It would be an oh-so-convenient headline but also incredibly flippant to suggest that the Golden State Warriors are suddenly better now that their strongest individual part is on injury-enforced hiatus.
No team in its right mind would want Kevin Durant, arguably the game’s most destructive force, watching from the sidelines. Yet in the week that has elapsed since Durant landed awkwardly and the postseason seemed to be thrown into immediate flux, something has happened.
Or should we say hasn’t happened? From that point forward, Golden State stopped looking like they might be in danger of losing to the Houston Rockets. They stopped sputtering on offense. They stopped being over-reliant on seven (or sometimes eight) men. They stopped being hesitant. And Steph Curry started looking like his old self and the Warriors more like champions than they have all season.
They’ve done it out of necessity. Shorn of the luxury of Durant’s ability to marshal offensive opportunities at will, the Warriors have simply gone back to how things were done before he came along. Speedy ball-movement, seeking an open man. Vigorous intensity.
“It was a nice flow,” Curry said after his team’s 116-94 Game 1 victory in their Western Conference finals clash with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. “We were moving the ball, too. Just trying to create great shots. It worked out for us tonight. It is fun. It is when we are at our best in terms of everybody feeling like they are a threat on the floor. It puts so much pressure on the defense. You see the morale. Everybody’s shoulders were up. There were smiles, just aggressiveness all over the floor.”