BY RYAN LEONG
Saturday marked the long anticipated return of Kevin Durant and he did not disappoint.
Without any restrictions, Durant logged a team-high 31 minutes, scoring 16 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, as the Warriors obliterated the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-101.
“31 is a lot of minutes for me after a month and a half of not playing,” Durant said to a packed room of reporters. But I felt great, just got to keep getting better, get more conditioned to the game, each and every day. Once you bounce back from getting knocked down, that’s how you get more confidence that everything’s all right.”
Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 20 points as Golden State extended its winning streak to 14 in a row.
“He played tremendously and obviously he had a great second half,” said Thompson about Durant who had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting after halftime. “He was very efficient, doing what he does and it’s just good to see him back out there.”
After missing 19 games with a left knee injury on February 28 at Washington, Durant was finally ready to go against the injury depleted Pelicans.
Moments after the opening tip, Durant raced down the baseline and brought the crowd to its feet with a thundering reverse dunk.
“It was great to see that first play, him attacking the rim like that,” Thompson added. “Obviously, he’s going to help us tremendously so I was really happy he looked fresh out there and healthy.
The Warriors were so confident with the return of KD that coach Steve Kerr gave Steph Curry a much needed night off to rest his left knee which was injured when Suns center Alex Len leveled Curry as the two-time MVP was driving to the rim in last Wednesday’s 120-111 win at Phoenix.
The Dubs got off to a sluggish start making only 10-of-26 shots (38.5 percent) in the first quarter leading 23-17. They picked up the pace in the second quarter taking a 54-46 advantage at the half.
But in the third quarter, as they’ve done so many times in recent years, they outscored the Pelicans 39-22. Up by 25 points, the Warriors led by as many as 34 in the fourth quarter to coast to the win.
When asked how he coped with the absence of playing basketball, Durant said, “I just tried to be patient. Taking my mind off of it was pretty good. When I left the facility the last 5 1/2 weeks, you know I didn’t think about basketball a lot so I think that was good just to get away…kind of have a mental vacation from it all and when I got to the gym I focused just on getting better…getting healthy.”
The Pelicans’ star players, Anthony Davis (left knee soreness), and DeMarcus Cousins (right Achilles tendonitis) were both scratched. The Warriors final two regular season home games are Monday vs. Utah and Wednesday vs. the Lakers.
NOTES: The Warriors are an NBA best 66-14 and are the 17th team in NBA history to win at least 66 games in a single season. Golden State has also won 66 or more games in each of the last three seasons. … The 14 game win streak is an NBA season-high and the third-longest winning streak in franchise history. All three of the longest win streaks have come within the last three years. … Golden State dished out 37 assists on 49 made field goals, its 50th game with at least 30 assists this season. … Curry missed only his third game of the season.
Ryan Leong is a San Francisco native and covers all Bay Area sports teams as a correspondent for ESPN radio and wire services. He is a former sports anchor for KCBS and has reported on over 3,600 live games since 1998.