Warriors head coach Steve Kerr noted a concern pregame Friday night — his team’s poor starts at Madison Square Garden in recent years.
That didn’t change with Friday’s visit to the basketball mecca.
But Kevin Durant and the Warriors (5-1) turned it up in the final minutes of the game and blew the rebuilding New York Knicks (1-5) away, 128-100.
It was a special game for Durant — not just because of his game-high 41 points, along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. During the intros, he received cheers from hopeful Knicks fans. Before the defending champs touched down in the Big Apple Thursday night, a billboard had already gone up near the Garden posing the glaring question to Durant in light of his free agency: “Can you make NY sports great again?”
Durant certainly gave Knicks a reason to dream on about what a future together would be like.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP scored 25 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Warriors in coming back from a 6-point deficit to win by 28:
“I just made shots tonight in the fourth. I like the way my shot felt when it left my hand. It was a fun night.”
The Garden witnessed how Durant flipped a switch from only taking two shots in the third to scoring eight points — including a pair of deep 3’s — in the game’s final five minutes.
He admitted he wasn’t aggressive enough and was determined to finish on a higher note:
“I wanted to come out there and impose my will, score the ball. I felt like we needed it. Especially that group coming out in the fourth, I felt like we needed a punch scoring the basketball, so I tried to be aggressive. Shoot good shots at the same time.”
The Knicks threw up bricks at the start of the game and weren’t getting many rebounds, allowing the Warriors, off to a poor start themselves, to stay within striking distance. Golden State parlayed a break into a Durant dunk to tie the game at 10 early.
Stephen Curry made a triple to put the Warriors up 23-16, but missed his next few of attempts from the three-point line. The Knicks chipped away at the Warriors lead and Trey Burke made a driving layup with 0.2 seconds to go to tie the game at 25 at the end of the first.
The second quarter played out in similar fashion, with the Knicks eating away at the Warriors lead until Tim Hardaway Jr. made a driving finger roll layup to tie the game at the half at 53.
New York led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter. After passing the two-minute mark, Golden State changed its course.
Kevon Looney, making a reverse layup and a putback layup, joined up with Curry, who added a deuce from the free throw line, cutting the Knicks lead to three — 84-81.
Curry, coming off of a historic 51-point game at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, said it was amazing to see Durant, who chipped in 30 two nights earlier, turn on in the fourth:
“He had been playing efficient, but when the moment called for it, he stepped up and got whatever he wanted on the court and made all types of different shots. It was fun to watch for sure when he gets in that type of aggressive mode. He put on a show for the fans.”
Curry had another solid night himself, scoring 29 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Postgame, Kerr admitted that the Warriors win a lot of games because they have more talent than other teams. But the head coach said it will take both talent and competing hard together to win games at the highest level:
“We didn’t have that tonight for most of three quarters but as I said, we relied on that group at the end of the third to get some traction and then we relied on our talent in the fourth. It’s a dangerous game to play sometimes because guys aren’t always going to make shots but we’ve got to be able to put together a better effort especially on the road, where we’re more engaged early in the game.”
Still in something of a dogfight late Friday, up just eight with five minutes remaining, Kerr’s Warriors showed some of that competitive nature sucking the life from the MSG crowd, scoring 24 of the game’s final 28 points to pull away. And with Durant, who started that rush with a 20-foot jumper, dropping eight of those points and adding a rebound and an assist in less than three minutes during that run New York was left salivating at the though of his pending free agency.
The Warriors continue their three-game road trip on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets (2-3). Tip-off is at 2 p.m. PST.
DeMarcus Cousins was given a technical foul and ejected. He was wearing plain clothes.