When the starting lineups were announced, the applause inside of Oracle Arena swelled. Back in his usual leadoff spot during introductions Kevin Durant returned to the court. But just like the last Warriors star to return from injury, his night was cut short.
Durant was sent to the locker room with just seconds left in the second quarter — but not because of an injury, instead he was ejected in a 116-107 loss to the Bucks (40-35).
While Stephen Curry lasted 25 minutes in his return, Durant’s night ended even earlier. He played just 17 frustrating minutes and finished with 10 points and six assists, but also had four turnovers and was flummoxed by Giannis Antetokounmpo both offensively and defensively. The “Greek Freak” poured in 28 himself shooting 12-of-16 from the field.
Durant said it was a buildup of a couple earlier missed calls, not just the one he was arguing when he was given back-to-back technical fouls and was tossed, that led to his eruption:
“I felt like earlier in the game, too, I was going to the rim and that was an easy they call they missed. And that was the second one I felt like they should have called. It happens, it happens when you let your emotions get into it. I definitely wish I could have finished the game out. …That’s what I’m more upset about, I wanted to play after being out a couple weeks.”
When Antetokounmpo wasn’t eurostepping around the Warriors (54-21), he was clogging the passing lanes with his long limbs. Golden State had trouble adjusting to the length of not just Antetokounmpo but the entire Bucks team, as they turned it over 19 times leading directly to 23 Milwaukee points.
Head coach Steve Kerr said he thought Durant had a gripe but isn’t worried about the team’s emotions going forward:
“I think Kevin just had a moment. He went to the rim three times and should have had three different fouls, I thought. And I think he was frustrated anyway because the game wasn’t really going well for him, so he snapped. It happens, I didn’t feel like it was a team-wide thing, it just felt like we lost our poise in general with the turnovers and ejection.”
While the score offered no positives for the Warriors, there were actually quite a few notable things that could be picked out. The first being, despite the ejection and rusty game, Durant and Draymond Green returned to the court healthy.
Green finished with 11 points, five rebounds, and six assists in his 28 minutes and played his usual dominant defense. But no matter how either of them played, it was a welcome sign to get two of their stars back.
But with all the talk of Green being one technical away from an automatic suspension, Durant is almost as close. With his two tonight, he has 14 on the year, two away from a one-game suspension himself.
A late Warriors run spurred by Quinn Cook, brought the score within respectable range, but it was really a wrap once Durant was tossed. Cook finished with a career high 30 points — the most points scored by a G-League call-up — and continues to show why he not only deserves a spot on the playoff roster but meaningful minutes regardless of the health of Curry in the playoffs.
Cook said the presence of both the returning All-Stars helped him flourish Thursday:
“Having Kevin and Dray back, it makes everybody’s job easier. … Everything is 10 times easier than it has been the last couple games. The last couple games, myself anytime I come off a ball-screen I’m getting beat up. Their bigs are making it an effort to get the ball out of my hands, I’m getting denied and soft trapped, but with Kevin Durant on the floor, you can’t do that.”
His back-court mate Patrick McCaw drew another start and hit just his third and fourth 3’s since December 29. He’s shooting an abysmal 23 percent from deep this year.
If he can wake from his shooting slumber and shoot even remotely decent, that would be a huge boon to the Warriors bench. This was a step in the right direction, albeit incrementally, as it was his first game of multiple 3’s since December 1.
But then injuries had to rear their head again. Andre Iguodala left midway through the third quarter with a sore knee after he had finally started to round into form. He wouldn’t return to the game but it didn’t look serious. The Warriors will be cautious with him, though.
Then Nick Young limped off the court in the fourth, he was able to return to the game but the injuries, serious and superficial are starting to appear every night the Warriors take the court.
On a night when two of their stars return, another two role players are hobbled. Two steps forward and two steps back.
After four straight games at home, the Warriors go on the road for their next one — sort of. They make the 90 minute bus ride up to Sacramento where they’ll take on the Kings (24-51) Saturday. It’ll be an interesting scene as protesters have shut down the entrances of the Golden 1 Center last two Kings games.
Over his last eight games, Kevon Looney has blocked 18 shots, good for 2.3 per game. His three more tonight gives him 47 in 60 games, entering the season he had just 17 blocks in his 58 career games. … David West scored eight points Thursday, which gave him 14,000 career regular season points. West becomes the 174th player in NBA history to reach that milestone.