Durant's love for basketball shines bright in his highly anticipated return

Durant's love for basketball shines bright in his highly anticipated return

OAKLAND -- It was clear in the days and hours before tipoff and just as apparent nearly an hour after the final horn Saturday night that Kevin Durant needed this.

He craved the bumping and grinding and swishing, all the basketball activities that remind him both of how much he loves the game and of the fun he missed out on while his knee was healing.

His knee is fine now and he could hardly wait to prove it, needing all of 35 seconds into the Warriors-Pelicans game to sprint along the baseline and swoop past 7-foot-2 New Orleans center Alexis Ajinca for a filthy reverse dunk that sent the Oracle Arena crowd into a spasm of euphoria.

Durant was back, just as they remembered him.

“If you get a dunk the first play of the game . . . no matter how long you’ve been out, that feels good,” Durant said after a 123-101 victory.

Durant finished with 16 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and six assists. He played 31 minutes, also a team-high and certainly more than might be reasonably expected after missing almost six weeks with a sprained left knee and bruised tibia.

Yet Durant wanted more, and he tried to persuade coach Steve Kerr into additional playing time.

“Kevin wants to play 48 minutes every night, so we have to tell him he’s not allowed to do that,” Kerr said. “Thirty-one was about as high as I could have imagined going with him.”

Durant understood this decision, even if a part of him wasn’t really feeling it.

“I felt like I could keep playing,” he said. “But obviously, we’ve got the 1-seed locked up. And we’re going into the playoffs with a good rhythm.

“But I haven’t played in 20 games, so I definitely wanted to be out there longer.

“But coach understands the big picture.”

The “big picture” is a direct reference to the playoffs, which begin next weekend. The Warriors have two more regular-season games before launching into what they anticipate will be a two-month pursuit.

Getting to the top, should the Warriors get there, will require superlative efforts from Durant, as well as the many teammates who after initially being staggered by his loss, losing five of seven, had bounced back to win 13 in a row before Durant rejoined them for the 14th straight Saturday night.

“It sure was good to see him back out there,” Klay Thompson said.

“He’s been anxious for a couple weeks now, just talking about trying to get back out there,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been working extremely hard. To come back that fast from the sprain that he came back from, and the bone bruise . . . shows a lot about how hard he worked.”

As relieved as Durant is to be rejoining his teammates for this endeavor, he may have been even more enthusiastic about some of the simple things he was forced to go without as he rested and rehabilitated.

“I felt good putting my jersey on, running out with the team, going through the layup lines, it just felt normal again,” he said.

“I’m a basketball player. I love playing basketball. That’s my favorite thing to do. So to feel like I’m a part of the team and feel like I’m a part of this energy we have, feels great.”

Warriors need vets to bounce back against young Suns


Warriors need vets to bounce back against young Suns

The Warriors have lost three of their last four games, their roster is in shambles and, still, they look like pure gold in contrast to the Suns team they’re facing Saturday night in Phoenix.

Coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 6 o’clock, with tipoff scheduled for 7:05.

Reeling from the absences of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the Warriors (52-17) showed plenty of the scrap in losing to the Kings on Friday in Oakland but couldn’t get much offense from their veterans.

The Suns (19-51) are having the worst season since 1968-69, their inaugural season. They’ve lost seven in a row, 16 of their last 17 and 21 of their last 23.


Warriors by 3


Quinn Cook vs. Elfrid Payton: Payton bolted to a 16-point first quarter and scored 29 the last time he faced the Warriors. Quinn is coming off a career-high 25-point game. With teams relying on diminished rosters, whichever of the two young PGs can set a tone gives his team an advantage.


Warriors: G Omri Casspi (R ankle sprain), G Stephen Curry (R ankle tweak), F Kevin Durant (R rib soreness), G Pat McCaw (L wrist fracture) and G Klay Thompson (R thumb fracture) are listed as out.

Suns: G Devin Booker (R hand sprain) and F Alan Williams (R meniscus tear) are listed as questionable. G Brandon Knight (L ACL tear) is listed as out.


Warriors: 7-3.

Suns: 1-9.


Tony Brothers (crew chief), Jacyn Goble, James Williams


The Warriors won the first of four meetings this season, 129-83 on Feb. 12 at Oracle Arena. They swept all four games last season and are 12-1 against the Suns in the Steve Kerr era.


MOTIVATED VETS: Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, David West and Nick Young, expected to generate offense, combined to shoot 19-of-59 (32.2 percent) in a five-point loss Friday. They must be better; they can’t be much worse. Phoenix leads the NBA in points allowed.

THE BIG MEN: JaVale McGee started nine straight games at center, but Pachulia started the last two. The Suns are long up front, so McGee could be in line for a start or more minutes. In addition, Damian Jones, the team’s other 7-footer, also could get playing time.

STREAKING WITH THREES: The Suns own the longest active streak of games with at least one 3-point make (1,128). The Warriors are No. 2 (1,121). Both streaks are endangered. Curry, Thompson and Durant are out for the Warriors. Booker will either sit out or play with a splint on his shooting hand.

Cook gives injured Warriors 'huge boost' in anomalous loss

Cook gives injured Warriors 'huge boost' in anomalous loss

OAKLAND -- If Quinn Cook plays at anything close to the level he performed Friday night against the Kings, the Warriors should avoid any catastrophic stumbling in the absence of their top three scorers.

They stumbled plenty in a 98-93 loss to Sacramento, but not because of Cook. The two-way player who has spent most of the season with G-League Santa Cruz scored a team-high 25 points, shot 10-of-13 from the field and played respectable defense.

He did more than could have been reasonably expected.

“I felt like this was coming,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He was fantastic. He really lit it up and gave us a huge boost.”

The Warriors ran into problems elsewhere, shared among the usually reliable veterans who need to be particularly reliable in the absence of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

Usual starters Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia combined to shoot 6-of-20.

Usual reserves Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West and Nick Young shot a collective 13-of-39.

In the second half, when Warriors mustered only 34 points -- a season-low for any half -- the six vets combined to take 32 shots and missed 24.

Those are atrocious numbers and they explain what went wrong in a game that was there for the taking.

They’re also an anomaly.

“We just couldn’t get anything going,” Green said. “But we got some good shots. We got ‘Dre on a couple of pull-ups in the lane, I got a couple open shots, Nick got a couple open shots, Zaza got a couple open ones. D-West had one pop in and out. (Kevon Looney) had two pop in and out.

“We just got cold. But hopefully those shots will fall tomorrow.”

West, returning after missing four games with a cyst on his right arm, was 1-of-6 from the field. He came into this game as a 60.8-percent shooter this season.

Igoudala was 4-of-10; he shot 70 percent over the previous 10 games. Young was 5-of-15, well below his 44-percent shooting this season. Livingston’s 3-of-8 shooting is uncharacteristic of someone shooting at least 50 percent for four years running.

If history is any indication, Green (5-of-14) and Pachulia (1-of-6) are not going continue to miss at the rate they did in this game, the first this season in which the Warriors were without all three of their top scorers.

If history is any indication, the Warriors can’t be counted on to score 34 points on 27.3-percent shooting in the second half of a game.

“I loved how our guys battled,” Kerr said. “They really competed well and made some big plays. We just couldn’t get the ball to go down quite enough in the second half.”

That’s going to change, perhaps as soon as Saturday night in Phoenix, were the Suns are playing to lose.

So if Cook plays steady basketball, the Warriors will fall off and their fans won’t become a basket case while waiting for the three shooters. The Warriors surely believe that.

“He really showed up. I’ve been waiting on that Quinn,” Green said. “We needed that. It was great for him to come out and play like that. And most importantly, his shots were falling. Since he’s been playing (more often) he’s been playing well, but his shots weren’t really falling. But tonight, they fell for him.”

They won’t always fall at a rate of 77 percent. They won’t have to once his teammates drop in a few more of their own shots.