PHOENIX SUNS

Warriors fans finally get to welcome back Kevin Durant in opener vs. Suns

Oct 24, 2023, 1:10 PM

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant...

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) dunks after passing Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) as the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 131-128 in overtime in Toronto. November 29, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

(Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Steve Kerr recalls a one-point Christmas Day defeat at Cleveland in 2016 when Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were still figuring out how to thrive playing together during Durant’s first season with the Warriors, each doing his best to let the other shine bright, and how things finally started clicking from there.

The two superstars became more assertive taking their shots and capitalizing on chances without worrying about the other’s ego or individual performances on any given night — and the Warriors went on to win 10 of their next 11 games, 16 of 18 and 18 of 22.

When Golden State opens the season Tuesday night on its home court, Durant will be on the other side, giving the home fans at Chase Center their first opportunity to honor everything he did for the Warriors.

Kerr knows how much that moment will mean to everybody in the sellout crowd — not to mention for Durant himself.

“Kevin’s arrival turned us into one of the most talented teams ever and he was such a perfect fit next to our guys. Kevin is kind of a perfect fit next to anybody. But he just fit beautifully next to our group.”

Durant played here for Brooklyn in February 2021 during the pandemic-delayed season when no spectators were allowed then was injured with a sprained left ankle in March when the Suns last visited.

“It’s very comfortable for all of us when we see Kevin. This will be the 10th or 12th time we’ve seen him in a different uniform,” Kerr said Monday. “This time, we say our hellos and it’s great but for the fans it will be different. I anticipate our fans giving Kevin the love that he deserves. Two championships, trying to help us win a third, literally giving his body to the cause. He was incredible here and will go down as one of the great players in franchise history.”

Draymond Green won’t be part of the on-court homecoming for the Warriors, still sidelined by a sprained left ankle he injured during offseason workouts. He has begun scrimmaging again in recent days.

Durant spent three sensational seasons with Golden State from 2017-19 that included a pair of championships and his two NBA Finals MVP trophies. Golden State lost the 2019 Finals to Toronto after Durant tore his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 and Klay Thompson went down in the deciding Game 6.

“It’s always different seeing somebody in a different uniform but just to know what he did in our jersey, he did for our team and this city, for the Bay Area,” Warriors big man Kevon Looney said of the 13-time All-Star Durant. “He had some legendary years here. He put his body on the line, risked it all out there playing through injury. He’s always going to have the respect of our organization, of our team, and I think the Bay Area.”

As Chris Paul begins his 19th NBA season and first for the Warriors — his sixth team — he knows all about returning to former arenas where they cherish the memories. Phoenix is Paul’s latest former team.

“I’m sure the fans will go crazy,” Paul said of Durant’s welcome. “Regardless when somebody leaves depending on how it is, there will always be, I’m sure, an emotional connection with the things that they were able to do while he was here.”

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