The whispers of doubt were coming for the Warriors during game five of the Conference semifinals when Kevin Durant limped off the court after a non-contact lower leg injury—the most frightening of all injuries. He had been averaging an atomic 34 points on ultra-efficient 50/40/90 shooting. He was the best player in the playoffs to that point, let alone on the Warriors, while Steph and Klay were still struggling to find their rhythm. It seemed then like Golden State finally had a significant chink in their armor.
How foolish of us to think so.
Since then, the Splash Brothers have exploded on offense, Draymond is quarterbacking again on both sides of the court, and the Warriors suddenly look a lot more like the team we remember from 2014-2016: lightning-quick ball movement, swarming defense, and a devastating transition game. They have won five straight since KD went down, dispatching the Rockets with ease and sweeping the playoff-darling Blazers. Removing Kevin Durant from the Warriors equation has unlocked a version of them that is more fluid and natural, and reminded us of just how special Steph is. Golden State is finally having fun again and so are we.
No one has benefited more from KD’s injury than Steph Curry: in the last five games, Steph is averaging almost 36 points on 46.5% shooting. Being the feature of the Warriors offense once again has allowed him to take more shots and get into a better rhythm. He even looks like he has his old swagger back:
Without the ball-stopping offense of Durant, the Warriors have relied more on crafty off-ball movement to open up shots, which is right in Steph’s bag—he’s one of the best in NBA history at using cuts and off-ball screens to open himself up. Just look at this sequence:
Not only did he take and make a good look from three, but also forced his defender to chase him all over the court in the process. It’s a demoralizing possession for Damian Lillard, and you can even see it in his body language after the shot goes in. These are the vintage, soul sucking plays that made Curry simultaneously so terrifying and exciting in 2014-2016.
This dominant stretch of games from Steph is also reminding us how wonderful the Warriors are to watch sans-KD. Beyond the impossible shots and innovative passes they make as part of their beautiful system, the simple fact is that nobody likes inevitability in sports, and with Durant the Warriors feel inevitable. Durant coming to Golden State was the ultimate safety valve for their team, the flex tape that could cover any remaining leaks in their system. But we appreciate the leaks as viewers, and watching the Warriors continue to play basketball at a high level no longer feels unfair without their 7-foot unicorn. It’s made their recent wins feel thoroughly impressive, not pre-determined, and that’s an important distinction for NBA fans.
The Warriors have adopted a new iteration of dominance, but one that feels familiar, almost nostalgic. We’ve been reminded of just how great the Warriors core still is, and we would be wise not to discount them against whoever faces them from the East. Let’s instead relish in a powerful Warriors team that is fun to root for once again, and hope that a particular free-agent move this summer can keep it that way.