With Kevin Durant’s return complete, Warriors turn focus to returning to NBA’s summit

Peninsula Premier Admin

Before tip, Kevin Durant and his former teammates exchanged the typical pleasantries of laughs, fist bumps and hugs. But once the ball was in play, Durant didn’t show his former team any favoritism, as the Warriors fell to his Brooklyn Nets, 134-117, Saturday night at Chase Center.

In his first game at the Warriors’ new arena (played without fans in attendance) since he signed with the Nets in the summer of 2019, Durant was honored with a video tribute celebrating his three seasons and two championships in Golden State.

“My time here in Golden State was so much fun, such a big learning experience, especially learning the game of basketball different, a different philosophy,” Durant said. “I’m going to take that with me for the rest of my life.”

Durant caught up with Stephen Curry during warmups and hugged Draymond Green at center court. The dialogue continued throughout the game via quick interactions between free throws and knowing glances when former teammates were matched up on the court.

“When Kevin came here and gave us three years of just incredible basketball, the least we can do is welcome him back with open arms,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “I think everybody was genuinely happy to see him healthy and playing at such a high level again — that’s the main thing.”

After Durant drained a step-back 3-pointer to put his Nets up by 21 midway through the third quarter, all Curry could do was shake his head. He and his teammates understand, perhaps more than anyone, how impossible Durant can be to defend.

“After playing him tonight,” Green said, “I still don’t think anyone in the world can stop him.”

But this was a modest night for Durant, who finished with 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting in 30 minutes. Brooklyn didn’t need Durant’s best to blow out the Warriors for the second time this season.

On Saturday, the Warriors had hoped to vindicate their 26-point loss to the Nets in Brooklyn to open the season. In that first matchup, Golden State was without Green, Curry was limited to 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting and the defense was only beginning to jell.

But entering the rematch, the Warriors had won two straight games, had the sixth-best defense in the NBA and Curry — who averaged 37.8 points per game on 56.8% shooting in the previous six games — playing at an MVP level.

Despite Kerr claiming this team was “completely different” since the Dec. 22 loss, the result was much the same. Only these Nets now have James Harden (19 points, 16 assists), who was acquired from the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade last month, to pair with Durant and Kyrie Irving (23 points, four assists).

Curry played well, finishing with 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting and five assists, but didn’t get much help from a supporting cast that was without James Wiseman (left wrist sprain) and Kevon Looney (left ankle sprain) and, of course, Klay Thompson.

Thompson, sidelined for the second straight season after tearing up his knee in the 2019 Finals and suffering a torn Achilles in November, could only watch as Brooklyn’s big three dominated Golden State. While the Nets made their decisive run in the second half Thompson, dressed in a flannel, T-shirt and jeans, ripped the back cushion off a chair and threw it in frustration.

It’s an understandable reaction considering that Durant — who suffered his own Achilles tear in those 2019 Finals and now looks every bit as good as the player who helped anchor those dynastic Warriors teams — overwhelmed his team while he wasn’t able to contribute.

The Warriors seemed unsure of how to defend the Nets’ high-powered offense. They were hesitant to switch, close out on non-star shooters and struggled to close passing lanes. In all, Durant, Harden and Irving combined to score or assist on 100 of Brooklyn’s points.

“They’re a great team, have three superstars … they have guys around them to fit them,” said forward Eric Paschall. “But I feel like we could have executed better.”

Added Green: “They’re the team to beat in the East, if you ask me.”

It wasn’t long ago that the Warriors were the NBA’s perennial team to beat. Now Durant is part of a new super team in a new city and the Warriors are rebuilding. The Nets could win a title as soon as this year, while the Warriors’ realistic title hopes will have to wait until next season when Thompson returns.

For now, the Warriors will focus on growth. Despite the similar result, this team is, in fact, much better than it was to open the season. Green is healthy and playing his best basketball since 2019, the defense is one of the most consistent in the league and Curry (like Durant) is squarely in the MVP conversation.

“We need to put multiple wins together in a row and confirm our identity as a team so that after the break we can hopefully pick up and make a huge run,” Curry said. “But there’s no panic at all when you have a night like this against a good team. We know how to bounce back and plan to do that.”

After the game, Curry and Durant met at halfcourt, wrapped their arms around each other and Curry cracked a joke. The two laughed as they went their separate ways, exiting through different tunnels under a pair of banners they helped raise.

With “The Return” finally out of the way, they can move on to trying to raise more — and a possible reunion on the NBA Finals stage.


Contributed by local news sources

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