The night began and ended with Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant catching up and hugging all of his former Golden State Warriors teammates and coaches.
In between, the Warriors remained overwhelmed during a 134-117 loss to the Nets in what marked Durant’s first return to the Bay Area after leaving the Warriors nearly 2½ years ago.
“It sucked,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We got our ass kicked.”
Yes they did.
The Warriors once did that during three seasons with Durant, who won two NBA championships and two Finals MVP’s.
And since then?
The Warriors finished last season with the NBA’s worst record.
While the Warriors (14-13) have hovered slightly above or below .500 all season, Green considers the Nets (16-12) “the team to beat in the East.”
The reason? Look no further than Durant (20 points) teaming up with Kyrie Irving (23 points) and James Harden (19 points, 16 assists) to form an offensive powerhouse.
“No one in the world can stop him,” Green said. “After playing him tonight, I still think no one in the world can stop him.”
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant shoots the ball against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter at the Chase Center. (Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)
The Warriors became lottery bound last season because Durant’s departure coincided with Klay Thompson’s season-ending knee injury, Andre Iguodala’s trade for salary-cap purposes and Shaun Livingston’s retirement. Then, Warriors guard Stephen Curry fractured his left thumb four games into the season, and only returned for one more game. It resulted in a No. 2 pick that the Warriors used on promising center James Wiseman.
This season, the Warriors are scrapping for a bottom-seeded playoff spot. That has left the Warriors frequently taking one step forward and one step back.
“We’ve handled it well because it hasn’t flipped really on either side. We haven’t won three in a row, but we haven’t lost three in a row,” Curry said. “But there’s no panic at all when you have a night like this against a good team.”
That is because it seemed inevitable the Nets would blow the Warriors out because of their star power. The same thing happened during the Warriors’ season opener. But Warriors coach Steve Kerr observed Golden State has “become a completely different team” since then.
The good? Curry has put together an MVP-caliber season. Green has eventually become healthy and dependable with his defensive versatility and playmaking. Wiseman has emerged as a dependable rim protector. Andrew Wiggins has improved his scoring and defense. Juan Toscano-Anderson has become a dependable role player.
The bad? Thompson remains sidelined with a season-ending right Achilles injury. Curry carries a heavy burden. Green does not offer dependable scoring, and he missed the first four games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols regarding the coronavirus. Kelly Oubre Jr. remains erratic with his shooting. The Warriors do not have a true center amid injuries to Wiseman (left wrist) and Kevon Looney (left ankle).
"The good thing is we feel like we still have a lot of room for growth," Kerr said. "And we can turn this into a great season by making the needed improvements and strides"
Kerr would not say such a thing if he felt he had a team that either lacked talent or the right attitude. The Warriors have both. They just do not have the elite talent as they did during their dynasty when they won three NBA titles in five Finals appearances, revolutionized modern offenses and dominated on defense with positional versatility.
That became apparent against Brooklyn. Curry had a rare off night where he had 27 points while shooting 10-of-17 from the field but only 2-of-9 from 3-point range. The rest of the Warriors shot 2-of-25 from deep. And the Warriors had no answer for the Nets’ well-oiled offense.
Kevin Durant and the @BrooklynNets win in his first game back in the Bay Area!
20 PTS | 5 REB | 6 AST pic.twitter.com/0dbO0BZzKv
But during the course of the season, the Warriors have had unique ingredients that have kept them afloat. They still have the team-oriented culture that the Warriors’ front office and Kerr have promoted. Curry has usually shot more consistently, and any combination of Wiggins, Oubre Jr., Toscano-Anderson or Kent Bazemore have emerged as decent role players. And Green has quarterbacked a defense that ranks eighth in defensive rating (109.6) and second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.6%).
“Time together will help us,” Green said. “This team has the potential to be an incredible defensive team.”
To reach that point, the Warriors will need a healthy Wiseman and Looney. They will then have plenty of work to trim the league-worst 22.7 fouls they commit per game and No. 15 ranking in rebounding (52.4). In the meantime, the Warriors’ offense hinges on Curry’s teammates supporting him through both hot and cold shooting nights.
“We got to stay consistent on both sides of the floor,” Wiggins said. “We can score with anybody. But it all starts on defense. When we lock in defensively, we’re a scary team.”
Perhaps not as scary as when the Warriors had Durant, whose tribute video before the game featured various images of the him scoring from all over the court. But on a night they embraced a returning player that helped them win championships, the Warriors still remain on track toward further developing into a playoff team.
Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Source: Read Full Article