OAKLAND, Calif. — Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant registered 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in his first game since he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise five weeks ago.
“I felt good putting my jersey on, running out with the team, going through the layup line,” said Durant, who played 31 minutes. “It felt normal again. I’m a basketball player. I love playing basketball. It’s my favorite thing to do, so to feel like I’m a part of the team, feel like I’m a part of this energy that we have feels great.”
Durant was 6-of-15 from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range, and he knocked down all four of his free throws in the Warriors’ 123-101 victory. He had a plus-minus of 22, the highest mark in the game.
“I think I was good,” Durant said. “I mean, I missed some shots that I feel like I normally make, but outside of that, I felt I played good defense, I rebounded well, made the correct plays; just tried to play the right way.”
The rust was evident, but Durant showed he was physically fine early in the contest.
On the Warriors’ first possession, Durant immediately got the fans out of their seats when he drove past center Alexis Ajinca along the baseline and finished with a one-handed reverse slam.
“You get a dunk the first play of the game, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out, that feels good,” he said.
Although Durant was not on a minutes restriction, he logged a considerable amount of playing time for someone who hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 28. Coach Steve Kerr said Durant even campaigned to play more.
“Minutes wise, I felt good,” Durant said. “I felt like I could keep playing.”
“His conditioning was great,” Kerr said, “and I thought as the game went on, he found a good rhythm, and it was a really good night for him and for us.”
Durant, who had been out the previous 19 games, got the start alongside Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia.
The plan is for Durant to play in the final two games of the regular season before the playoffs begin April 15. Kerr said Durant’s minutes are expected to go up in each game.
“It was good to see him back before the playoffs, and we can’t wait to get there and make some noise,” Thompson said.
With the Warriors already having clinched the best record in the NBA, which gives them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, Kerr said the emphasis for the remainder of the regular season will be keeping guys sharp and in a rhythm, rather than doing what’s necessary to win games.
Green said he was impressed with Durant’s relentless pursuit to rejoin the team.
“He’s been anxious for a couple of weeks now, just talking about trying to get back out there,” Green said. “You know, he’s been working extremely hard. To come back that fast from the sprain that he came back from, and the bone bruise or whatever it was, shows a lot about how hard he worked. And to stay in shape like that, he wasn’t huffing and puffing out there or anything.”
Entering Saturday’s game, Durant was tied with Stephen Curry for the team lead in points per game (25.3) and was the top rebounder (8.1 RPG) and shot-blocker (1.6 BPG). The Warriors have never had two players average at least 25 points over an entire season.
Golden State went 2-4 in the first six games of Durant’s absence but has since reeled off 14 straight victories, including Saturday’s win.
Curry sat out the game with a left knee contusion. The team said it is a precautionary measure.
He didn’t participate in shootaround Saturday morning and skipped Friday’s practice, but Kerr said he expects Curry to be available to play Monday when the Utah Jazz visit the Bay Area. Kerr said he is leaning toward resting Thompson on Monday.
Golden State (66-14) completed a 4-0 sweep of the season series with New Orleans (33-47).