LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Durant had to remind everyone that he’s still Kevin Durant just in case y’all forgot he was Kevin Durant, so Kevin Durant dropped a performance Thursday that few players other than Kevin Durant can deliver.
Because, as Kevin Durant said a day earlier, in full first-person swagger: “I’m Kevin Durant” -- then pausing while scanning the faces surrounding him, before continuing -- “y’all know who I am.” And now, yes, we seem to recall.
All is right in his world and the Warriors’ as well, with the five-alarm fire effectively being snuffed with a gale force that blew through Staples Center in Thursday’s Game 3. Gone is the memory of a blown 31-point lead in Game 2 and multiple Durant meltdowns, replaced by a splash of normalcy and restored order in the first-round playoff series against the overmatched LA Clippers.
There are fewer questions being asked and less head-scratching taking place today about Durant. The former Kia MVP-turned enigma had been distracted by pesky Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in the first two games, none of which Durant finished. Durant was ejected from Game 1, a Warriors win, and fouled out of Game 2, a Warriors’ gag, both times related to his engagement with Beverley.
He made that ‘I’m Kevin Durant’ statement with confidence. He announced himself before he came here, and we didn’t respond.”
That’s now over with after his 36-point effort in a 132-105 win last night.
“He showed you what he was about,” said teammate Klay Thompson.
What Durant showed is what he’s capable of doing when he directs his concentration and attention toward playing basketball and less toward Beverley. Rather than trying to win the game within the game, Durant chose to win the game. Does that make sense? Now more than ever in this series, it does.
Durant did so with stealth and controlled fury, cranking his intensity right after the tip and taking his first shot 42 seconds into the game.
By halftime he had 27 points, a personal first-half best in a playoff game, doing so without making a 3-pointer. The Warriors were up 21 points in what became a runaway win -- this time, minus the Clipper comeback.
But you knew this was coming.
“Not many people can stop Kevin Durant,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green, “when he doesn’t want to be stopped.”
That goes for Beverley, who was finally humbled and checked and didn’t have the sympathy of the referees this time. There was less chatter from Durant whenever Beverley used a low center of gravity on defense. While Durant did get two first-quarter fouls, Warriors coach Steve Kerr never gave any thought to subbing him out.
Kerr sensed Durant was fully under control and wouldn’t do anything borderline to risk getting into foul trouble or fall for Beverley’s tricks. Durant felt, perhaps with some justification, that the officiating leaned toward Beverley and cited the David vs. Goliath tale.
Yet Durant took exception to any suggestion that he had to “prove” something in Game 3.
“I’ve been in the league 12 years, I’m 30, I don’t need to show anybody nothing at this point,” he said dismissively. “I just play.”
There were some in the organization who expressed concern about Durant’s persona this season and especially lately. He finished second to Green in technical fouls this season and refused to ease in the playoffs.
Durant earned a pair of techs for his suspension in Game 1. In Game 3, he earned another for carrying on a spirited conversation with Clippers forward JaMychal Green far too long for referee Scott Foster’s liking. That’s now three techs for Durant, and assuming the Warriors are soon headed to the Western Conference semifinals, there’s a lot of playoff games to be played.
How will Durant’s teammates and Kerr feel if Durant gets his seventh playoff technical -- and the one-game suspension it draws -- sometime around Game 2 of The Finals, (assuming the Warriors reach that point)?
Durant vs. Beverley has referees on heightened alert, which means there will be little patience or tolerance for verbal engagement going forward. That won’t hurt Beverley, not with the Clippers down 2-1 in the series and seemingly on the their way out. It only jeopardizes those who are moving on.
In Game 3, though, Durant put performance over agenda and it was infectious. The Warriors fell in line and delivered a dominant win.
“He’s a two-time Finals MVP and coming off a poor performance,” Kerr said. “That’s what happens. He had a different mindset and set a tone right away.”
Said Clippers guard Lou Williams: “He made that ‘I’m Kevin Durant’ statement with confidence. He announced himself before he came here, and we didn’t respond.”
Warriors center Andrew Bogut said: “He was pumped. He was the KD we know.”
Durant was on pace for 50 points, but Kerr showed some mercy and pulled him after 29 minutes. By then, the lead was secured. Bogut blocked a shot and threw to a streaking Andre Iguodala for a dunk and a 31-point lead. It was one that the Warriors didn’t surrender because improbability doesn’t strike twice.
The Warriors are a win away from being able to keep one eye on finishing the job by Wednesday and another eye toward the Houston Rockets. They are flexing in their first-round series with the Utah Jazz and perhaps readying for a Warriors semifinal series roughly a week from now.
As a side note, Staples contained a fair number of Warriors fans Thursday, just as it did during the regular season, killing any thought of L.A. turning up for the Clippers. This may change next season (depending on the Clippers' offseason), but for now, the atmosphere should be very much the same for Game 4 on Sunday (3:30 ET, ABC).
That means a segment of the building will be rooting for a certain Warriors superstar to stay true to his name, reputation and track record.
“Well,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, “he’s Kevin Durant. But I already knew that.”
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here .
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