After a week of playing as mainly the distributor, Kevin Durant exploded Tuesday.
He had 17 of his 21 in the first half, punctuating it with three monster dunks and sparking a 116-102 statement win over the Denver Nuggets.
Durant also exploded on referee Zach Zarba early in the third quarter though, and got two technical fouls for it, which ended his night early.
Just like that old saying, a candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And Durant burned brightly every second he was on the court Tuesday.
Steve Kerr said those dunks were a turning point in the game:
“The energy in the crowd at that point was incredible, when he attacked like that and hammered those two dunks down, you could feel the power in the arena, you could feel our home crowd and you could feel the energy in our players. Those two plays kind of broke the game open and gave us a lot of life.”
But that’s not to say he neglected his facilitating duties, as he was still second on the team with six assists.
It wasn’t just offensively either, as he and the rest of the Warriors were flying around on defense, shutting down the Nuggets offense. Denver managed just 37 percent from the field and 20 from 3.
The significance of this game wasn’t lost on the Warriors and you could tell from the way they were locked in on defense. Even though they have a soft remaining schedule and the No. 1 seed seemingly firmly in their control, you could see how much the Warriors wanted this game.
Stephen Curry said getting that top seed is something the team has talked about:
“We understand what we need to do, we’ve had some slip ups along the way, but the narrative is how we play. The little things we need to focus on, not turning the ball over, boxing out for rebounds, winning the possession game, will create good habits going into the playoffs. And hopefully through that process down the stretch of the season, we win games and take care of our business.”
Golden State didn’t just want win — they wanted to send a message. And through no fault of their own, the Nuggets have been the target of three of these message games.
After losing their first matchup by two, the Warriors have now blown out this Denver team by 31, 17 and now 14.
While it was relatively close after the first quarter, the rout was on after that, with garbage time minutes making the score look closer than it really was.
He also held Jokic to just 10 points and five rebounds, while also forcing him into six turnovers.
Draymond Green said even during the game he’s able to recognize what Cousins was doing to the opposing All-Star:
“It puts a smile on my face, just watching Cus talk and obviously backing up that talk he’s doing on the floor with his play. He’s dominated that matchup these last couple times and it’s good to see. He kind of goes at every guy, who since his injury a lot of people try to put some guys before him and he go at every one of them.”
The big man is revving up at just the right time, and you can tell he’s eager to finally taste playoff basketball.
Kerr said it was just a matter of Cousins getting more comfortable:
“I don’t know how many games he’s played for us now, maybe 30? That’s not a lot of games. So just the fact that he’s now in his third month of the comeback, he’s just getting more and more comfortable and confident.”
His isolation post ups have been minimized, and instead he has been super-efficient on face-ups around the 3-point line.
About the only thing Cousins has struggled with is his 3-point stroke, as he’s shot just 23 percent from deep in the month of March. He did shoot 2-of-4 from downtown Tuesday and he’s going to continue getting wide-open looks, especially come playoff time.
The Splash Brothers had a relatively quiet night, with Curry going for 17, while Klay Thompson managed just 13. But with the way Durant carried them early and Cousins buoyed them late, it was a completely balanced win.
That’s when the Warriors are at their best— especially when there’s a message to be sent.
A quick trip to LA awaits the Warriors, where they’ll take on the Lakers Thursday, before their last two regular season games at Oracle over the weekend.
The Warriors finished the night with 36 assists, and for the third straight game have tallied at least 20 assists in the first half. … With his 17 points, Curry passed Chris Mullin for fourth on the Warriors All-Time scoring list.