OAKLAND, Calif. — The question was of the present. The answer connected with the past.
Someone asked Steve Kerr whether he had seen anyone play as great in four consecutive games as has Kevin Durant, now the main star on Kerr’s team of stars, the Golden State Warriors.
After all, Durant had 35 points Sunday as the Dubs opened the NBA Western Conference semifinals with a 104-100 win over the Houston Rockets at Oracle Arena.
This after Durant scored 50 points Friday in the first-round win over the Clippers. And 45 before that. And 33 the game before that.
Kerr, five years the Warriors coach, hesitated for a moment — maybe for effect — and then answered, “There was this guy named Michael something. I can’t remember his last name.”
As if everyone doesn’t know, Kerr was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s on some of those great Chicago Bulls teams that Jordan led to numerous titles. So if Steve keeps a sense of perspective, no one should be surprised.
Nor should we be surprised what Kerr thinks of Durant.
“Kevin’s run these last couple of weeks,” Kerr affirmed. “It’s just been off the charts. I’ve said it a few times this week. I mean he’s the most skilled basketball player on earth. He’s one of the most skilled basketball players to ever play the game.
“There’s never been anybody like him — 6-11, handles the ball, shoots threes, passes, defends.”
And wins, so far, in the nearly three seasons since, at the beck and call of the guys who became his teammates, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, Durant has been a member of the Warriors.
Basketball isn’t a one-man game, as we’ve been instructed. Contributing alongside Durant in Sunday's victory were Green with his rebounding (a game-high 9) and defense, Curry with 18 points, despite a sore ankle, and Thompson, with 14 points and tough defense despite a worse ankle (not until pre-game warm-ups was it decided he could play).
Yet, as Curry has been over the seasons, Durant now is the main man. He’s as tall as a center and handles the ball like a guard. He shoots outside. He drives inside. He also drives opponents crazy.
When asked how he would stop Durant, or at least slow him down, in the coming games of the best-of-seven series (the second is Tuesday night), Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni quipped, “You need to email me and tell me, because I don’t think anybody knows that.
“He’s one of the greatest players ever, and I thought we did a great job until P.J. (Tucker) got in foul trouble. Things happened.”
D’Antoni got in technical foul trouble. He was called for complaining to the officials. So was Paul. Two free throws, two points.
This was a classic meeting between the Rockets, who took last year’s conference final to seven games, and the Warriors. Houston, as D’Antoni said before tipoff, knows the Dubs.
Hey, Houston won three of the four games in the regular season. James Harden (35 points, but only 9 of 28 on field goal attempts, 13 of 14 on free throws) knows how to get to the line.
What D’Antoni knows is the Warriors escaped on a few calls: “I already lost my mind before the last 20 seconds. I don’t have a clue what happened the last 20 seconds.”
What happened, after Harden made an uncontested dunk with 21.3 seconds to bring Houston to within 103-100, was that Paul received a technical and Curry made the free throw.
“We’re right there,” said D’Antoni. “We have to do a better job.”
The job Durant has done is, dare we say, Jordanesque. There’s a lot of worry that, when his contract expires at the end of the season, Kevin will go to the Knicks or Clippers. But for now, he’s on the Warriors.
“I think I’m starting to put everything together,” said Durant. ”Each stop of the journey has been just tailor-made for the moment. I’m not looking at points or shots that I get up, just how focused I am on each possession.”
Said Green of Durant: “He’s being as aggressive as he has been. I don’t think there’s anybody in the NBA or the world who can stop him.”
As verified in the last few games.