Kevin Durant as X factor? Warriors plan to showcase him; Rockets confident they can withstand him

ByChris Haynes ESPN logo
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

HOUSTON -- The Warriors feel confident in showcasing Kevin Durant after a 37-point performance against the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

"He was ready for tonight," said Stephen Curry, who chipped in 18 points.

However, Durant's explosion wasn't a main concern of the Rockets.

"He is 7 feet and falling away. He's one of the best scorers ever, right? So I thought he was extremely good. But we can withstand that," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said after his team lost 119-106 at home on Monday. "We can't withstand turning the ball over, missing layups, them getting out. Klay Thompson got up 15 [3-pointers]. We can't give him 15 3s. We're switching everything and staying off for that reason, so we have to clean up some stuff and see if we can do it on Wednesday."

The Warriors will test D'Antoni's theory to see whether Durant's heroics can be withstood if the Rockets clean up the other aspects of their game. Although Golden State would rather play a ball-movement-oriented brand of basketball, the plan for Game 2 will be to continually feed Durant.

"We want to keep the ball moving, but obviously Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you just throw him the ball," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on Earth. This is why anybody would want him on their team. You think about a couple years ago, and we're in the Finals and we couldn't quite get over the hump. Kevin is the guy that puts you over the hump. I don't know what you do to guard him. He can get any shot he wants."

The 6-foot-11 forward did most of his work in the midrange area and scored 27 points on isolation plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking. The Rockets seldom sent a double-team his way, and he made them pay.

"I was just taking what the defense gives me," Durant said after going 14-of-27 from the field and 3-for-6 from 3-point territory. "Just trying to be aggressive when I had the ball and forceful when I had the ball. [There are] some shots that I wish I could have back. There was a floater that I shot, I want to say the fourth or third, that was short. I hate shooting shots like that. I miss them early, and I felt they were good shots."

Houston's 16 turnovers are the most they have coughed up in a game this postseason. Golden State turned the ball over nine times. Including the regular season, the Warriors are 10-0 (3-0 in playoffs) this season when committing 10 or fewer turnovers.

Dating back to the 2015 playoffs, the Warriors have improved to 14-1 in the opening game of a series.

"I don't know if we're at our peak," Durant said. "I think we could be better. I mean, the stakes are high. We're playing the Western Conference finals against the best team in the league, the No. 1 seed, an MVP on their team. So I think everybody just wants to enjoy this time. Not a lot of people get this opportunity, so we want to take advantage of it."

Houston also tried to take advantage of a situation.

After Durant knocked down his fifth field goal in the third quarter with 2:23 remaining, which put his team up by 13, Kerr elected to sub him out nine seconds later.

A confused Durant walked toward the bench yelling, "Why?" He watched from the bench as the Rockets went on a 5-0 run, and the forward was seen again yelling, "Why?" Assistant coach Jarron Collins and teammate David West had to calm down the reigning Finals MVP.

"I wanted to stay in the game at that point," Durant said. "But the best part about it, I trust Coach, and we can move past those conversations pretty quick. I'm glad we got the W, though."

This is the first time the Rockets have trailed in a series this postseason. The playoffs are about adjustments. It is unknown whether D'Antoni will throw a defensive wrinkle at Durant for the next game, but what is known is that he expects him to be good and hopes his teammates are not.

"KD's going to be KD, and he'll be really good," D'Antoni said. "I thought PJ [Tucker] did all he could do. Trevor [Ariza] did all he could do. I thought Clint [Capela] guarded pretty well. So he's that good."

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