Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, center, defends a shot by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love during the second half of Game 2. (Ezra Shaw/Pool Photo via AP)

Kevin Durant’s arrival on the Golden State Warriors promised, at first glance, a pyrotechnic offensive outcome. It added the most unstoppable scorer in the world to the mightiest scoring machine in league history. What went ignored was how Durant might fit into the Warriors on the other end of the floor. The NBA Finals have provided Durant a platform to prove himself not only an otherworldly scorer, but also as an elite defensive player.

While leading the series in scoring at 35.5 points, Durant has also been the best defensive player in the Finals. The Warriors have trusted him as the primary defender on LeBron James. In Game 2, Durant both guarded James and, when foul trouble necessitated, played heavy minutes protecting the rim. Through two games, he has more blocks than any player in the Finals with five and is tied for second in steals with three.

“I know the standard we have, and he’s risen above that standard,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I don’t think there was ever a situation where we didn’t think he could defend. We played them in the Western Conference Finals last year, and he was probably the best defensive player on the floor.”

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That series, which Golden State won in seven games, colored how the Warriors viewed Durant’s defensive ability. Durant has never made an all-defense team, and he admits he did not focus on defense until 2011, his fourth season in the league. But he had the skills when motivated; the Warriors saw it last May.

With a pterodactyl’s wingspan and enough quickness to guard any player on the court, Durant’s defense keyed the Thunder as they grabbed a 3-1 lead. In Game 4, which Oklahoma City won by 24 points, Durant blocked three shots, recorded four steals, grabbed 10 defensive rebounds and committed only one foul.

“What we saw in our series with Oklahoma City last year, that’s what we envisioned from K.D.,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “He was a monster defensively, blocking shots, guarding everybody. We knew he could guard multiple positions, block shots, protect the rim.”

Playing for the Warriors has allowed Durant to reveal the full extent of his defensive capabilities. His offensive burden in Oklahoma City forced him to conserve energy on defense, with coaches frequently assigning him to cover non-threats. In spurts, like the Western Conference finals, he could showcase his disruptive defensive ability. But that series also underscored the difficulty Durant faced. Having expended energy on defense, Durant shot 39 percent, including 20 percent on three-pointers, in the final three games of the series as Golden State rallied to advance.

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Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith knew Durant had the capability to become an elite defensive player, from offseason workouts and one-on-one showdowns. “He’s 7-foot with an enormous wingspan,” Smith said. “He’s never out of the play, and he can contest every shot.” But playing for the Warriors has enabled him to show it on a consistent basis.

“He’s making an effort more to defend now,” Smith said. “It’s totally different, because he’s got somebody like Draymond to put the battery in his back and get him going. Not that he needs that. It’s the extra help that comes with it. He’s pretty much got to get 30 or 40, and you could really coast on the other end. You’re not really guarding the best player. That’s the reason what he’s doing is so impressive.”

When Green fell into foul trouble in Game 2, the Warriors had to play Durant at center on defense to maintain their favored small-ball lineup. Durant served as Golden State’s primary rim protector for long swaths of the game, and he performed like an elite defensive center, blocking five shots and recording three steals. “I don’t think there’s many teams in the league who their backup is better than their starter,” Green said.

“We’re playing Draymond at the five more, and it’s forcing me to guard bigger guys,” Durant said. “I got to fight a little harder now than I did before.”

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One sequence demonstrated Durant’s prowess. Love posted up Durant on the left block and attempted to use his strength against Durant. The Warriors sent no help. Love slammed his shoulder into Durant’s chest three times, and Durant refused to give any ground. Stymied, Love attempted a quick hook over his shoulder. Durant stuffed the shot and corralled the loose ball. He dribbled the length of the floor, drove to the basket and banked in a shot while drawing a foul.

In the span of maybe 20 seconds, Durant had exhibited every skill a basketball player needs, at the highest level. The sequence caused Green, after the Cavs called timeout, to skip all the way to center court, his arms flexed as he met Durant for a thunderous chest bump.

“They think they got a mismatch and they’re trying to go at K in the post, and he blocked the shot, get the rebound, start talking,” Green said. “See, that’s the big part for me, you know. He blocks a shot and start talking, so that’s what got me hyped.”

The Warriors believed Durant’s skills would allow him to seamlessly fit into their defensive strategy, and Durant has proved them correct. The Warriors prefer to switch on all screens, a luxury afforded by big, flexible defenders like Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. Durant provides the biggest and most flexible piece.

“We knew he would fit perfectly into what we already did,” Kerr said, “but make us better.”

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