Kevin Durant is returning to game action for the Golden State Warriors on Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs after missing the last two games with a right ankle sprain, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
The Warriors stepped up in Durant's absence, going 2-0 against the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. But getting Durant's 27.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.2 blocks per game back is crucial for a Warriors team looking to secure the top seed in the West and ramp up for another postseason run.
Golden State's success without Durant came in large part to a renewed sense of urgency after the team lost to the Phoenix Suns last week.
"I think the loss to Phoenix opened our eyes a little bit," head coach Steve Kerr said Saturday, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.com. "And I think our guys just felt threatened on the road. We've played two great teams, we've got another one, maybe the hottest team in the league in San Antonio coming up, so anytime they're threatened, I think our guys tend to play better."
The team's defensive intensity also ramped up as it held Houston to 104 points and OKC to just 88.
"Everybody's been locked in," Draymond Green said. "You see a different fire in the coaching staff, a different focus in their eyes. You see a different focus and fire in our players' eyes, and that's important. The training staff's been locked in, like everybody's been locked in since that loss."
That intensity was needed without Durant's presence on the offensive end.
"On the road, these last two games we wanted to start off with the right intentions, the right focus, obviously understanding with KD out we're a little different," Steph Curry noted. "So our energy and intensity has to be there because you're missing 28 points out there on the floor. It's hard to replace that."
The fact that the Warriors could beat two of the best teams in the Western Conference without Durant is a testament to the team's immense talent. And getting Durant back for the final 14 games is important as the Warriors transition into playoff mode.
The starting lineup of Durant, Curry, Green, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins is expected to lead Golden State to a fourth title in the past five years. Durant, the two-time defending Finals MVP, has looked like the NBA's best player in his postseason appearances with Golden State.
Golden State beginning to kick things into a higher gear this past week is a bad sign for the rest of the NBA. So is Durant's return. So long as he remains with the Warriors—and questions persist if he will beyond this season—they'll remain the prohibitive favorites.