When Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors walked into
Barclays Center on Tuesday night, they knew that they were squaring
off against the Eastern Conference’s hottest team.
Wanting to make amends for their Sunday loss to the Charlotte
Hornets, the Warriors had some extra pep in their step. And they
knew they needed it.
After all, they were squaring off against the best version of
Kevin Durant we’ve ever seen.
By his own admission, when Durant decided to take his talents to
Brooklyn, it was done at least partially because he wanted less
noise in the foreground. Basketball, he said, was all he cared
The glamour, the glitz, the flashing lights and the celebrities,
Durant said, wasn’t attractive to him.
At this point, it’s hard to argue with the results.
As of Nov. 17, most NBA teams have played about 15 games, and
for Brooklyn, Tuesday night’s contest against the visiting Warriors
happened to be exactly that. And remarkably, it took exactly that
long for Durant to turn in his first effort of the season in which
he made fewer than seven field goals. More impressively, though,
was that it took Durant all of 15 games to shoot less than 44% from
the field during a contest.
Any lingering doubt as to whether he could recapture his past
form after suffering a devastating Achilles tendon injury (and
missing an entire season as a result) has been answered. Rather
emphatically, at that.
We all remember the sad scene.
At 30 years old, in the NBA Finals, one of the game’s all-time
greats helplessly sat on the hardwood at Scotiabank Arena. Torn
Achilles — the two worst words a basketball player can possibly
From the time he confirmed his diagnosis and ensuing surgery on
Twitter, we all knew that the road back for Durant would be
difficult. Not Rudy Gay, not Chauncey Billups and not even the
late, great Kobe Bryant were the same after they suffered the same
We hoped, that somehow, despite scores of contrary examples, he
could be close to the same. Merely recapturing his previous form
was believed to be a long shot, but while he silently and
steadfastly attacked his rehab in Brooklyn, Durant was determined
to make fools of us all.
Somehow, miraculously, he’s been better.
Now 33 years old, it’s amazing that we’ve spent more time
getting a taste of Durant as an early-season MVP candidate than we
have lamenting the fact that he’s no longer the same player. We’ve
spent less time talking about his injury than we have Kyrie Irving
or Ben Simmons, and that’s saying something.
But although it may seem like ancient history at this point —
due to Durant missing the entire 2019-20 season and the Toronto
Raptors playing the 2020-21 season in Tampa — he played his first
game back at Scotiabank Arena since the crushing moment on Nov.
It was like returning to the scene of a crime, except the
accused had already been exonerated.
“The last time I was here was one of my lowest moments as a
basketball player, but it’s good to come back here and see the fans
and get a W,” Durant said after he casually led the Nets to a
This was just another day at the office — 31 points on 11-for-19
shooting from the field to go along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists —
and he reflected on the long path back following the
“I’m proud of all the people that’s sacrificed their time to
help me through this long period, this tough period, because I was
a burden on a lot of people mentally," Durant said. "You never knew
how I was gonna approach the day. But so many people took their
time with me and helped me through this. I’m just proud that they
stuck with me, obviously I was gonna do the work but they made sure
I was doing the right work, so I appreciate those who were there
For the most part, many of the lingering questions about
Durant’s ability to play at a high level were answered during last
season. In 35 games, he recorded per-game averages of 26.9 points,
7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists on what was — remarkably — a
career-best 53.7% shooting percentage. He also shot a career-best
45% from three-point territory.
Wanting to ramp him up though, Brooklyn obviously pitch-counted
Durant, and the questions as to whether he could stand up to the
rigors of a long season persisted. He mostly put those doubts to
rest with an inspiring performance during last year’s Eastern
Conference semifinal series against the eventual champion Milwaukee
But this season has been something different entirely.
So it was impossible to not recognize the irony on a random
Tuesday night in mid-November.
Durant took the court against the team he won a pair of
championships with, and entered the contest having been the best
version of himself that we’ve ever seen. And he did so after he
left them on crutches just over two years ago.
Even without Irving, Durant managed to not only regain his form,
but improve dramatically. He entered play on Nov. 16 having played
every game for the Nets this season, averaging an incredible 29.6
points per game. The scoring output would be his highest since he
won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2014 and the
third-highest of his career. His 58.6% shooting from the field
coming in was absurdly high, and about five points higher than what
his career-best last season was. There are big men in the league
who don’t leave the paint who can’t approach that mark. Durant, on
the other hand, attempts only 13% of his shots from within three
feet of the basket.
For the most part, he’s made a living by being an incredibly
proficient mid-range and three-point shooter, and he’s only
improved upon that while in Brooklyn. It’s no coincidence that he
entered Tuesday night’s contest as the league’s leading scorer, as
well as an early favorite for MVP.
In the end, Durant had a miserable night against his former club
— 19 points in a 117-99 loss in which for had his worst shooting
performance of the season (6-for-19).
For Durant, though, at least this season, that’s been the
exception. It’s a blip.
There’s a long way to go still, but Durant has shown us that
impossible is nothing. At least in some cases, it’s possible to
save your best for last, even when the odds are against it.
Someway, somehow, even after the relative dud on Tuesday night,
Durant still leads the NBA in both total points (434) and points
per game (28.9) while taking the 15th-most attempts (18.8) on
average. He’s been so good that he’s helped everyone forget that
Brooklyn is missing one of its Big Three, and that the other member
of the triad, James Harden, is having his worst season in quite
“When you're playing against a guy like Kevin, you're never just
stopping him,” Draymond Green said after the Warriors got their win
on Tuesday night. “You're never locking him
down. It's always going to come down to a matter of whether he
misses or makes shots, and you just try to make those shots as
tough as you can.”
Green spoke about Durant with the ultimate respect.
It was almost as if KD's Achilles injury never happened at
In fact, it’s almost as if it hasn’t.