Kurtenbach: The Warriors are not better without Kevin Durant, but…

Photo of Kurtenbach: The Warriors are not better without Kevin Durant, but…

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Warriors are not better without Kevin Durant.

Anyone who is pushing that narrative is, in essence, saying that the Warriors are better off with an amalgamation of minutes from Jonas Jerebko, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Shaun Livingston instead of 35-plus from perhaps the greatest scorer in NBA history.

No offense to those reserves, who have played well in this series against the Blazers, but that’s a downright a laughable sentiment.

Yet the Warriors are 5-0 since Durant went down in Game 5 in the last round against the Rockets and 30-1 in recent games when Durant is out, but Stephen Curry plays.

That’s impossible to ignore.

But the truth of the matter is that the Warriors’ great play without Durant has been overblown, and the sentiment around this run says far more about the fans and the media than it says about the Dubs.

(Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Now, it’s undeniable that the Warriors are playing a far more aesthetically pleasing style of basketball since Durant was sidelined. They’re throwing it back to 2015: pushing the pace, running a ton of clever sets and high pick-and-rolls, and playing a generally egalitarian style of ball.

This is the beautiful game. It’s exciting. It’s engrossing. It sparks a sense of roundball nostalgia.

This kind of ball doesn’t make you think about the team leaving Oakland or morphing from a scrappy group of overlooked players into a sports entertainment monolith. Instead, when the Warriors played this way and beat the Rockets, it made Game 6 of that series feel like a bit of karmic justice, handed down from the basketball gods.

But good looks don’t win basketball games — there are no style points in this game. We only wish that was the case. Sports are supposed to be a form of performative art, after all.

And those pre-Durant Warriors were one of the truly rare teams in professional sports that managed to merge an undeniably beautiful aesthetic with downright dominance. Those were unicorn teams.

So it’s easy to understand why so many Warriors fans pine for a return to that era.

Not only did those Warriors teams win — a lot — but they won the “right” way, too. They won in an enviable way. We can see the remnants of this wonderful cosmic concurrence in teams around the league.

This is metamodernist basketball.

But, again, positive aesthetics don’t create actual accomplishments.

The Warriors learned that lesson the hard way.

(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Don’t forget that Golden State opted not to run back a team that won a title in 2015 and a record 73 regular season games in 2016. It wasn’t just because they lost the 2016 NBA Finals in seven games — it was how they lost that series that precipitated the change.

Those Warriors were a one-track offensive team. Yes, that track was a smash hit, but in that fateful series against the Cavs, they needed a B-side — someone who could create offense out of nothing when the game was a slog, like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving.

Durant is unquestionably that player.

But let’s not forget that the scoring dynamo came to Oakland to, effectively, replace Harrison Barnes. Not a bad upgrade. That said, the Warriors were never going to plug Durant into the Barnes, spot-up-shooter role in the team’s motion offense — that would be an egregious waste of his historic talents.

So Golden State adapted. The egalitarian, five-man, motion style and Durant’s ruthlessness in one-on-one situations have lived, at times, in incredible harmony, and, in other times, in conflict.

But it’s all been worth those moments of struggle on (and off) the court. What more evidence do you need than the Warriors’ back-to-back titles and Durant’s two NBA Finals MVPs? Golden State was right to diversify.

And it’s that diversification that makes the Warriors — when it’s all clicking — nearly unbeatable. They have an elite fastball and a changeup — something few, if any, other teams have.

That’s why Warriors players and coaches are adamant — beyond the levels of basic common decency — that they look forward to Durant’s return.

(Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

This is about titles. As fun as this “joyful” stretch might have been, the Warriors know that they need a second kind of smoke for when they face the Eastern Conference champion. Draymond Green and Stephen Curry are doing incredible stuff leading the way at the moment, but both Toronto and Milwaukee are significantly better than Portland.

“I’m not capable of doing what Kevin does on the basketball floor, and no one else on this team is,” Draymond Green said Sunday. “I just try to take it upon myself to do my part and also try to create a pace that I know we can be successful at. I know when we get the game at our pace, not many teams can play with us at that pace. I’ve just tried to really force the issue in that regard.”

“With K [Durant] going out, it requires another level of just intensity, and it’s a lot of production that you’re missing,” Steph Curry said. “So for us to be able to create good offense, Draymond included, where he’s getting rebounds, pushing transition, finishing at the rim, finding the open guy wherever he is on the floor, trying to create open shots that way. And then defensively taking on that challenge because a lot of talk about KD’s offense, but his defense as well, and his length and his presence out there, Draymond’s trying to compensate for that too. He’s just taking on the challenge.”

Against a markedly inferior opponent, the Warriors can have it both ways. They can play joyful (and physically and emotionally taxing) ball and win.

But it’s also important to note that had the Warriors lost either Game 2 or Game 3 to the Blazers, or both — which isn’t a far-fetched concept — no one would be suggesting that the Warriors are better without Durant. Had they not threaded the needle in Game 6 against a mentally weak and physically exhausted Rockets team, they probably would not be playing right now.

Nostalgia, after all, isn’t an emotion that can carry negativity.

A few weeks ago, Durant was playing some of the best basketball of his career — the Warriors were being lazy, forgetting the motion part of their offense, and letting the star forward almost singlehandedly pull the proverbial cart. He obliged, and so many in the world of hoops were subsequently keen to anoint him the best player on the planet — the savior of the Warriors.

But now they’re better without him?

That’s ridiculous.

If you don’t believe me, you’ll likely get 82 games of evidence next season. In the meantime, five games (four and a quarter, really) is only a large enough sample size to get bad ideas. And to think there’s something deeper to the Dubs’ 30-1 record with Curry in the lineup and Durant out of it is to ignore the lessons of the last five years.

The biggest one: In the grind-it-out postseason, things don’t have to be pretty, they merely have to be effective.

And this Durant guy? Well, he’s really effective.

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