Nets’ Kevin Durant better than ever after Achilles injury

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Nearly two years after Kevin Durant crumpled to the floor with a ruptured Achilles in the NBA Finals, he was utterly dominant in leading the Nets to the biggest postseason blowout in team history. He looked every bit as good as the old Durant.

When he was asked on-court after Monday’s Game 2 125-86 rout of Milwaukee — after tormenting the Bucks with 32 points — if he thought he’d ever be this good again, his reaction was very much on brand.

“Is that a real question?” Durant asked rhetorically. “What do you want me to say to that? Of course I did.”

While TNT’s Jared Greenberg pointed out that his return to form has been impressive, Durant was looking forward, not back over his shoulder.

“Thank you; I appreciate that. But that was two years ago. I’m looking forward to just getting up, going to practice, watching film and seeing how we can get better. I appreciate that, but that was too long ago.”

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant
AP

It’ll be exactly two years ago Thursday, the night Durant brings his Nets into Milwaukee for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. They have a 2-0 lead largely due to his brilliance, averaging 32 points on 55 percent shooting and 50 percent from 3 in these playoffs. And he’s done it all despite an injury that has 85 percent of its NBA victims out of the league within two years.

After Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals with Golden State, experts told The Post he’d likely return to being the same player, but many doubted it. After all, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Kobe Bryant and DeMarcus Cousins never did.

And Durant hasn’t been the same, either.

In many ways, he’s been even better.

“He’s just letting the game come to him and he’s playing it so effortlessly. And we’re so used to seeing Kevin do that,” Kyrie Irving said. “So, wherever you put him in the ranking of the best players ever, or the best players playing our game or whatever, for us — as historians of the game here in terms of the culture we protect here, in terms of brotherhood and the respect we have — we’re seeing him just continue to get better.

“I know that sounds crazy, but it’s just slow for him. The game is so slow. He’s able to get to his spot and raise up over anyone. When you have a 6-11 or 7-footer doing those special things, it eases the possessions for us. When you’re able to do that, it creates some problems for the opposition, because now they’re playing on their heels.”

Durant has somehow been the best version of himself. He shot 12-for-18 overall and 4-for-6 from deep on Monday, handing out six assists and grabbing four boards despite never even getting off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Paired with Irving and then James Harden, Durant had his most efficient regular season, with career-bests in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage. The postseason has been even better.

This is Durant’s 10th postseason, and so far his most efficient, posting career-highs in Net Rating, Offensive Rating, 3-point percentage, free-throw shooting, blocks and even Player Efficiency Rating (the latter via Basketball Reference).

“Yeah, it’s really hard to tell the difference,” Steve Nash said. “He’s not only executing at that level, but he’s able to play the minutes and able to sustain such a high level of efficiency. So it’s hard to say that he has any dip at this point. And his game’s picked up as we go.

“He’s gotten more reps, more comfort, especially defensively and on the boards and some of the things that when you’re a player that hasn’t played for a long time and you’re a scorer like that, you’re going to focus on trying to get that back first. So he did that, and then he started to pick up the other parts of his game. So it’s very difficult to distinguish him now opposed to before the surgery.”

It has indeed been tough to distinguish. But look closely enough, and one can tell Durant isn’t quite the same.

He’s better.

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