The words of Draymond Green on that November 2018 night in Los Angeles surely stung Kevin Durant, but not enough to poison his heart or end his relationship with his then-Warriors teammate. Growing up in greater Washington D.C., KD heard worse on the playground.
It was the timing, along with the words, that left a wound that might never fully heal. This moment of antipathy took place during a game, with cameras and microphones all over Staples Center. Disrespect in private is one thing, disrespect in public quite another.
Both felt slighted, and both had debatable reasons.
As grown men, they have moved past the event that destabilized the Warriors for weeks. Draymond was suspended and salty about it. KD seethed for weeks and was edgy for the rest of the regular season.
Now, 27 months and one day later, they face each other as opponents for the first time since the 2016 Western Conference Finals when Green and the Warriors play host to Durant and the Nets on Saturday at Chase Center.
There is no reason to expect animosity, or even to anticipate the two spending much of the night defending each other. Though both are listed as power forwards, Green is the starting center and too valuable as a backline communicator and help defender to chase Durant all over the court.
The job of defending KD is more suited to Andrew Wiggins, who has drawn rave reviews for playing defense two or three levels beyond his norm. There can’t be a bigger challenge in the NBA for “Two-way Wiggs.”
Typically, Warriors coach Steve Kerr likes to alternate two or three defenders on elite scorers, which opens the possibility of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore.
Yet millions of national TV viewers will isolate on the Draymond-KD interaction, regardless of how limited it might be. Because, well, history. And Draymond.
“The one thing we all know about Draymond is there's not a better competitor, not a player who looks forward to competition more, than Draymond,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on Friday. “So, I know he's looking forward to (Saturday).”
Green wants to make a statement, because that’s always his goal. He wants the opponent to feel his presence, his urgency, his intensity, his relentlessness. He was inactive when the teams met in Brooklyn on Dec. 22, and the Warriors allowed 125 points and were blown off the floor at Barclays Center.
The Warriors since have become a much better team, particularly on defense, because Green is even more essential to that end than he is to the offense. He’s leading, his teammates are following and now they are seventh in defensive rating – fourth since Draymond’s debut.
“We’re a totally different team,” Bazemore said. “Coach Kerr said he felt we could be a top-10 offensive and defensive team in the NBA, and now we starting to show that.”
Brooklyn, however, has more potent offensive weapons than any team in the league. Nobody gets to the rim more consistently than Kyrie Irving. James Harden scores from deep, at the rim and at the free-throw line. Joe Harris is shooting 49.2 percent from distance, leading all players who average five or more 3-point attempts per game.
Durant combines all of that in one package. He’s shooting 44.9 percent from deep, 52.9 percent overall and 87.2 percent from the line on an average of 7.8 attempts per game.
“He's Kevin Durant; his name speaks for itself,” Bazemore said. “He walks in the gym, and people know where he is. I had actually had the opportunity to play him at the Rucker Park way back in the day, at the (New York) Gauchos gym. That was a pretty cool experience. The dude is 7-foot and can freaking light it up. He’s a monster.”
Draymond relishes the thought of taming the beasts. Doesn’t matter that he’s six inches shorter than KD. Doesn’t matter that KD won’t be his primary defensive assignment.
A win, at this stage, would be satisfying for either. But it would mean more to Draymond because in the first game between the teams he only could watch as his team was humiliated on national TV.
There’s a good chance Draymond and KD will at some point before the game, and maybe after, take a second to mentally reflect on what they accomplished as teammates. Three consecutive trips to The Finals. Two championships and two parades through the streets of Oakland – and maybe a third if Durant were healthy for the 2019 Finals.
And, moreover, the tight bond of brotherhood they once shared that began fraying early in the 2018-19 season and came completely undone on Nov. 12, 2018, after which they advanced to the next phase of their careers.