While the officiating has become a major topic of conversation following Game 1 of the Warriors-Rockets series, The Open Floor podcast wanted to take a step back and shift the focus back to the basketball court, where Kevin Durant has been the best player on the Warriors and in the NBA playoffs overall. Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss the Warriors' path to the Finals, the respect they've shown to the Rockets as a second-round opponent and the greatness of Durant.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: Beyond the officiating bull---t, I do think that the Warriors are vulnerable. I'm glad you mentioned Durant. He was unbelievable. And I thought that you were going to come on here defending the Rockets and we were going to have to argue for about 25 minutes, and then Durant was going to be the guy who brings us back together because I am currently blown away by what he's able to do in some of these games. And watching him yesterday, that's another reason I hated the officiating stuff because it overshadowed how spectacular KD was.
Having said that though, Golden State is basically a six-man team right now. You have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Kevon. They don't go very deep because I'm not even really counting Shaun Livingston as a good player that they can lean on in some of these games, and so it's a real skeleton crew beyond their superstars. And I think that every one of these games is going to be really close just because the Rockets are built to slow them down, and are gonna be able to kind of jam up their offense. And KD, as great as he is, can sometimes become a little bit of a crutch for Golden State, where it takes them away from what they want to do and who they are when they're at their most dangerous.
Ben Golliver: For sure. Look, he definitely tightened the rotations. There's no question about it. Kerr has changed the starting lineup here in a couple straight games right, so he put Livingston in the starting lineup against the Clippers and then now the starting lineup again to open the series against Houston. That's usually the sign of a team that's not overwhelmingly overconfident.
In the past, Golden State would be like, ‘We'll just kind of start this lineup, see how it goes. If we need to adjust we're going to adjust. I think that was very telling that they're like, ‘Alright, we're bringing Iguodala into the starting lineup right off the bat in Game 1. We can't mess around against Houston. It's already serious.
You mentioned Durant and he's playing huge minutes, and I just worry if the toll of carrying Steph Curry for two straight series is going to catch up to him. What do you think? That’s no small burden.
Sharp: This is where you can't help but get in a little dig at me.
Golliver: Big picture though—you always like to talk about the big things—the biggest thing from this playoffs to me… we talk about who is the best player in basketball. You said, ‘Hey I think Giannis is not only the best player and most dominant player during the regular season, I think he's just the best overall player.’ I don't think that's true. I think the best overall player in basketball is Kevin Durant. I think he showed early in that Clipper series that he was the most complete player. He had all the different counters that you want from these guys: midrange, post, passing, drawing extra help, shooting over the top of the defense, playing defense—anything that you wanted to see from Kevin Durant he showed that in Game 3.
And then he just took it up more notches in Games 5 and 6, and to me he's been the singular best player in these playoffs by a pretty healthy margin. I think Kawhi Leonard actually has a strong case for No. 2 in terms of who's been the best in this postseason, but that is the biggest thing that I would take away from this series. He's absolutely been a crutch because frankly they haven't had anybody else to turn to. Steph Curry's got four fouls before it gets halfway through the first quarter and it's so maddening.
Sharp: It’s going to be really fun to watch this Golden State team be tested because right now they need the absolute best version of Kevin Durant's game to survive some of these games, and that was true even against the Clippers, which is kind of insane to think about.
Golliver: Or Steph Curry to show up. They still just need Steph. If he is present they’ll be ok.
Sharp: Yes, and at some point they're going to need Steph in addition to Durant. And it's going to be really fun to watch them kind of do their best to keep this team together and keep everything rolling because structurally there are more cracks in the foundation than I think most people realize or would have imagined when we talked about what this was going to be six months ago. You just look up and down that roster, there's not a whole lot there. So I can't wait to see what happens. I can't wait to see what the Rockets come back with in Game 2.
Golliver: Just as one quick postscript, I think that the Warriors’ rotation is in not quite as bad of a shape as you're suggesting, but against a high-level opponent like Houston that plays a very strict style and doesn't really go that deep in their rotation it's forcing it to shrink.
I do think there are situations where in the Western Conference finals they could go back out and they don't have to play these guys all like 38, 39, 40 minutes with the starters. They wouldn't even necessarily need to start Iguodala in that Western Conference finals matchup. I think they're basically treating this second-round series like it's the NBA Finals, like it's a matchup with LeBron James and you know the peak Cavaliers teams. And I think it shows a lot of healthy respect from their side, and it also shows a lot of doubt in some of the guys who they've been playing along the way too. It's like, ‘Alright, you guys aren't really ready for this primetime.’
Sharp: Totally, and that's the thing about Game 1. It did have that kind of like hyper tense feel of an NBA Finals game, where everything is kind of ugly, every possession matters. And I can't imagine that's going to continue for the rest of the series. I'm sure there will be a few blowouts mixed in there, but it's cool to see that like at the beginning of May because it's just it's pretty crazy.