OAKLAND, Calif. -- After the Golden State Warriors fended off the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 116-108 win, Ron Adams, Golden State's assistant coach and defensive guru shrugged, "I don't know how to stop him. I coached him and I don't know how to stop him."
Adams was referring to Kevin Durant, whom he worked with as an assistant in Oklahoma City from 2008 to 2010. That's quite a concession from Adams, known to be one of if not the top defensive assistant in basketball. The admiration is mutual. Before the game, the two warmly greeted each other. The 27-year-old Durant said of the 68-year-old Adams, "We always had a great relationship. He was hard on me. He expected a lot out of me and that's the type of coaching I like and he never shied away from how he thought." Durant continued, "Always spoke his mind to me so I'm always going to respect him, always going to be family to me. Whatever team he goes to man, he imposes his will and just changed the whole thought process of the team. He's a great assistant."
Adams is famously hard-driving, exacting in his teaching. He's perpetually concerned about improvement, shaking his head throughout a preseason in which the Warriors went half speed. His impact could be seen in the Warriors holding the Thunder to 42 percent shooting. His impact was less visible in anything Durant was doing Saturday night. Durant, who has traditionally bedeviled Golden State's array of rangy wings, again went off, this time for 40 points on 25 shots.
As speculation swirls as to Durant's 2016 free agency predilections, this game was a reminder of the objective fact that Durant is incredible, and the objective fact that Golden State won't have to face him if they sign him. It's an open question as to whether the Warriors should pursue Durant, if he's so inclined to join. Right now Golden State's playing some of the best basketball we've ever seen and dramatic changes carry risk. At the same time, getting Durant might be wise just for sake of no one else having him.
Durant's performance was one of a few things that went right for Oklahoma City. The Thunder held Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined two 3-pointers. Enes Kanter, whom many believed was unplayable against Golden State's rapid pace, went 7-of-10 for 14 points and 15 rebounds in 20 minutes. Russell Westbrook pitched in with 27 points and 12 assists off some crafty pick-and-roll play. OKC used intriguing defensive tactics, like having Durant guard Draymond Green, and Serge Ibaka guard Harrison Barnes. They switched screens with better defensive lineups, and blitzed Curry to compensate for worse ones. In the end, the Warriors went 7-of-26 from beyond the arc. And the Thunder never led after 3:22 in the first quarter.
Oklahoma City fought back admirably after falling down 20 points, and eventually tied the score with 3:36 left, but that was the height of the threat. The game was a reminder that Durant is unstoppable, but so too are the Warriors as a collective. Even on a night when Steph and Klay couldn't find the range, there was Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, and Shaun Livingston killing Oklahoma City's backups. Barnes showed up from the jump, scoring 16 of his 19 points in the first half.
To be fair to the MVP, Curry passed brilliantly for much of the action, and closed out the game with six points and two assists in the last 2:26. The most memorable of the plays was a jump shot set up by a crossover on Durant, with 33.6 seconds left. The closeout was also fueled in large part by Green playing bigger, snagging an offensive rebound through traffic and assisting a Curry layup with 54 seconds left. Durant, who was scalding until the very end, understandably hunted his own shot, missing two key jumpers.
The Warriors finished strong after squandering their lead, after the Thunder pressured them in a way rarely seen these days. After saying that "a win is all that counts," Curry also acknowledged, "We can play better."
It's difficult to know what to take from this game. Those hopeful for a rebuke to Golden State's dominance will see positives in what the Oklahoma City comeback accomplished. Those who see inevitability in the Warriors' reign will question how you beat this team when holding the Splash Brothers to two 3-pointers means losing by eight.
In any event, this much appears so. It seems the Warriors don't know how to stop Durant, and it seems the league doesn't know how to stop the Warriors. For that and other reasons, their powers combined comprise a vision that chills spines all over the NBA. Ironically, it's a reality that might relax the congenitally concerned Ron Adams.