Durant comes for vengeance as short-handed Warriors host Nets

No centers for either team means lots of Green and Durant battles

Batten down the hatches because Kevin Durant is bringing his new superteam back to the old neighborhood, and they aren’t here to exchange recipes. The Golden State Warriors have already been introduced to Durant’s Brooklyn Nets, when they got blasted 99-125 in the second game of this season.

Since then, the Warriors have begun to discover their equilibrium state. Riding the brilliance of Curry, and with the backing of a strong defense featuring Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre at the wings with Draymond Green manning the middle, the current small ball Warriors have begun to coalesce. Unfortunately, the Nets too, have improved since that first meeting, adding another superstar in James Harden.

Now that newly stacked Nets squad is coming to Chase Center for a game that will indeed be a bit personal. The Warriors want to prove that they don’t need Durant in order to remain relevant, and Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are likely relishing a chance to pound the once-mighty Warriors into the ground.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (14-12) vs Brooklyn Nets (15-12)

WHEN: Saturday February 13, 2021 // 5:30pm PST

WATCH: ABC


Yes please: the Draymond Green defense vs. Kevin Durant offense will be a joy to behold

Since the Warriors lost all of their centers around a week ago, the rest of the roster has managed to adjust on the fly. It’s a bit of a sneaky move, since playing Green at center has long been the Warriors not-so-secret ace in the hole - but however they got here, all that matters is that the team has been playing better.

They’re going to need every ounce of improvement if they hope to end today’s game with a different result than last December’s meeting. Both teams will look, and play, differently, but the Warriors are once again the underdogs in the matchup.

For Brooklyn, they’ll be happy to have Durant return from a three-game absence due to Covid safety protocols. Though he wasn’t the leading scorer in the first game between these two teams this season (that honor went to Kyrie Irving, who had 26 to Durant’s 20 points), we should all be very, very concerned about what Durant is about to do to the Warriors.

Coming back from an Achilles injury - one of the most notorious of career-ending injury types - Durant is at least as good as he was before he left Golden State; if not better. Here’s a graphic showing Durant’s key offensive numbers (note that the Warriors numbers are a three-year average, and we are comparing to a partial (and very weird) season this year:

That’s right folks, the Nets’ Durant is putting up an additional 3.7 points per game, and his three-point percentage has taken a huge leap - hitting 44.5 this season, compared to 38.4 from deep during his tenure with the Warriors. Durant hasn’t lost a step. And now he’s coming back to a stacked team, with some new perspective and a desire to mold the Nets into a championship team.

On the other end of the exchange here is Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the history of the NBA, and a guy with lots of personal investment in both Durant’s arrival, as well as his departure. Because the Nets and Warriors are both playing this game without centers, this matchup will feature a battle that would make Don Nelson giddy.

Can Draymond Green apply enough pressure to meaningfully slow down Durant? I don’t know, but I’m really looking forward to watching him try!

Same teams, but also new

When these two teams met to open the season, there was a different flavor to both squads. The Nets aggressively transformed themselves by exchanging a bevy of picks and young, promising players for James Harden. The Warriors transition is a bit more organic, but no less important.

When the Warriors left the court after getting wiped by the Nets (only to follow it up with an even more thorough shellacking at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks), they looked like one of the very worst teams in the league. Now? Well, we still don’t know exactly how good they are, but now at least the floor of the team looks to be “average.”

Largely on the strength of their defense, Golden State now looks respectable… maybe even a bit dangerous. It wasn’t the case when the season opened, according to Marcus Thompson of the Athletic, the Warriors gave up an average of 131.5 points on 50.5% shooting to the Nets and Bucks. The improvement has been even more pronounced since Green took over at center:

The Warriors are now up to No. 8 in the NBA in defensive rating per Cleaning The Glass (which excludes garbage time). But since Jan. 2, when they first got Green playing closer to his normal minutes, Cleaning The Glass has the Warriors No. 4 — behind the Lakers, Jazz and Rockets.  

This improvement has largely been driven by Curry, but he’s far from the only factor at play here. From Green’s return to health after a bout with Covid, to Wiggins’ emergence as an elite wing defender, to the hatching of Juan Toscano-Anderson’s career, there are plenty of things that have started to go right for the Warriors recently.

The Nets have added a ton of top tier talent, but it cost them some nice players, as well as their team identity. Not that you’ll need some vacuous concept of what the team means in order to win with Durant, Harden, and Irving, but it helps - particularly on defense, where the Nets have a couple of notoriously bad defenders to work with.

It’s not just the trade, which cost the Nets promising young center, Jarrett Allen, as well as Caris LeVert (who had 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists against the Warriors in December). They’ve also lost guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury, and will be playing without their center, DeAndre Jordan (out due to personal reasons).

The Nets run a fairly simple offense, and have the raw talent to survive just fine on that end, but the team’s soft defensive underbelly is where the Warriors may be able to do some damage.

Predictions

Barring a miracle, the Nets will probably smoke our beloved Dubs. The sheer amount of top end talent on Brooklyn’s roster is going to be a problem, especially so because each one of those three Brooklyn stars will be out to send a message of revenge.

The Warriors win if they can get the Nets defense on it’s heels. Durant is an elite shot defender right now, but from what I can see online, the word that best describes the bulk of the Nets defense is “discombobulated.” Because the Warriors are starting to see the open cutters, and the Nets don’t have a great personnel solution for covering Curry all game, this could get sideways for the bad guys.

Watch for fouling. The Warriors are 28th in free throws given per defended shot attempt; the Nets are the third best team at drawing free throws per shot attempt. A horrible, horrible synergy that is only made worse by the fact that the Nets have award winning foul hunter, James Harden on their roster.

Warriors win in a overtime thriller 130-129.