LOS ANGELES — Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, after a 38-point, bounce-back performance Thursday night guided his team to a 2-1 series lead with a 132-105 trouncing of the Los Angeles Clippers, was pleased to be a topic of conversation for all the right reasons.
“This was the first time this season that my actual basketball play, and not about what I’m going to do in the future, took over the headlines,” Durant told Yahoo Sports after the win. “Think about that now. That hasn’t happened in a long time. I like that. That’s the way it should be.”
Durant had been widely criticized the past few days for his approach in this first-round playoff series and for the way he has handled his matchup with pesky Clippers guard Patrick Beverley.
His signature line of the week — “I’m Kevin Durant. Y’all know who I am.” — fueled what was anticipated to be a must-see show at Staples Center. And he delivered.
For most of this season, any talking points regarding Durant have centered on his pending free agency this summer.
“This game is what it’s all about, not about something that hasn’t even happened,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Let’s enjoy basketball. I can take the criticism about the game. This is what we’re paid to do. That should be the focus. This is good.”
He averaged only 12 shot attempts in the first two games of the series, and Beverley received immense praise for his tactics in defending the 10-time NBA All-Star.
But on Thursday, the 7-foot forward set the tone early by scoring 27 in the first half and finishing the night 14-of-23 from the field with four rebounds, seven assists, a block and a steal in 30 minutes.
Durant’s first instinct was to score rather than defer.
“He was aggressive from the start. At both ends, he attacked,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He said yesterday that he’s Kevin Durant, so he showed everybody who Kevin Durant is.”
On one possession in the second quarter, Durant received a post touch near the elbow with Beverley wrapped around his midsection.
Instead of surveying the court for cutters and shooters, Durant turned with no hesitation and elevated over the 6-1 guard, draining a midrange shot.
“Not too many people can stop Kevin if he doesn’t want to be stopped,” Draymond Green said. “He showed that tonight.”
With Stephen Curry plagued with foul trouble, Durant initiated the offense by running some point, came off multiple screens and, most importantly, kept moving, which wasn’t the case in the first two outings.
“He came out super aggressive and in kill mode,” Green said. “And that was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there from the first quarter and never lost control of it.”
Beverley was also battling foul trouble because of his physical style of play. He wasn’t allowed to get away with the bothersome tactics he utilized early in the series. With each basket by Durant, all Beverley could do was watch from his seat on the bench.
“I think a lot of people who watch the game, who analyze the game, thought I should be engaging in a one-on-one physical battle with Patrick Beverley,” Durant said. “I don’t do that type of stuff. I just play.”
Durant’s aggressiveness wasn’t just limited to the court.
During his postgame news conference, there was a back-and-forth with a reporter who began to ask him about being more of a distributor over the past month or so.
“That’s not true,” Durant said. “I don’t pass up shots. I just play within the offense.”
The question was rephrased about him being more of a passer lately and he responded, “Yeah, because that’s how we play.” Then it was noted that he wasn’t a pass-first player in Game 3.
“Yeah, because Coach called more plays for me to start,” Durant answered. “Look, I don’t run the show. Any team I’ve ever been a part of, I’m just a player, I’m one of the guys. So whatever my coach needs me to do, it doesn’t matter what it is, I just have to go out there and be prepared for it mentally and physically. So tonight, no different.”
After the Warriors blew a 31-point lead and lost at home on Monday, Durant’s level of aggression on and off the court helped the team recover and reclaim its identity.
“I’ve been [in the NBA] for 12 years. I’m 30. I don’t need to show nobody nothing at this point,” Durant said.
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