Warriors

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 vs. Clippers Game 4 Watch Guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

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USATSI

Warriors vs. Clippers Game 4 Watch Guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

LOS ANGELES – With a 2-1 series lead, the Warriors take the court Sunday afternoon for Game 4 against the Clippers in which one matchup likely will dictate the direction of the game and the series.

It’s not necessarily Kevin Durant vs. Patrick Beverley. Durant hit the jets on Beverley in Game 3, putting an end to the myth they were waging a battle.

[RELATED: How to watch Warriors vs. Clippers Game 4 live online]

The more impactful matchup is that between Andre Iguodala and Los Angeles scoring whiz Lou Williams – and it surely will be a topic during pregame coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area beginning with Warriors Outsiders at 11 a.m., followed by SNC Playoff Central. Tipoff of the ABC telecast begins at 12:30 p.m.

For the Clippers to have a reasonable chance to win, Williams must produce. When he scored in 36 points on 59-percent shooting in Game 2, LA won by four. When he scored 16 on 36-percent shooting in Game 3, the Warriors won by 27.

For roughly 80 percent of Williams’ playing time in Game 3, he was shadowed by Iguodala – the two were teammates for seven seasons in Philadelphia – who occasionally got help. With Iguodala containing Williams and Draymond Green’s stifling No. 2 scorer Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers were limited on offense.

A repeat of that practically ensures a Warriors victory, giving them a 3-1 series lead going into Game 4 Wednesday in Oakland.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Warriors
F Kevin Durant
F Draymond Green
C Andrew Bogut
G Klay Thompson
G Stephen Curry

Clippers
F Patrick Beverley
F Danilo Gallinari
C Ivaca Zubac
G Landry Shamet
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: C DeMarcus Cousins (L quadriceps tear) and C Damian Jones (L pectoral surgery) are listed as out.

Clippers: No injuries listed.

ROTATION OUTLOOK

Warriors: Durant’s massive Game 3 performance raised the ceiling of the Warriors and could pay dividends for teammates Curry and Thompson in Game 4. More attention on Durant could mean space for the guards.

Kevon Looney and Iguodala have been very good off the bench, with Looney’s playing at high efficiency and Iguodala delivering at both ends. Looney’s success is a bit surprising in that he can’t match the athleticism of LA reserve big man Montrezl Harrell but still has become a problem for the Clippers.

The initial insertion of Bogut at starting center was something of an experiment, with the belief he could match up with Zubac and the hope he could counteract Harrell’s energy. It’s working, for the most part and is not likely to change.

Clippers: Harrell has been their most consistently effective player. He’s averaging 22 ppg (76.5 percent FG) and 6.3 rpg. The Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll had been an issue but was less effective in Game 3.

The Clippers have KD problem and there’s no easy answer for Clippers coach Doc Rivers. The strategy of using Beverley, who gives up at least eight inches in height, is designed to make Durant uncomfortable and limit his off-the-dribble action. Screens consistently freed Durant in Game 3, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, adjustment is made.

[RELATED: Kerr believes Iguodala can play as long as he wants, but will he?]

Gallinari’s 2-of-13 shooting in Game 3 puts him at 14-of-44 (31.8 percent). As the best scorer in LA’s starting lineup, it’s imperative he generate some offense. They’ll look to get more out of Shamet, their designated shooter. With Thompson and Curry doing most of the defensive work, Shamet is averaging 7.0 points (30 percent FG).

Officials: Tony Brothers (crew chief), Sean Wright, Brent Barnaky. Alternate: Tre Maddox.

Warriors vs. Clippers live stream: Watch NBA playoffs Game 4 live online

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USATSI

Warriors vs. Clippers live stream: Watch NBA playoffs Game 4 live online

The Warriors were back to their dominant selves in Game 3 of the NBA playoffs, and on this Easter Sunday, they look to take a resounding 3-1 first-round series lead. 

After taking a 31-point lead in Game 2, the Warriors fell asleep before responding in Game 3. But for Game 4, the Dubs aren't worried about taking a step back.

Sunday will be an early start, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. PT. The Warriors are down two centers, with DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Jones ruled out.

Here's how you can watch Warriors-Clippers Game 4 on ABC, as well as NBC Sports Bay Area's "SNC: Warriors Playoff Central" pregame and postgame coverage live on the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

When: 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday, April 21, on ABC (pregame show starts on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus at 11:30 a.m.)
Pregame/postgame show live stream: MyTeams by NBC Sports app
Game live stream: WatchESPN