Warriors’ Kevin Durant storms into MSG, drops 41 and does all he possibly can to shift the story from free agency to the court

NEW YORK — You could feel the takeover coming. There were about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter on Friday, and Kevin Durant was galloping down the court in transition. The Golden State Warriors had, in coach Steve Kerr’s words, been “totally out-competed” for three quarters by the vastly inferior New York Knicks, and the superteam trailed by five points. 

Enes Kanter, Durant’s former Thunder teammate who has become his most prominent trash-talking troll, stood no chance as the last line of defense. Durant went at the big man, full speed, initiating contact and drawing a whistle before lofting the ball off the glass and in. 

Durant had already scored five points that quarter on a 3 and a dunk, but this aggressive move — and the brief glance toward Kanter afterward — suggested more was coming. Less than a minute later, Durant made another driving layup in transition; this time, Knicks guard Mario Hezonja was the helpless victim. Then, in seemingly no time at all: a sky-high floater over rookie Mitchell Robinson, a pull-up 3 off a Draymond Green screen, yet another coast-to-coast layup and a standstill 20-foot jumper that put the Warriors up 10 points with five minutes to go.

In four minutes and 13 seconds, Durant scored 16 points. Before the game was over, he hit two more deep 3s, earning cheers at Madison Square Garden. He finished with 41 on 17-for-24 shooting, outscoring New York 25-16 by himself in the final frame. Stephen Curry, one of the few people on the planet who knows what this is like, said in this sort of zone you feel like you’re invincible and have to ride the wave as long as you can. 

“You know when you catch every green light when you’re trying to get somewhere?” Durant said after Golden State’s 128-100 victory. “Exactly what it feels like.”

Durant said this, however, in a post-game scrum that was fraught with insinuation. There have been all sorts of rumors about Durant potentially signing with the Knicks in free agency next summer, and while no one would directly ask him about it, there were multiple questions about the atmosphere

“Did you notice the fans gave you a big cheer?” one reporter asked. 

“I felt like they gave everyone a big cheer,” Durant said. 

Durant said something about the Knicks feeding off the crowd’s energy and the Warriors matching that intensity. He said that New York fans enjoy every good play, regardless of what team makes it. 

“That’s pure,” Durant said. “I like that.”

Almost exactly 24 hours earlier, Durant did a similar song and dance. The Warriors held a night practice after their cross-country flight at the NBPA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan; afterward, Durant answered questions from a bunch of people who had to write about Durant’s free agency, or, perhaps more accurately, about the speculation about Durant’s free agency. 

Durant did not directly fuel any rumors. He said he understands the attention that comes with being in his position and what he called the entertainment side of the NBA. On the topic of the billboard begging him to come to New York, he said he doesn’t know how to feel about that type of stuff but isn’t impressed by it. He sort of lamented that some fans care more about player movement and salary-cap machinations than what happens on the court. He acknowledged that he hears what people are saying about him, but repeatedly said his job is to focus on being the best basketball player he can be.

“My entertainment is really what happens on the basketball court, you know what I’m saying?” Durant said. 

Nonetheless, Durant did give everybody some good copy. “The Garden is like a playground with walls,” Durant said, then comparing it to Rucker Park and reminiscing about his first game there as a rookie — as a Seattle Sonic, he dropped 30 points in a win and celebrated with his family. 

Of course, just about every NBA player loves the stage that is MSG. Before the game, Kerr said that the Warriors had never played well there since he became coach because they’re always too excited. Durant is comfortable romanticizing it because, uh, who doesn’t romanticize it? If people want to infer from this that he will join the Knicks, that’s their problem. 

It was fitting, though, that Durant treated the arena like his personal playground down stretch. Just two days earlier, Curry made a statement against the Washington Wizards; this time, it was Durant’s turn. Without even having to vocalize it, the message was clear: Focus on my greatness, not my future. 

“The way he’s handled it, he’s obviously letting his play speak for itself and not getting too wrapped up or involved in it, understanding we’ve got seven more months of this,” Curry said. “We know how to keep distractions out of our locker room and just play basketball and enjoy what we do.” 

Curry and Kerr both said their favorite shot in Durant’s onslaught was one he missed: an absolutely absurd one-legged runner from behind the 3-point line. Almost no one would have the audacity to attempt something like that, and anyone who does must be having the time of his life, completely immersed in the moment, unconcerned with anything but the ball and the basket. 

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