“It’s definitely a nice way to win Game 1. We’ve got to capitalize off that and start Game 2 a lot better.”—Stephen Curry
If this column space were called Villain Baller, we would then be talking about how dirty-trickster and habitual line stepper Zaza Pachulia indeed may have rivaled Bizarro or Solomon Grundy for his supervillainous play in Game 1 of the West Finals, with his third-quarter ankle takeout of beloved San Antonio Spur Kawhi Leonard, in a move that ultimately sent Zaza’s Golden State Warriors on an 18-0 run, slicing bigly into a one-time Spurs’ 25-point lead.
The questionable play ultimately led to the Warriors’ Game 1 home victory, 113-111, with Golden State taking a 1-0 series lead over San Antonio in the West Finals best-of-seven series.
But alas, this space is called Hero Baller–or in today’s case, Hero Ballers–so instead of spotlights on the dastardly, we will focus on the good, and the great play from that goodness that exists in the league’s two best players of the three previous basketball seasons: Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the 2014-15 and 2015-16 NBA MVP, and Warriors forward Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 NBA MVP when he played with Oklahoma City.
“Steph got us going in the third. I just tried to do my part in the fourth.”—Kevin Durant
How good were these do-gooders?
Curry finished with 40 points on 26 shots; Durant, 34 on 21 shots. Curry had 7 rebounds, Durant 4 assists. Curry, 3 steals; Durant, 4 blocks.
They truly did complement each other the whole game, with both coming up clutch in the second half when the Warriors needed them most.
To reset the stage, it was precisely when Zaza stuck his foot—not once, but—twice into Leonard’s landing space on a three-point shot that sent the Spurs MVP candidate writhing in pain for the second time this game (Leonard had earlier landed on benched teammate David Lee’s foot after reshuffling his stance on the sideline).
On the Zaza foot extension—to put it mildly—Leonard left the game for good, with the Spurs leading, 78-55, and 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Before that point, Durant had done nothing four minutes into the second half—fouling Leonard on a shot, missing a trey and having his own shot blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge.
On the other hand, Curry was just heating up before that incident, scoring 9 of his team’s 13 points during the first four minutes of the third quarter.
Once Leonard limped to the locker room, both Curry and Durant would use that tipping point as a time to congeal their superpowers.
On the first play thereafter, Curry assisted to Pachulia for a 13-foot jumper (78-57, 7:43), before making a 26-foot trey himself on the Warriors’ next possession (78-60, 7:43).
From there, the tall forward Durant went into action, stealing an Aldridge pass and absorbing a Jonathon Simmons foul, before making both free throws (78-62, 7:03).
Then, just after the possession that Draymond Green made two free throws, KD blocked a Simmons’ attempt (6:24), before then making a layup on an offensive-rebound-extended possession that was capped with a Pachulia assist (78-66, 5:39).
Next, Durant retrieved an offensive rebound and assisted to Thompson for a 26-foot three-pointer (78-69, 5:11).
Curry started the Warriors’ next possession with a defensive rebound and then a long 22-foot two-pointer of his own (78-71, 4:47).
Finally on the next play down, Curry stole the ball from Manu Ginobili, pushed the break and found Durant for the basket, capping an 18-0 Warriors run (78-73, 4:26).
Just like that.
Over a span of 3:26, the Warriors scored 18 unanswered, with Durant supplying 6 points, 1 offensive rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block, while Curry produced 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal.
Curry would finish with 17 third-quarter points.
Durant would play the part of closer, continually carving into the Spurs’ diminishing fourth-quarter lead, pouring in 12 points over a 5-minute span from when he re-entered the game (8:52, Dubs down, 94-85) until the Warriors ultimately overtook the Spurs on Durant’s final bucket with 4:09 remaining in the game (Warriors 101, Spurs 100).
Curry would score all 7 of his fourth-quarter points in the final two minutes, which ended up being enough to hold off the Spurs’ late comeback, with Golden State ultimately winning, 113-111.
As we head into Tuesday’s Game 2, that is the good, the bad and the ugly of the situation we now find ourselves in.
Curry and Durant were oh-so-good, Zaza’s play was bad and we will find out Monday—after Kawhi’s MRI—how ugly that ankle now really is.
|Players||MIN||+/-||PTS (TSP)||2FG||3FG||FT||REB||AST/TO||STL & BLK|
|Stephen Curry||39||+8||40 (.647)||7-10||7-16||5-17||7||3/4||3 & 0|
|Kevin Durant||39||+13||34 (.688)||9-13||2-8||10-12||5||4/3||1 & 4|
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.