OAKLAND — The crowd roared with loud approval as the Warriors pulled away with a devastating run that left the Utah Jazz feeling helpless.
Usually, Warriors guard Stephen Curry causes such a commotion with his accurate 3-point heaves and crafty passes. This time, though, Curry stood from his seat on the bench and encouraged Dub Nation to cheer.
The Warriors secured a breezy 126-101 victory against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at Oracle Arena. The standing ovation happened, though, after the Warriors ended the third quarter with a 90-69 lead after outscoring the Jazz 42-22 in that period. Just like what happened in all of the 10 games Curry missed with a sprained right ankle, Warriors forward Kevin Durant became the primary culprit for such an outburst as the Warriors outscored their opponent by at least 20 points for the fifth time this season.
“When duty calls, if Coach needs me to go out there and do something, I just do it,” Durant said. “I kind of know what my role is already on this team. I enjoy doing the other things out there. But when my number is called to score, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
And so Durant did just that once again.
Durant posted 11 of his team-leading 21 points during that time frame before offering a complete game in shooting percentage (7-of-10), rebounds (six), assists (four) and blocks (three). It seemed only fitting for Durant, who has averaged 29 points on 46.9 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.1 blocks during Curry’s absence.
“He has a good feel for that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He knows when he really moves and is active on both ends, how dominant that is for us.”
Just as Durant has played in rhythm, Warriors forward Draymond Green started to round into form in his third game back since nursing a sore right shoulder. He posted 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, falling just shy in what would have been a franchise-record 21st triple double. The Warriors’ Patrick McCaw (18 points), Klay Thompson (15), Nick Young (15) and Omri Casspi (10) also logged double digits.
Yet Kerr found the Warriors’ third-quarter run coinciding with Durant’s play that involved lots of movement, cutting, defense and scoring. Meanwhile, Green saw Durant’s play during Curry’s absence coinciding with putting up defensive performances that warrant taking away his NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
“I don’t think it’s really a race right now with the way he’s playing on the defensive side of the ball. It’s been spectacular,” Green said. “It’s a thing now. That is impressive. It didn’t seem possible for it to be a thing. But he’s getting more attention for that. If I had a vote, I’d vote for him right now.”
Durant has received so much attention that Mychal Thompson, the former Showtime Lakers forward and father of Klay Thompson, tweeted that Durant “looks like Bill Russell on defense.” Durant, who ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots (2.33 per game) smiled when a reporter relayed those words. Durant mused, “Especially coming from a champ like Mr. Thompson, I must be doing something right so I’ll take it.”
“It’s cool people start to recognize me for being more than just a scorer,” said Durant, who noted he tried to change his reputation since 2012. “When people start to notice what you do, obviously it’s not for all you do it for, but you want people to appreciate what you bring to the table.”