In a confusing and surprising twist, the Golden State Warriors will have to try in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The defending champions blew a 31-point lead on their home court against the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, and the erstwhile warmup series is now knotted at one game apiece. It was the biggest choke job, points-wise, in NBA playoff history. To add injury to insult, center DeMarcus Cousins tore his quadriceps during the game and will likely miss the remainder of the season, however long—or truncated—that may be.
For a visual representation of this Warriors-Clippers series, look no further than the duel between Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley. The Clippers’ 6-foot-1 journeyman guard has been hounding the Warriors’ 7-foot All-Star for two straight games, and the lopsided battle has at times looked like an interpretive dance version of Free Solo, with Durant playing the role of El Capitan.
Beverley’s incessant badgering is akin to back-seat roughhousing during a family road trip—it doesn’t matter who started it because everyone is getting in trouble. Even when the Warriors were up by 15 in the fourth quarter during Game 1, Beverley kept himself attached to Durant and goaded the superstar into an altercation that resulted in dueling ejections. In Game 2, Beverley helped stifle Durant to the tune of 8 field goal attempts and 9 turnovers, and he all but burrowed under the superstar’s skin.
Both players fouled out of that contest, which, in chess terms, represents yet another successful strategic sacrifice for the Clippers. After the loss, the oft-emo Durant left the locker room without talking to the press, though he spoke at length with reporters during Wednesday’s practice.
While the approach employed by Beverley and the Clippers might appear to be “annoy Durant until he lashes out,” there is a specific strategy behind everything they do. In the above clip, Durant gives a rundown on his opponents’ gambit and deftly explains how he intends to overcome it. First, he identifies that the Clippers are “top-locking” Golden State’s sharpshooters, which means the off-ball defenders are preventing them from getting behind the 3-point line. He then elaborates on what, exactly, Beverley is trying to accomplish.
I got a pest Patrick Beverley who’s up underneath me, who I could definitely shoot over the top and score every time if it’s a 1-on-1 situation. But we’ve got a guy that’s dropping and helping and then we got another guy that’s just sitting on me waiting on me to dribble the basketball. If I put the basketball on the floor I can probably make 43 percent of my shots if I shoot them like that, but that’s not really going to do nothing for us for the outcome of the game because we’ve got a nice flow.
The clip went semi-viral, and not because Durant called the Clippers’ schemes a “gimmick defense.” Durant has been prickly with the press all year, especially when asked about the looming free agency period and his heavily rumored exit from the Warriors this summer. Durant’s future travel plans have defined Golden State’s season, even as the team prepares to leave Oakland to make its own move to a new arena in San Francisco. Durant’s candid response on Wednesday was a reminder that he can be a great interview when he wants to be, though those moments have become increasingly rare during his Warriors tenure.
Fittingly, Durant’s analysis was spurred on by the fact that Beverley and the Clippers tried to get in his head. Durant is the most self-conscious star in the league, and he inhabits that particular space with ascetic hermeticism. While Beverley’s campaign of annoyance has yielded on-court results, Durant’s staid off-court response serves as a reminder that he was forged in a fire of perceived slights. This is a man who reportedly used a burner account to defend himself from Twitter trolls and got into arguments with a teenager on Instagram. If his calm response indicates anything, it’s that he knows he’s in a battle he can actually win—and he’s happy to provide details about how, exactly, he plans to win it.