When the Warriors host the Brooklyn Nets at Chase Center Saturday, it will be the first time Kevin Durant will play at the new home of his former team.
Much has changed since the last time Durant played in the Bay Area on May 8, 2019, in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena. In the nearly two years since, he’s suffered a torn Achilles, signed with the Nets and sat out a full season. Now the 32-year-old forward is averaging 29.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game during an MVP-caliber season.
Durant missed the last three games due to contact tracing, but is available for Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. tip. The Warriors plan to honor Durant during the game, without fans in attendance, with a video tribute.
“I wish our fans could be in the building for that game, so that we could give Kevin a proper welcome and a proper celebration of his three years here,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “I know we’re all looking forward to seeing him.”
That video will largely focus on the two NBA championships Durant helped the franchise win in three seasons after signing with Golden State in 2016. In that time, he also won two Finals MVP awards, was named an All-Star each season and anchored perhaps the greatest team ever assembled.
“Two championships, an unfortunate ending with injuries and not getting it done in the ’19 Finals, but it was some of the best basketball that I think the world has ever seen,” Stephen Curry said after Thursday’s win over the Orlando Magic. “The ability to put that much talent and experience together and make it work, there was no guarantee that it was going to work, and we figured it out. It was an amazing run.
“One that when it’s all said and done, we’ll remember the heights that we accomplished and achieved and that was an amazing three years of a moment in time.”
However, Durant’s final season in Golden State was also rife with drama and tension. His impending free agency fractured relationships with teammates — most infamously demonstrated by a heated argument with Draymond Green on the Warriors bench during an overtime loss to the Clippers early in the 2018-19 season.
Since Durant’s departure, the Warriors moved from Oakland’s Oracle to San Francisco’s Chase, acquired D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Nets, traded Andre Iguodala, lost Shaun Livingston to retirement and flipped Russell for Andrew Wiggins.
Meanwhile, Klay Thompson has yet to play since tearing up his left knee in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and suffering a torn Achilles during a pick-up game in Los Angeles in November.
Durant’s remarkable recovery from his own Achilles injury may offer a sign of optimism for Thompson, who the Warriors will need to make a similar comeback in order to return to the Finals.
Though he missed a full season, Durant looks every bit as good as he did prior to his Achilles tear — an injury widely known to derail careers. With Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and new head coach Steve Nash, the Nets (15-12) are among the teams with realistic NBA Finals hopes this season.
On Dec. 22, the Warriors faced Durant in Brooklyn in a 26-point loss to open the season. Durant scored 22 points and Curry had 20, but Green was sidelined with a foot injury. Before the game, Durant downplayed the emotions of facing his former team.
“Playing against old teammates never really ratcheted me up,” Durant said. “It’ll be good to see some of my old teammates and be good to play against them and good to see some of the people I worked with in my time in Golden State. Nothing more than that.”
Since that first meeting, the Nets traded for Harden in a blockbuster deal with the Houston Rockets. With two former MVPs and scoring champions, Brooklyn has assembled the offensive firepower only recently rivaled by Golden State’s dynastic run.
“Obviously, when you have three guys like that and they all click, offensively they’re unbelievable,” Curry said. “It’s going to be a huge task for us. It’s going to be fun. Looking forward to it.”
Contributed by local news sources