Questions lingered as Kevin Durant prepared to return to the court for the first time in a little over a month.
Is he 100 percent? What type of minute would he be able to take? What would the team look like with him back and Stephen Curry out?
Well, Durant answered any and all questions on the very first play of the game with a baseline blow by finished off with a reverse slam. On the next possession? Just a thread-the-needle pass off a pick-and-roll for a Zaza Pachulia layup.
Oh, he back.
Durant said those first couple plays were big for him:
“You get a dunk the first play of the game, no matter how long you been out that feels good. And to get some stops and get a little assist, it felt great.”
The eight-time All-Star added:
“I felt good putting my jersey on, running out with the team, going through the layup lines, it just felt normal again.”
He would finish with 16 points, on 6-of-15 shooting in a team-high 31 minutes, and fueled the Golden State Warriors (66-14) to a 123-101 win over the gimpy New Orleans Pelicans (33-47). He looked passive and rusty at times but that’s to be expected after missing 19 straight games.
Klay Thompson, who led the team with 20 points, said he thought Durant looked great:
“It’s going to be hard for anyone to take off a month and come back and put on a great show. … But it’s just good to see him back out there and it was great to see that first play, him attacking the rim like that.”
But the important thing was that he played without any minutes restrictions, didn’t look limited by his knee at all, and showed his explosiveness was back.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) April 9, 2017
Head coach Steve Kerr said that he didn’t come in with an idea on minutes and based it on how he looked during game action:
“I love the fact that he played 31 minutes. … His conditioning was great and I thought as the game went on he found a good rhythm. [His] 31 was about as high as I could have imagined and he wanted to keep going but I think that was the right number.”
Aside from the Durant return, the game had little to no excitement and felt like a sleepy exhibition. The Pelicans hung around as long as they could — two quarters, to be exact — before they suffered the all too familiar fate of most teams at Oracle.
It was a game they should have won said Kerr:
“They’re resting or they’ve got injuries to their big guns, and we’re heading into the playoffs trying to enter on a good groove.”
Curry was out too with a knee contusion, which also lessened the likelihood of some kind of excitement. Although Warrior Head Coach Steve Kerr said that he would probably be good to go for Monday’s game.
But Andre Iguodala did his best to liven up the energy with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Iguodala continues to show out, playing the best basketball as a Warrior. His shot has never looked better — or more confident — as he’s been striping the ball at more than a 60 percent clip for the last month while shooting over 41 percent on 3-pointers and 73 percent from the line.
And although the game felt less than thrilling, that’s not to say the Warriors didn’t put up stats. Ian Clark led the bench with 17 points, JaVale McGee pitched in 16, and Shaun Livingston matched Iguodala’s night with a 7-of-10 of his own for 14 points in a start for the injured Curry.
The Warriors and their fans will have to wait at least one more game before they get to see their full squad on the court again, but they have been faring just fine with just one MVP on the floor at a time.
The Warriors will play their penultimate game of the regular season Monday night when the Utah Jazz (49-31) visit Oracle. The Jazz come in winners of five of their last six games and currently sit in fourth place in the West. If everything holds in the standings they will take on the Los Angeles Clippers (49-31) in the first-round of the playoffs.
With their win, Golden State improves it’s win streak to 14 games. The 14 straight games is now the longest win streak in the NBA this season and is the third-third longest in franchise history. … Matt Barnes left the game in the first half and went straight to the locker room. The Warriors called it a right ankle/foot sprain, X-Ray’s came back negative but he would no return to the game. … With their 37 total assists, the Warriors joined the 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in NBA history to reach 30 assists in a game 50 times or more. The Lakers averaged an NBA record 31.4 assists per game that season, while the Warriors are currently averaging 30.4.