Aside from pregame and postgame displays of warmth and humanity, with the Warriors and Nets often ignoring the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Saturday evening at Chase Center was all kinds of ordinary.
The game was perfect for promotion. Kevin Durant, after an unwanted week off, was back in the Bay to face his former team. Draymond Green would be an opponent for the first time since 2016. Longtime Warriors nemesis James Harden, having switched employers, was joining KD and Kyrie Irving, the Kanye West of the NBA.
And, of course, there was Stephen Curry, who has spent the past two weeks giving malicious gut punches to an array of NBA defenses.
This smorgasbord of dramatic possibilities laid out for a national TV audience quickly went sparse on the court, devolving to a 134-117 Warriors loss. Curry was limited to two 3-pointers, his lowest total in five weeks. Durant had a quiet 20 points. Irving was stable and superb. Harden, recalling prime Steve Nash, had nearly as many assists as points.
“It just was not a good night in any facet for us,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I didn’t think we played well at either end of the court and obviously, we played a team that was loaded. If you don’t come out with some intent and purpose in how you are going to attack and how you are going to beat a team like that, you are in some trouble because their talent is just going to take over."
The Warriors fell behind for good late in the first quarter and were down double digits from the late second quarter until the end, trailing by as much as 28 points. It was their worst defensive game in weeks, though it came against perhaps the league’s most challenging offense.
And to think, there was so much promise. The Warriors were two games over .500 in the hazardous Western Conference, the Nets were three over .500 in the Eastern Conference. There was modest expectation that the underdog Warriors would summon their best for their former teammate.
They did, before and after the game.
The Warriors unveiled a one-minute video tribute to Durant’s three seasons with the franchise, which resulted in three straight trips to The Finals, with two ending with championships and KD being named Finals MVP.
“Tribute video was cool,” Durant said. “I think about those moments daily. Every single moment I have in this league I think about it and try to analyze it and get better from it. My time here in Golden State was so much fun, such a big learning experience, especially learning the game of basketball different, a different philosophy. I'm going to take that with me for the rest of my life.”
The conflict between KD and Draymond died a slow death but clearly is long buried, as the two exchanged hugs before tipoff and again after the final horn.
Curry and Durant had a pregame conversation at midcourt, with Stephen leaning over a supine KD, who was being stretched by a Brooklyn trainer. They were giggling almost as much then as after the game, when they shared an embrace and Curry said something that had Durant – both wearing masks at the time – laughing out loud.
Such moments are the bloom of seeds planted on the road to prosperity. The Warriors were good for Durant, he was good for them and their accomplishments create bonds that will last their lifetimes.
“Always,” Curry said. “That’s a part of achieving greatness and winning championships, for sure. So, that always remains the same.”
Game over, Durant hugged Kerr and each of the assistant coaches. He hugged and chatted with Rick Celebrini, Golden State’s director of sports medicine and performance – and the man who couldn’t keep KD out of Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, in which he ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon.
But the warmth didn’t stop there. Curry and Irving embraced and chopped it up. Draymond and Kyrie did the same. Harden, yes Harden, went over and shared a conversation with former Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, who in retirement works in the team’s front office.
And, naturally, Durant made some time with Klay Thompson, who is in the throes of rehab in the wake of having surgery to repair the exact same tendon that forced Durant to miss all of last season.
“It was great to see him out there, obviously not great to see the way that they played,” Curry said of Durant and the Nets. “But it was a good night.”
A good night for reminiscing, yes, but not so much for competitive basketball.