Hero Baller: Kevin Durant

“I don’t know when I’m going to dunk or when I’m going to get a wide-open 3. I just go out there and play–try not to predetermine anything, just go out there and hoop.”—Kevin Durant

It is one thing to respect your opponent.

It is quite another to give up multiple olé-ups because you are paying too much respect to your foes’ three-point shooting, which is precisely what happened in NBA Finals Game 1 Thursday when the Golden State Warriors exploited the Cleveland Cavaliers’ confused defense, time and time again en route to a 113-91 rout.

And no Warrior took advantage of this continual breakdown than All-NBA forward Kevin Durant, who finished the game, scoring 38 points on 26 shots, grabbing 8 rebounds, doling out 8 assists while committing 0 turnovers in 38 minutes.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

“One thing about KD, he can get to the basket anytime he wants. He’s seven feet, so there’s usually never a bad shot that he takes because he can see right over people. If you saw a couple of times in the first half, we’re in transition and they’re jumping out at the 3 and he gets an easy dunk. You could tell their game plan was to take the 3 away. When they do that, you’ve got to drive the basketball and I think we did a great job of that.”—Draymond Green

He was so pristine, making the right play, time and time again.

At no place did KD shine brighter though than when he was attacking the rim, watching the Cavaliers spread out to shooters like Moses parting the Red Sea, leaving a driving Durant alone to attack the rim for finishing slams.

Or as we like to call them, Olé-ups against a matador defense.

In the first half alone, KD had 15 layup points from uncontested shots at the rim, barely-contested rim shots or free throws from fouls preventing sure layups.

Put those eight olé-ups together on a YouTube highlight film and you’d be accused of internet shaming the Cavs.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The first KD uncontested layup happened off a Kyrie Irving turnover with 5:03 left in the first quarter, with Durant pushing the fast break at a jog pace, only to see Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith peel off from stopping the ball to head toward the Splash Brothers spotting up behind the three-point arc. The move left Durant alone for the two-point dunk as the only other defender, LeBron James, had to guess whether Durant was shooting or passing to Andre Iguodala on the 2-on-1 break.

Less than a minute later at the 4:15 mark, Durant had another uncontested dunk coming off an inbounds play where somehow Curry’s cross-court pass slipped through to Durant, who was spotted up at the opposite end of the court near the corner 3 slot. As LeBron raced out to challenge the trey, he slipped, leaving an open lane to the hoop, which KD took for the dunk, as three Cars defenders—Irving, Thompson or Williams—watched starstruck, stuck between the blocks in the paint.

That’s right. Not one defender moved one inch as KD drove 20 feet to the hoop without seeing as much as a defensive feint from Cleveland.

The same defensive miscues continued in the second quarter after Durant re-entered the game at the 7 1/2-minute mark.

On his first possession with 7:17 remaining in the half, Durant took a rebound off the defensive glass and jogged on a slow break, dunking the ball six seconds later uncontested when Irving never picked up KD, leaving Durant’s dribble to guard David West at the three-point arc—DAVID WEST!—to join Kyle Korver, Shumpert and LeBron, who also rushed out to guard their three-point counterparts.

Again, no one helped on Durant—DUNK!—giving the Warriors their biggest lead yet at 43-34.

With 5:08 left, three Cavs—Shumpert, Korver and Love—made a half-hearted effort to challenge a driving Durant for the finger-roll layup off glass.

With 4:52 remaining until halftime, KD—from the corner 3 slot—blew by Love via baseline, with no help D coming, forcing Love to foul Durant, who made both free throws at the line.

With 3:25 left, on the most incredible defensive play from Klay Thompson, who hand-to-chest guarded Tristan Thompson as he came down court, slowly allowing the Cavs center to push him baseline closer to his defensive assignment, Irving, who had spotted up at the corner 3 slot.

This allowed Green to roam free in the key as middle linebacker on Durant’s backside as the two guarded LeBron 2-on-1 stacked, while Klay effectively defended Thompson and Irving—20 feet away from a LeBron pass—as the other two Warriors covered the other two Cavs along the perimeter arc.

So when LeBron eventually attacked rim, Green and KD were able to shut the drive down, forcing LeBron into the corner 3 pass where an awaiting Klay Thompson was able to slip off Tristan Thompson and move to steal the ball before Irving could catch it.

It was simply a slice of a brilliant defensive game plan from Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams, whose defensive maneuver worked countless times this game.

On the ensuing break off this steal with 3:25 left in the half, Durant took the outlet from Klay and charged into a backpedaling J.R. Smith, who eventually peeled off to take Curry behind the three-point arc instead, giving Durant the sprinter’s edge to outrace Shumpert and Thompson to the bucket for yet another uncontested dunk, extending Golden State’s 55-45 lead.

The last of those barely-contested or uncontested dunks came with 1:12 left in the half when, on a broken play from a Curry offensive rebound, Durant found himself with the ball on the left block, guarded only by Irving. With no help D coming, Durant just took it up strong for the bucket as Irving offered no challenge.

So, 33 seconds later when Durant again saw Irving trying to guard him, he took him into the paint where Irving just frustratingly fouled him (Durant made 1 of 2 free throws), rather than give away yet another layup.

It was that type of night for Cleveland.

Oh, Stephen Curry played remarkably well too, scoring 28 points on 22 shots, grabbing 6 rebounds and tallying 10 assists, while his team’s offense committed an incredibly low 4 turnovers.

And, yes, that led to the Dubs owning the points-off-turnovers margin too, outscoring Cleveland 21-6 thanks to the Cavs’ 20 turnovers (8 coming from LeBron), which also led to the Warriors garnering 20 more shots than the Cavs (106-86).

But when all was said and done, those 15 free points Durant cashed will haunt the Cavaliers in their dreams Friday and Saturday night.

There is no way Cleveland can repeat that embarrassing performance and expect to win Sunday.

If the Cavs do continue to guard decoy three-point shooters, Golden State will win Game 2, too.

Uncontested.

 

Player MIN +/- PTS (TSP) 2FG 3FG FT REB AST/TO STL & BLK
Kevin Durant 38 +16 38 (.644) 11-20 3-6 7-8 8 8/0 0 & 0

 

Key: MIN minutes; +/- plus-minus; PTS points; TSP true shooting percentage; 2FG 2-point field goals and attempts; 3FG 3-point field goals and attempts; FT free throws and attempts; REB rebounds; AST/TO assists/turnovers; STL & BLK steals and blocks.