The Golden State Warriors took a shot across the bow last night as Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury. There’s a palpable fear that he will miss months, not weeks. The worst-case scenario would leave him sidelined for the entire playoffs.
Any illusion that the Warriors are an unsinkable ship melted away last June as their 3-1 lead, well, melted away. But let’s not pretend that the loss of Durant suddenly turns Golden State into some sort of underdog. Let’s not pretend they haven’t built a battle-ready vessel capable of sustaining serious damage while remaining afloat.
Losing Durant is a huge blow and would spell doom for almost any other team. Replacing 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game — along with his .537 shooting percentage — is a tall task. Matt Barnes certainly isn’t doing that–or half of that. There is no real one-to-one replacement for Durant.
Luckily, the Warriors have no less than three other All-Stars in their starting lineup to pick up the slack. No Durant means more shots for two-time MVP Stephen Curry. It means more shots for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It means more minutes for Andre Iguodala, proven winner and glue guy. There are worse places to seek relief.
The addition of Durant, his heel turn, and rivalry with Russell Westbrook have overshadowed everything else as the Warriors march toward a potential third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. In 60 games, Durant’s become the team’s most reliable scorer and pushed Curry out of the spotlight a bit. But Curry is still Curry, and the Warriors are still the same juggernaut they were before adding Durant.
It’s easy to forget that, even as they sit atop the Western Conference with a 50-10 record. This year has been businesslike, but less feverish than last year’s 73-win campaign. They still enjoy a four-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for homecourt advantage. A 16-6 finish would force the Spurs to go at least 21-3 in order to move up to the No. 1 spot. The Warriors seem capable of doing that, without Durant, with relative ease.
It’s tough to imagine Golden State faltering before a matchup with either San Antonio or Houston in the conference finals. Durant’s availability will be crucial at that point, but having home court advantage would still put the Warriors in the driver’s seat with or without their new hero.
The Warriors’ ship took a hit last night. It’s responsible to get out the life jackets, just in case. But odds are this ship will get to where it wants to go. There are proven, capable people at the wheel confident in choppy waters.