhaps his NBA career — in Game 4, scoring 38 points on 27 shots and leading the Warriors to a 26-point, series-defining win.

Durant didn’t relent in Game 5 of that series though, in the closeout game he scored 24 on only 18 shots — a hyper-efficient performance where he often passed out of double-teams in the post.

The Rockets stood more of a chance to guard Durant in this series than the Pelicans, but that still wasn’t much of a chance. Green’s message still rings true for this series, and Durant, who has been in a daze since Game 4 of that series, clearly carried his great form into this round.

“Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you can just throw him the ball and he can get you a bucket as well as anybody on earth,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 1. “This is why anyone would want him on their team… I don’t know what you do to guard him. He can get any shot he wants.”

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket past Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Monday, May 14, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket past Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Monday, May 14, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) 

While the Warriors’ abundance of talent might feel unfair to the rest of the league, these playoffs have proven that the Warriors need every bit of Durant’s uncoachable talent to win.

Durant was immense when Stephen Curry was out with a sprained MCL — an injury that kept him out until Game 2 of the second round — and Klay Thompson has been hot-and-cold all postseason, but the Warriors were never truly in danger until they lost Game 3 to the Pelicans. Even then, it wasn’t that serious — they were still up 2-1 in the series.

At the same time, it’s fair to wonder where the Warriors would be if they didn’t have the former Texas Longhorn wearing the Bay Bridge on his chest.

And here’s the scary part for the Rockets and whoever wins the Eastern Conference — Durant might not have to carry the load for long.

Curry is due for a breakout. Thompson is on a hot streak. The Warriors’ defense is peaking.

Add in the fact that the Rockets showed little to no mental fortitude in Game 1 and things could get explosive real fast.

But if it does — if the Warriors go on an unstoppable run in the weeks to come — don’t forget who held down the fort during a critical stretch



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