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Kevin Durant silences his critics as Warriors rout Clippers in Game 3

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 4/19/2019 By Connor Letourneau
Kevin Durant holding a racket: CAPTION: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 18: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates a lead at half time over the LA Clippers during Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. © (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) CAPTION: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 18: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates a lead at half time over the LA Clippers during Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

LOS ANGELES — Brows furrowed and lips pursed, Warriors forward Kevin Durant sat next to the key as he puffed out his chest.

Stephen Curry, towel in hand, crouched low in front of Golden State’s bench as he unleashed a yell and stared down the man of the hour. It was late in the second quarter of the Warriors’ 132-105 rout of the Clippers in Game 3 of the first round at Staples Center, and Durant had just darted through the paint, grabbed the offensive rebound and — while drawing contact and falling to the floor — hit the put-back.

This was the type of acrobatic highlight Durant has made his trademark. Judging by Curry’s bench celebration, the Warriors were intent on savoring it. Little more than 24 hours earlier, after Golden State head coach Steve Kerr proclaimed to reporters that he wanted Durant — fresh off an eight-shot, nine-turnover dud in Monday’s Game 2 loss — to hoist 20-30 shots in Game 3, Durant had defiantly declared, “I don’t play like that.”

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 132, CLIPPERS 105

But after hearing his decision-making questioned, Durant seemingly couldn’t help himself — it was time to assert his dominance. As he told a crowded media scrum Wednesday, “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am.” Those who had forgotten were soon reminded. In 30 minutes Thursday, Durant had 38 points on 14-for-23 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds.

His 23 shots were his most since the Warriors’ March 23 win over Dallas. Durant probably would have attempted more, but he sat the entire fourth quarter. Three nights removed from fumbling away a 31-point, third-quarter lead to endure the biggest postseason collapse in NBA history, the Warriors had rediscovered their joy, riding Durant’s hot hand to a 33-point cushion.

With DeMarcus Cousins — likely out for the season with a quad injury he sustained in Game 2 — watching from his Bay Area home, Golden State shot 51-for-93 (54.8 percent) from the field, including 15-for-35 (42.9 percent) from three-point range. It tallied 35 assists and beat the Clippers 50-43 on the boards. Although Durant was the night’s protagonist, Curry (21 points in 20 minutes), Andre Iguodala (15 points on just six shots) and Kevon Looney (10 points) were worthy complements.

Such a thorough pummeling left little doubt about why the Warriors are the biggest first-round favorites in 30 years. When moving the ball and focused defensively, they are daunting — particularly for a Clippers team that brings its two best players off the bench and bucked the odds just to reach the playoffs.

The question now doesn’t seem to be whether Golden State will win this seven-game series, but how long it’ll let it last. Wasted energy against the Clippers could hurt the Warriors’ chances of doing quick work of their next opponent.

And if Golden State wants to see Durant exert all his powers, it needs only to show him some stories written after Game 3. The narrative in the wake of that historic meltdown focused on Durant’s issues against the much-smaller Patrick Beverley. Instead of sinking shot after shot over Beverley, he made ill-advised passes and was repeatedly whistled for offensive fouls.

No one will question Durant’s choices in Game 3. Less than a minute in, he drilled an 18-foot, elbow jumper. Not until early in the second quarter, after six straight makes, did Durant miss his first shot.

By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, he had 27 points. Asked by NBC Bay Area’s Kerith Burke to describe his performance to that point, Durant said, “Nothing different. I just think Coach drew up more plays for me.”

Just as planned.

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron

Related slideshow: Best of the 2019 NBA playoffs (provided by imagn)

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