It seems like a time so far away, but there was once a Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors team that had the NBA at its mercy.
No one pitied that team for not having Durant, one of the most lethal scorers in the history of basketball. It already had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and enough supporting talent to never give opponents a breather. Oh, and Steve Kerr, who has now 17-1 in playoff series in his coaching career.
That team won a championship, went 73-9 the next season, then lost the Finals due to a performance from LeBron James that the former Cavaliers star himself used to justify his claim as the best player in the history of basketball.
Like those years without Durant, today’s Warriors received little pity this week when Durant went down with a calf injury. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t need him to seal yet another Western Conference finals appearance.
Steph Curry goes off in Warriors’ series-winner
In a flashback to four years ago, when fans weren’t yelling at them for ruining the NBA, the Warriors rode a second-half supernova performance from Curry to a 118-113 win over the Houston Rockets, advancing 4-2 past their biggest conference rivals.
The Warriors looked unusually vulnerable early in the game as Curry’s point total remained at zero for the entire first-half, but then the team’s original superstar went off for 33 second-half points and the Warriors were once again inevitable.
"You don't do what these guys have done without an incredible combination of talent and character. ... I thought Steph epitomized that tonight."
—Steve Kerr on Steph Curry's gutsy performance against the Rockets pic.twitter.com/ahnWbzZhFo
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 11, 2019
In a game featuring 21 lead changes and a predictably loud Houston crowd, Curry took over down the road and scored 16 of his team’s final 19 to drive the decisive run in the final two minutes.
Thompson was the team’s most consistent offensive threat, dropping 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting (7-of-13 from deep), while the Warriors bench outscored the Houston unit 33-17.
None of the performances are surprising when you remember what the Warriors were — and have been — without Durant.
The Warriors now an astounding 30-4 since KD got there when KD does NOT play but Steph does.
— nick wright (@getnickwright) May 11, 2019
The Rockets, the lone team able to consistently match Golden State’s offensive firepower over the last few years, were the Warriors’ biggest obstacle in the playoffs last year. It’s worth wondering if the same could be true this year.
Who will the Warriors face in the Western Conference finals?
Waiting for the Warriors in the Western Conference finals will either be the Denver Nuggets or Portland Trail Blazers. The West’s 2- and 3-seeds are scheduled to face in a Game 7 on Sunday to end a street fight of a series.
The Nuggets, who challenged the Warriors for the 1-seed for most of the regular season, likely represent the stiffer challenge for the Warriors, but the lesson of the Blazers’ postseason so far has been to never, ever doubt Damian Lillard.
Whoever they face, the Warriors will likely be heavily favored — as they have all year — to reach the NBA finals and win a third-straight title and their fourth in five years.
Rockets’ season ends against Golden State yet again
Finishing their season with a loss to the Warriors has nearly become a tradition for the Rockets, but this one loss might be the most painful.
Last year’s loss saw a 3-2 series lead evaporate following a Chris Paul injury and the tables were turned this year. The Warriors were a game ahead, but missing a vital player. Along with the reversal, it also might have been the best chance any team will get this year at eliminating the Warriors.
Instead, the Rockets were eliminated one game after Durant went down.
"This one's gonna leave a mark. This is not something you just get over with."
—Mike D'Antoni after the Rockets' season-ending loss to the Warriors pic.twitter.com/2jx5IFpChi
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 11, 2019
Facing the team that had ended their season in three of the past four years, the Rockets received even more pain than usual, as well as the number changing to four times in five years.
Chris Paul and James Harden combined for 62 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists, and the team still lost because the Warriors are still the Warriors, even when Kevin Durant is only watching from home.
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