Before the Warriors' ugly 125-99 season-opening loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night, coach Steve Kerr said he thought Kevin Durant looked like the same player in preseason as the one Golden State saw dominate for three seasons prior to tearing his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Immediately after tipoff, Durant sent a message to the entire NBA: He's back.
"He looked exactly the same to me," Kerr said after the Warriors' loss. "I couldn't tell, at all, that he was coming off of an Achilles injury."
Durant scored 22 points in his Nets debut. He went 7-for-16 from the field, grabbed five rebounds, dished three assists and swiped three steals. The last thing he looked like was someone who hasn't played basketball in over 18 months.
It had to be hard for the Warriors to see Durant's greatness on the other side, wearing a different jersey again. The last time they saw him on the court in a game that counted, he grabbed his lower leg on the ground of Scotiabank Arena. General manager Bob Myers held back tears in the postgame press conference and Golden State saw its three-peat dreams go down the drain.
But Durant always will be family to Warriors players, staff and fans. He embraced Steph Curry before the game, and Draymond Green after. For all the agony KD caused Kerr on Tuesday night, the head coach couldn't help but smile behind his mask.
"I'm really, really happy for him," Kerr said. "When you think about what he's been through, everything he did for us, our franchise, helping us win a couple championships and everything he did for our fans -- the three years that he spent with us were amazing.
"We all feel very strongly how happy we are for Kevin that he's back and playing at a high level."
Durant one day will be remembered in the Bay Area with his jersey hanging in the Chase Center rafters. For now, however, a new Durant has emerged in a No. 7 Nets jersey at Barclays Center, and he might be just as dominant as his previous all-time great self.