Kevin Durant Is Playing At An MVP Level For The Brooklyn Nets — And That’s Bad News For The Rest Of The NBA
Thursday will mark the 2-year anniversary of the date Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals in Toronto.
As Durant sat on the court clutching his right calf — and was then helped off as some Raptors fans cheered — it was fair to wonder if Durant would ever be the same player who won two Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors and was among the purest scorers in NBA history.
Now two years after the injury, and one season removed from sitting out the entire 2019-20 NBA campaign, Durant is torching opposing defenses in the playoffs as if the injury never happened.
So, did he think it would be like this?
“Of course I did, that was two years ago,” Durant told TNT’s Jared Greenberg after putting up 32 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds as the Nets blew out the Milwaukee Bucks 125-86 at Barclays Center to take a 2-0 series lead.
Durant showed his explosiveness by blowing past Giannis Antetokounmpo for a nifty reverse layup at the end of the third quarter, and displayed his trademark ability to hit from mid-range and deep, making 4-of-6 from long-range.
“I’m just looking forward to getting up tomorrow and going to practice and seeing how we can get better,” he said on TNT. “I appreciate that [you think I’m playing well] but that was too long ago.”
In an ideal world, the Nets will get through the Bucks without having to play Harden at all — saving him for the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers or Atlanta Hawks. Or perhaps the NBA Finals if the Nets get that far without Harden.
“When he gets back I think we’ll hopefully to try to do the same thing, play hard, play physical and when he comes back, he’ll fit right into the mold because he’s ready,” Nets guard Bruce Brown said of Harden. “We can’t wait to have him back. We’re just going to be locked in, we gotta do the same thing in Milwaukee.”
Without Harden, it’s nice to have two guys like Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with a host of complementary players who know their roles, pass and move the ball and shoot it. The Nets shot a playoff record 21-of-42 from deep, with six players making at least two 3s. They shot 53 percent from the field.
But it is Durant who has been the star of this team through seven playoff games. Take at look at these numbers:
Nets coach Steve Nash said he doesn’t see any difference between Durant pre-injury and post. Keep in mind Durant also missed 37 games this season with hamstring injuries, Covid protocols and other issues.
“It’s really hard to tell the difference,” Nash said. “He’s not only executing at that level but he’s able to play the minutes and able to sustain a high level of efficiency. So it’s hard to say that he has any dip at this point…It’s very hard to distinguish him now opposed to before the surgery.”
Irving, who joined forces with Durant in free agency in the summer of 2019 to come to Brooklyn, agreed with Nash’s assessment.
“He’s just letting the game come to him and he’s playing it so effortlessly and we’re so used to seeing Kevin do that. So wherever you put him in the rankings of the best players ever, the best players playing our game….we’re just seeing him just continue to get better and I know that sounds crazy but it’s just slow for him.
“When the game is so slow, he’s able to get to his spot and raise up over anyone, when you have a 6-11 or 7- footer doing those special things, it kind of eases the possessions for us. When he’s able to do that then it creates some problems for the opposition.”
Yes, it does.
And so even without James Harden, the Nets are half way to the Eastern Conference Finals as the series shifts back to Milwaukee.
The Nets’ defense — long a weak spot this season — has turned up as they are getting stops and then turning that into offense on the other end.
“When we’re able to get a stop and get out in transition, we’re effective in the half court but we’re even more effective in transition,” said Joe Harris, who had 13 points.
Most importantly, the Nets have a healthy Kevin Durant, arguably the best scorer in the league.