- - Monday, June 3, 2019

Golden State plays a beautiful brand of basketball. It arguably has the NBA’s sweetest-shooting backcourt ever, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The ball and the Warriors move with speed and grace, on slick passes and sharp cuts, often resulting in easy layups or open jumpers.

It’s accurate to call their style of play pretty. But don’t be fooled:

The Warriors are also plenty gritty.

Their fluid offense, pace-and-space with small-ball lineups, can at times obscure their toughness and resiliency — traits more commonly associated with plodding bruisers. Nothing about Golden State is physically imposing. Even former scowl master DeMarcus Cousins is a softer and gentler version of himself.

However, when you peel away the transition baskets, three-pointers, back doors, swing passes, slipped screens, and other aesthetically pleasing optics, you’re left with a team that’s just as comfortable fighting and clawing as it is running and gunning.

In Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday night, two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant missed his sixth consecutive contest. Thompson pulled a hamstring and was unavailable for the last eight minutes. Center Kevon Looney sat for good with a chest contusion early in the second quarter. Curry was dehydrated and lacked energy all night due to a mysterious ailment.

A weaker-willed team would’ve considered the circumstances and been content to fly home in an 0-2 hole.

But the Warriors prevailed, 109-104, proving once again that concession is a foreign concept to them.

Most recently, they overcame double-digit, second-half deficits in three of the four games while sweeping Portland in the Western Conference finals. That’s when the “Warriors-are-better-without-KD” foolishness reached full boil, a sentiment that was sealed in a tomb after Toronto’s victory in Game 1. His absence just requires them to dig deeper.

Speaking of depth, it doesn’t apply to coach Steve Kerr’s bench.

Previous rosters during Golden State’s five-year dynasty featured far superior supporting casts for the team’s top stars. But all along, no matter the talent level in the rotation or at the bench’s end, Kerr has preached a strength-in-numbers philosophy. It takes more than “The Hampton Five” (Curry, Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala) to position yourself for a fourth title in five seasons.

Monday’s surprise contributors included Cousins, playing just his second game since suffering a presumed season-ending injury in April. He started and chipped in with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Backup guard Quinn Cook doubled his postseason average by scoring nine points, including back-to-back three-pointers that helped hold off Toronto in the final quarter. There even was an Andrew Bogut sighting (six points in seven minutes) after the center didn’t play at all in Game 1 and through three quarters of Game 2.

“When you get to this stage, our DNA shows up,” Curry told reporters when asked about Kerr’s strength-in-numbers mantra. “It’s not something you just throw out there to have nice shirts and give out to the crowd at Oracle and have all this marketing stuff.

“It’s literally how we approach every day from training camp to June, how we support each other, how guys stay ready throughout the year whether they play 30 minutes or miss 10 straight games out of the rotation.”

Like his coach, Curry’s appearance and dimensions belie any signs of toughness. Kerr, a skinny 6-3 shooting guard who won three rings with Chicago (and two with San Antonio), once got into a fistfight in practice with Michael Jordan.

Curry’s 23-point performance Monday wasn’t exactly a replica of MJ’s 38-point “flu game” in the NBA Finals against Utah. But the Warriors’ star clearly wasn’t himself … until he scored nine quick points right before intermission, cutting Toronto’s lead to a manageable 59-54.

Golden State opened the second half with an 18-0 run and never looked back, removing Toronto’s crowd from the game and the Raptors’ hearts from their chests.

Winning thrice more will be exponentially more difficult if Durant and Thompson are unavailable. Looney’s potential absence would also be felt, as he’s the Warriors’ best big man at pick-and-roll defense. The Raptors used a box-and-one against Curry late in Game 2; they might resort to a triangle-and-two if he’s all alone moving forward.

Even then, dethroning the champs won’t be easy.

Their style of play would have to change, again, after adapting to not having Durant. The thin bench would be forced to make more than its customary thin contribution. Curry would need to wear an oxygen mask while resting on the sideline.

Indeed, the Warriors’ path to victory would be quite unsightly. But that’s fine.

Deep down, they’re more than just another pretty team.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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