Thursday will mark the second anniversary of the date Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals in Toronto.
As Durant sat on the court clutching his right calf, and then was helped out 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, already one season out of the entire 2019-20 NBA campaign, Durant is burning down opposing defenses in the playoffs as if the injury never happened.
So, did you think it would be like this?
“Of course I did, that was two years ago,” Durant told TNT’s Jared Greenberg after scoring 32 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds when the Nets defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 125-86 at the Barclays Center for a series of 2-0. lead.
Durant showed his explosiveness by beating Giannis Antetokounmpo for a nifty reverse layup late in the third quarter, and he displayed his trademark ability to hit from middle range and depth, making 4 of 6 from long range.
“I’m looking forward to getting up tomorrow and going to practice and see how we can improve,” he said on TNT. “I’m aware of [you think I’m playing well] but that was too long ago. “
To put things in perspective: The Nets have won two games against Giannis and the Bucks by 47 points combined despite having James Harden for just 43 seconds in Game 1 before he limped off with a hamstring strain. the hamstring.
In an ideal world, the Nets will outperform the Bucks without having to play Harden at all, saving him for the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers or the Atlanta Hawks. Or maybe the NBA Finals if the Nets go that far without Harden.
“When he comes back, I think hopefully we’ll try to do the same, play tough, play physical, and when he comes back, he’ll fit the mold perfectly 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 up, we have to do the same 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 throw it. The Nets posted a playoff record of 21 of 42 from deep, with six players making at least two 3-pointers. They shot 53 percent from the field.
But it is Durant who has been the star of this team through seven playoff games. Look at these numbers:
Game 1 vs. Boston: 32 points and 12 rebounds
Game 2 – 26 and 8
Game 3-39 and 9
Game 4 – 42 and 4
Game 5-24 and 4
Game 1 vs. Milwaukee – 29 and 10
Game 2 – 32 and 4
Nets coach Steve Nash said he doesn’t see any difference between Durant before and after the injury. Note that Durant also missed 37 games this season with hamstring injuries, Covid protocols and other issues.
“It’s very difficult to tell the difference,” Nash said. “Not only is he executing at that level, but he is also capable of playing the minutes and maintaining a high level of efficiency. So it’s hard to say that he has a slump right now … It’s very hard to tell it apart now as opposed to before 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 effortlessly and we’re so used to seeing Kevin do that. So wherever you put him in the ranking of the best players ever, the best players who play our game … we’re just watching him keep getting better and I know it sounds crazy but it’s slow for him.
“When the game is so slow, he is able to get to his place and beat anyone, when you have a 6-11 or 7- foot player doing those special things, it relieves us of possessions. When he can do that, he creates some problems for the opposition. “
If it does.
And so, even without James Harden, the Nets are halfway to the Eastern Conference Finals as the series returns to Milwaukee.
The Nets defense, a longtime weak spot this season, has appeared as they make stops and then turn it into offense on the other side.
“When we can stop and go in transition, we are effective in the middle of the court, but we are even more effective in transition,” said Joe Harris, who scored 13 points.
Most importantly, the Nets have a healthy Kevin Durant, arguably the best scorer in the league.
And that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.