By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — They say it’s all downhill once you hit 30 years old, but try telling that to Kevin Durant.
Opening the 2018 preseason on his 30th birthday, Durant and the rest of the Warriors big four didn’t miss a beat despite an eventual 114-110 loss to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I was just trying to get my old legs under me,” said Durant, the two-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP. “I was feeling good just being back out there.”
For Durant, the notion of having any rust to shake off was quickly dispelled in the first half. Scoring 10 points and shooting 50 percent from the floor, it was business-as-usual for the birthday boy.
In typical fashion, Durant was able to get to nearly whatever shot he desired, knocking down two of his three attempted three pointers and showing off his trademark mid-range jump shot.
As for his “old legs,” Durant didn’t look to be slowed down in the slightest as he was able to put back a missed 3-pointer from Stephen Curry with a thunderous slam dunk in his highlight play of the game.
While Durant — along with the rest of the starters– were restricted to 20 minutes of playing time, according to head coach Steve Kerr, Durant’s 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot will suffice in the first preseason game of the year.
“I can’t complain,” Durant said. “It was a pretty good birthday for me, to be honest.”
Along with Durant, the rest of the Warriors core four followed suit as Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green looked to be in mid-season form from the jump.
Curry would lead the charge as the two-time league MVP found the bottom of the net on five three-pointers — four of which came in the first quarter.
In the second half, it was Thompson’s turn to set the nets on fire as he was able to sink all three of his triples in the third quarter. Curry and Thompson would finish as the Warriors’ two leading scorers with 21 and 17 points, respectively.
Green, while only scoring two points, was up to his standard point-forward ways, as the Michigan State product dished out eight of the team’s 33 assists in the game.
“Continuity,” said Kerr. “It’s nice to be able to throw lineups out there that have been together for a couple of years. These guys are sharp and very comfortable playing together.”
Although Golden State would wind up taking the loss, thanks to a late-game push by the back end of Minnesota’s roster, the strong play from the Warriors starters should be encouraging for Kerr and the rest of the Warriors coaching staff.
Looney, Bell developing midrange jump shots
In a two-minute span late in the first quarter, Warriors bigs Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell showcased just how much they’ve expanded their game over the course of this past offseason.
Taking advice from Kerr, Looney and Bell found success with their mid-range jumpers Saturday night, a skill nearly devoid from Warriors bigs last season.
“We encourage them to shoot the ball,” said Kerr. “They work hard on it every day. They can make that shot and they’re going to get that shot. [Defenses] are going to give it to them.”
In 2017, Looney shot 85 percent of his shots from within eight feet of the basket. On the 29 shots taken outside of the key, Looney shot only 34 percent from the floor.
Although it was only one shot, the flash of improvement from deep by Looney is something that should bode well for the UCLA product as the season progresses.
“It’s something I’ve been working on all summer.” said Looney. “It’s something I feel confident in … It’s something all the bigs need; me, Jordan [Bell], Danuel [House Jr.] have been working on.”
Along with Looney, Bell also showed his ability to hit from deep. Bell was sub-10 percent in all shots beyond 10 feet in 2017, but his 20-foot jumper came just 50 seconds after Looney’s 18-footer in the second quarter.
“I ain’t gonna lie, I waited for Looney to shoot his first,” said Bell. “I gave him an assist on his, too. Once he shot it, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m cool now.’”
Bell and Looney worked together over the offseason to work on expanding their range. Apparently the extra effort has paid off, as they have now both found success outside of the key.
While the center position still up in the air, and is expected to be played by committee, having two bigs that can stretch the floor and pose a threat beyond 15 feet from the basket is music to the Warriors ears.
“This is a year when Looney and [Jordan Bell] can start knocking down that 15-footer,” said Kerr. “I encourage that.”