The Golden State Warriors were on the verge of going 3-2 down to the Houston Rockets when Kevin Durant left the court with a calf injury in Game Five.
The Rockets turned the ball over and missed shots, allowing the Warriors to snatch an improbable win, putting them a game away from progressing to the Conference Finals.
Curry, who has been criticised this postseason, scored 33 in the second half to carry the Warriors to the Western Conference Finals yet again.
Golden State have not faced much adversity since Durant arrived. Injuries have been limited to the regular season or the early playoff rounds. Chris Paul’s hamstring helped them over the line against the Rockets last season, and they faced a less-than-scary Cleveland Cavaliers team in the 2018 NBA Finals.
This, though, was adversity. Klay Thompson and Curry have not been at their best in the playoffs. Draymond Green is no longer a three-point threat, Shaun Livingston is not the player he once was, and that’s before we mention that they lost DeMarcus Cousins earlier this postseason. It’s hardly time to get the violin out – and they still have three All-Stars – but this was a challenge for one of the all-time NBA dynasties.
They found their game when Durant went out. Curry said that in the huddle after Durant’s injury, the team smiled at one another. You can read what you like into that means for Durant’s free agency, but it seems a reflection of a team that knew they could do this. This was their chance to prove how great they were, that even an injury to the league’s greatest scorer, and their undoubted best player of late, was not enough to derail their threepeat.
There’s analysis to be done about James Harden and the Rockets. This was there chance to finally get past Golden State. The flip side of that is that the Warriors were still too good.
The Green and Durant argument, Curry’s postseason slump and then Durant’s injury all contributed to doubts about the Warriors snowballing. The ‘Warriors or the field’ question became more of a debate.
Some of it made sense, some of it was over-the-top. The Warriors were overwhelming favourites on opening night, and they still were after Game Four. Game Five, with Durant out for the series, was when the balance might have altered. It didn’t.
Then in Game Six…
Curry stepped up. The defence was excellent. Thompson went 7-13 from three-point land.
A season of speculation was reduced to just that. Golden State knew they could still do it without Durant, even if others thought differently.
Friday was as close to an underdog story as the Warriors can get. It was a reminder for the rest of the NBA just how good the Warriors were before Durant and how unstoppable Curry and Thompson can be. Their depth isn’t what it was, Iguodala and Livingston are deep into their thirties and Green is a more limited player, but it would be a mistake to ‘take the field’ over the Warriors even now.