Kevin Durant insists his long-awaited return to action coming against his former Warriors teammates doesn’t ratchet up the stakes or emotions. The Nets star said just playing his first NBA game in 18 months will take care of that.
“I feel like each game is important to me, and it’s no more important because I’m playing against my old teammates,” Durant said. “The game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway.
“It’s going to be good to see some of my old teammates, good to play against them, good to see some of the people I worked with in my time in Golden State; but nothing more than that. The game of basketball is always going to have me on that level. I’m going to play extremely hard every time I’m out there.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr had a pair of observations — about both Durant and his Nets — that should serve as a warning to the rest of the NBA.
“I saw the Boston game the other night which was kinda scary for the rest of the league,” said Kerr. “ … I couldn’t tell one difference between seeing him 18 months ago to seeing him the other night.
Kerr added when asked about facing the loaded Nets: “I probably deserve this given that I was coaching a team like that for five years.”
Tuesday’s reunion at Barclays Center marks 561 days since Durant ruptured his Achilles playing in the 2019 NBA Finals for Golden State. The entire organization was emotional in the aftermath, with GM Bob Meyers in tears and shouldering the blame.
“Kevin wanting to play, wanting to compete, they wanted to support him in doing that,” said Steve Nash, a consultant on that Warriors staff. “But [they] also know there’s a risk, and were heartbroken when that risk came to life.”
Kyrie Irving has said Durant never should’ve been put back on the court so quickly after his calf injury, and some Warriors felt they’d let him down. But as Durant caps his long road back against his old team, he reiterated Tuesday doesn’t mark any kind of closure.
“Injuries happen in this league, and I had a tough one. But I wouldn’t blame that on anybody, and I don’t need this game or for me to play well or win this game to feel like I have closure on that situation,” Durant said.
“If winning a game is going to give me closure for three years, then I really didn’t have a good time there. It’s deeper than just this game, and it’s bigger than that injury. That has nothing to do with our relationship and how I’m going to play or approach my former teammates and organization. It’s just about going out there and being me.”
“It’s going to be great knowing he’s coming back from his injury,” said Stephen Curry, who said having Durant around made him better. “That was a big part of our success, feeding off each other, that energy and pursuit of greatness every day. When you see it up close and personal, you have no choice but to meet that level. That was a huge part of it for sure.”
In Durant’s three years in Oakland he had two NBA Finals MVPs and was on his way to a third before the injury. But just as he bolted OKC for Golden State, now he’s left the Warriors for Brooklyn. But he pushed back against the narrative that he wanted his own team.
“Everything I’ve been a part of is my own,” Durant said. “I understand what I bring to the table [but] I never looked at it as mine. I never looked at the Nets as mine: It’s our team. From the fans to the owners to the players, it’s our team.
“My game is going to speak for itself. But personality-wise, individual-wise, I try not to make myself bigger than the group. I know what I add to a basketball club and I felt that way with the Warriors. So, it wasn’t about me going to the Nets to try to prove that I can make my own thing, whatever the hell that means. It’s just that I’m coming here to play basketball and add to a group of great guys.”
Even Durant admitted to nerves before the Nets’ preseason tilts, and admits it’s going to take him some time to build back toward playing his MVP-level basketball.
“I’ve always been comfortable with a basketball in my hands. But physically, not being able to run up and down a court, it’s going to take me more than two or three games to feel like, ‘Yeah, I’m in the swing of things, feel like I’m in midseason form physically.’
“In the summertime, we were playing pickup: I’m not running plays, I’m coming down shooting wild shots, just trying to test myself. Now you’ve got to be more strategic … so I’m looking forward to exercising my mind and my body.”