In the early stages that the defending Western Conference champions, the Golden State Warriors were without perennial All-Star forward Kevin Durant because of a knee injury he sustained in their 112-108 loss at the Washington Wizards on Feb. 28, they lost four out their next six games, which included back-to-back games for the first time since Apr. 2015. After garnering a close victory against the Philadelphia 76ers 106-104 on Mar. 14, the Warriors got back on the winning track and never looked back. On Saturday night, Durant returned and the winning beat that the Warriors have been playing the past few games did not stop.
In his return, Durant had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 31 minutes as the Warriors (66-14) won versus the depleted New Orleans Pelicans (33-47) 123-101, to garner their 14th consecutive win, the longest on the season and the third longest in Warriors franchise history. They had streaks of 28 straight wins and 16 victories in succession, which have occurred in the past three seasons.
In the Warriors 14 straight wins, they have averaged 115.8 points per game on 51.1 percent from the field, 41.8 from three-point range, averaged 31.1 assists and had a point differential of +15.8.
The Pelicans were without the All-Star front court duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, who were shelved because of a left knee and right Achilles tendinitis respectably. The team was also without E’Twaun Moore because of a sprained left ankle.
The Warriors also became the first team in NBA history to garner at least 65 regular-season wins in three consecutive seasons.
Durant got things started with a left baseline drive that ended with a reverse emphatic dunk on the left side of the rim that brought the Oracle Arena crowd to its feet and showed that Durant was healthy and ready to roll.
While he shot just 6 for 15 from the field, including 0 for 4 from three-point range, Durant showed no ill effects from being out 19 games as he contributed in other ways with his rebounding and ability to make plays for his teammates as the Warriors posted their 50th 30-plus assist game on the season with 37 helpers on the evening, which tied the 1984-85 World Champion Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in the NBA to do so.
“My touch wasn’t back with my jump shot, but everything else felt good,” Durant said to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Ros Gold-Onwude after the game. “Going to the rim. Rebounding. Playing defense. All that stuff felt good.”
When Kevin Durant came onboard as a free agent this off-season, there were many in that thought that him joining All-Star guard and reigning back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry, and fellow All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green formed an unbeatable super team that was going to march right to The Finals against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The injury to Durant put that dream in jeopardy, especially if their grip on the No. 1 Seed in the West went by the wayside.
After they got over the aftershock of losing their best player, the Warriors got back to some of the things that made them the dynamic team they have been the prior two seasons, which included them winning a title in 2015.
Having consistent ball movement on offense and playing stellar, lock down, physical and tenacious defense. More importantly, having offensive balance, which called upon contributions scoring wise from the likes of Green, Andre Iguodala and Ian Clark.
That balance was on full display like the prior 13 wins in a row by Thompson, who had 20 points. Clark had 17 points off the bench and backup center JaVale McGee had 16 points to match the total of Durant, and grabbed seven rebounds. Iguodala had 15 points, five boards, and five assists. Shaun Livingston had 14 points and six assists, as he started in place of Curry, who was shelved because of a bruised left knee and Green had 13 points and eight boards.
The Warriors on Saturday night shot 51 percent from the field versus the Pelicans; out-rebounded them 53-34, including 14-6 on the offensive glass; outscored the Pelicans in the paint 56-46; committed just nine turnovers and while they shot just 10 for 33 from three-point range, the Warriors held the Pelicans to just 5 for 21 from distance.
In the 60 games that Durant played prior to his injury, the Warriors were 50-10 and averaged 118.1 points per game and surrendered an average of 105.5 points to the opposition.
In the 19 games that Durant was out, the Warriors scoring average went down to 109.9 points per game, but the allowed just an average of 100.9 points to their opponents.
While the Warriors gave up 29 and 33 points to the Pelicans in the second and fourth quarter on Saturday night respectably, they only allowed 17 and 22 points in the first and third periods respectably.
“I think defensively we played well. They made shots at the end of the game, but for the most part, we played good defensively and I’m happy to be back out there,” Durant said to Gold-Onwude.
Being out for the lengthy period that Durant was, you learn about what they are made of when they hit a little bump in the road. What can be said about Durant is that he is a player that loves playing on the court. That it is a privilege to do something that he has been doing since he was a very young person.
So, it is no surprise that he worked like the devil rehabbing his knee back to form and before the Warriors took the court versus the Pelicans on Saturday night that he was in the middle of Warriors huddle dancing up a storm and happy as can be to be back as the playoffs are fast approaching.
“I love basketball so much and to not be out there with my teammates and playing in front of the great fans, it took a toll on me, but I had to go through that to make me stronger and I was able to persevere and play,” Durant said to Gold-Onwude.
What also helped is having people in his corner during that rough stretch like his mother Wanda, who was on hand for her son’s return to the hardwood over the weekend.
“I’m extremely proud of him, of course, as always,” Mrs. Durant, who signed autographs and posed for selfies with some of the 19,956 fans in attendance at Oracle Arena.
“We just told him to continue to work hard, but not move too fast. Just told him calm down and relax, the doctors said it wouldn’t be long so just wait the time and do what you need to do.”
The only tough part of this evening for the Warriors is that forward Matt Barnes suffered a sprained right ankle and foot in the second quarter on Saturday night. The X-rays were negative for any further damage.
With Durant back in the lineup, the Warriors hope that they can use their final two games of the regular season versus the Utah Jazz (49-31) on Monday night and in the season finale versus the Los Angeles Lakers (24-55) on Wednesday night to tune up for what they hope will be a long playoff run that will end with their second title in the last three seasons, as they hope they get Curry back for the final two games and the injury Barnes sustained won’t keep him out.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 4/9/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm with Kristen Ledlow, Stu Jackson and Mike Fratello; www.espn.com/nba/matchup?gameid=400900573 and www.nba.com/games/20170408/NOPGSW#/matchup/recap.