This second-round playoff series between the Nets and the Bucks won’t solely be decided by the first postseason matchup between Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Nets’ superstar forward says he always relishes opportunities to face the NBA’s best players, and the next four to seven games facing the Greek Freak — the two-time reigning league MVP — will be no different.
“It’s cool to compete against the best on this stage at this point of the season,” Durant said Friday on a Zoom call. “It’s always fun challenging yourself against some of the best, and these battles have made me a better player, raised my awareness out there on the court by playing against such great teams and also great players and coaches.
“So [it’s] just another opportunity to go out there and enjoy the moment. Every moment you get to play is incredible, so when you’re out there with the best players in the world, MVPs and Defensive Players of the Year, it just makes it even better.”
Durant won two NBA titles and successive Finals MVP awards with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018, before suffering a torn Achilles in a Finals loss to the Raptors the following year.
Durant teamed up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn that summer via free agency, although he sat out the entire year rehabbing his injury.
James Harden was acquired in January to complete the Nets’ Big 3. After appearing in only eight games together during the regular season, the trio was intact for the entirety of the Nets’ five-game ousting of the Celtics in the first round.
“The goal is to win and to improve. I thought we won, and we improved,” said Durant, who averaged 32.6 points and 37.0 minutes against Boston. “I think the tangible nature of those goals is difficult to say.
“It’s more about spending time playing, competing, feeling what it’s like out there with the fuller complement of our roster and getting the timing. So I thought it was a success in that we won, that we had some good performances. We learned a little bit about ourselves, I think, and we also spent the time that allows us to gain some understanding and cohesion that I think is clearly what we lack.”
The Bucks were led in their sweep of the Heat by their top three players: Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
“We obviously have three outstanding offensive players. They have three outstanding players as well,” Durant said. “And they have a great supporting cast. They have continuity and kind of corporate knowledge and common experiences.
“We have a great supporting cast, as well. It’s fascinating. It will be interesting to see how the matchups shake out, how the teams are able to cope with one another and to see the story of the series. I’m just excited to see where this goes, where our team is able to take our growth and development and how we’re able to adapt to the demands of the Bucks in the series.”
Durant appeared in not quite half of the Nets’ regular-season games (35 of 72), but he posted averages of 34.7 points and 9.3 boards in 38.7 minutes during the three-game regular-season series against Milwaukee.
Irving missed one of those head-to-head matchups, while Harden sat out two late in the season with a hamstring injury.
“I mean, we’re going to have our full team together. It’s definitely good to have everyone on the same page, everybody healthy,” Durant said. “We’re looking forward to going out there and playing and trying to advance our season, but we’ll see what happens.”