You know the NBA offseason has arrived when players and media start re-litigating past series, games and players. The latest topic of conversation is the 2017 and 2018 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and Kevin Durant’s role in securing those titles for the Warriors.
During a crossover live show with JJ Redick that promoted both of their podcasts, Draymond Green said that the Warriors “would not have beat the Cavs coming back around without Kevin [Durant].” He then offered some further thoughts on Durant’s importance to the team during those seasons.
Here’s a look at his full comments during the segment:
“I personally don’t think at that point Steph Curry had figured out ‘I’m going to get a bucket whenever I want to.’ I don’t think he was capable of that yet, I think he was still growing into that. Because of that, once teams started to figure our offense out, we were starting to struggle more and more. I’m not sure if you remember that series with OKC where we were down 3-1 and had to come back. That’s because teams had started to figure it out.”
“What then in turn ended up happing was, Steph still creates all the havoc he creates. Like I tweeted, Steph faced so many double teams and Kevin didn’t. That’s a fact. You can go look at the numbers or just watch the game. If you watch the game then you see that Steph’s getting double teamed, and then [then-Cleveland Cavaliers head coach] Ty Lue goes publicly and says ‘I’m double teaming Steph Curry every chance I get.’ Kevin wasn’t getting double teamed.”
“The reality is, we got to a point where we needed to be able to give someone the ball that can just go get a bucket. Kevin was already there. I don’t think Steph was there yet. So, it gets us through those two years. We get those two championships. While we’re doing that, Steph is continuing to work and evolve, and most importantly, becoming the strongest dude on our team. To this day he’s the strongest guy on the team. That allowed him to score whenever he wanted because you can no longer bump him off his path.”
Green’s initial point is pretty inarguable — at least in regards to 2017. Kyrie Irving was gone by 2018 and that Cavaliers team probably shouldn’t have even made it out of the Eastern Conference. But the 2017 Cavs were amazing, and the Warriors likely don’t win that series without the extra boost they got from Durant.
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His thoughts about Curry, however, are a bit contradictory. If Curry hadn’t figured out how to get a bucket when he wanted, then why was Lue sending double teams his way at every opportunity? While Curry may not be the stereotypical bucket getter in isolation, he had little trouble scoring in the playoffs when the Warriors gave him the ball and asked him to do it.
Here’s a look at some pertinent Curry numbers from the 2016 and 2017 playoffs:
25.1 points per game 43.8 field goal percentage 40.4 3-point percentage 1.136 points per possession in isolation (3rd most efficient in the playoffs)6.9 fourth quarter points per game (5th most in the playoffs) on 47.8/44.1/100 shooting splits
28.1 points per game 48.4 field goal percentage 41.9 3-point percentage 1.235 points per possession in isolation (6th most efficient in the playoffs)5.4 fourth quarter points per game on 58.5/50/100 shooting splits
It’s one thing to say that adding another big-time scorer like Durant was necessary to put the Warriors over the top, or that Curry has become even more difficult to guard now that he’s stronger and more experienced. However, Curry being unable to get a bucket when he wanted to back in 2016 and 2017 just doesn’t add up. You don’t win scoring titles and back-to-back MVPs without being able to put the ball in the basket.