Durant Brings His Best on the Broadway Stage

We’ve seen these shows many times on this stage and each time they are breathtaking, exhilarating and frustrating. Michael’s “double nickel”, Kobe’s 61 and LeBron’s 50-point triple-double (with an asterisk).

Add to these unforgettable performances a show-stopping 25-point fourth quarter by Kevin Durant, who left Knicks fans salivating at the thought of seeing him do this 41 times a season on this stage. After dropping 41 points at the sold-out Garden on Friday night, Durant at least spoke with some appreciation for the New York crowd that was in awe as he simply took over what was a close game and turned it into a blowout.

“It’s always great here,” he said. “The crowd’s always loud. They just enjoy every play, no matter what team it is. If it’s a good play, they cheer for it. That’s pure. I like it.”

What we learned here is KD isn’t coming to New York based on billboards or marketing opportunities. He’d come here because he loves basketball and the people here love it too. He’d come here for the game, not for the benefits of it.

LeBron James always speaks glowingly about the Garden, but when given the chance, he chose not to play here. But LeBron never seemed to view playing in New York from a basketball perspective. In 2010, it was more about chasing a championship and the Knicks were nowhere near on track. LeBron was seduced by Pat Riley and a team that had an all-star already there in Dwyane Wade. LeBron never had real feelings for New York. His only connection was to the Yankees, his favorite baseball team.

But with Durant, it is not wrong to say New York is tugging at his heartstrings. His friend and manager, Rich Kleiman, is a New Yorker who would love to see him play for the Knicks. KD summers in the Hamptons and also at the Rucker and Dyckman. There’s no denying the choice to leave Golden State to come to New York would be about playing the game where the soul of it has existed for almost a century. In an arena he described as “like a playground with walls . . . It feels like you’re playing at Rucker Park, just indoors.” He added, “That energy, it’s just pure, pure love for the game at The Garden.”

An impending free agent in the upcoming offseason, Kevin Durant has read all the rumors about where he might be headed to next. The Warriors star speaks to the media about what his mindset is ahead of a momentous decision.

I’ll stop short of saying this is not about celebrity or money . . . well, the money part is always part of the story. After passing up on some max deals just to join the Warriors and also maintain some flexibility, KD has made it clear he’s looking to get paid now that he’s heading into his 30s. The Warriors could pay him, but they may not want to with Klay Thompson also looking to get paid, with Steph Curry and Draymond Green also on a hefty payroll.

And let’s now acknowledge the reality of it all: like any elite player, Durant wants to win. It’s up to the Knicks to show there is enough of a foundation here to be a contender. They have eight months to do it.

The young Knicks competed for three quarters and actually held a 10-point lead with less than two minutes left in the third. But there was a palpable feeling of inevitability that Golden State would flip the switch and overwhelm the Knicks and Durant did that when he scored 10 points in less than four minutes to start the fourth. And suddenly a hard-fought game was a rout.

– I think it’s fair to ask why David Fizdale waited so long to go back to Frank Ntilikina in the fourth quarter, but to criticize other coaching decisions when a superstar just takes over a game the way Durant did is misguided. Fizdale said he saw his young players give all they had and then run out of gas — physically and emotionally — when it was winning time. That part, he said, is a teaching moment. “I just saw a look of ‘All right, we’ve done enough tonight’,” he said. That’s the problem he’s dealing with right now. How do you get a young team to compete to win when everyone is telling them they’re not supposed to win?

“I felt like we were just happy to be in it,” Fizdale said. “For whatever reason, right now, we don’t see ourselves as a team that thinks we should be competing. And I’m trying to get that belief into them. But, you know, we’ve taken three pretty good teams pretty deep. So I’m just trying to get them to understand how to play a full game and believe in yourselves. Believe you’re supposed to win some games.”

– The Knicks might have believed they could win, but their best chance to do it was sitting in a suit on the bench. Kristaps Porzingis is the only player on the roster with any true “closer” ability and the Warriors have two guys — Durant and Steph Curry — who have won MVPs. Once again, you can try to impress people with coaching criticism, but the math I just gave you suggests the Knicks had a low probability to win based on the talent deficit.

– For the most part, however, Fizdale had to be happy with the changes he made to the starting lineup. Ntilikina was moved to the point guard spot, while Damyean Dotson moved into the three spot, Noah Vonleh at the four and rookie Mitchell Robinson started at center. Ntilikina had himself a very good first half with 13 of his 17 points. He made three three-pointers and looked to attack on offense.

Frank Ntilikina has been able to keep up with Steph Curry in the first half of the Knicks-Warriors game. Al Trautwig and Wally Szczerbiak go over their performances.

But Fizdale suggested that Ntilikina took his foot off the gas a little in the second half, which is why he stayed on the bench for a long stretch while Trey Burke (15 points) caught fire and started to score. Robinson played “fantastic” defense according to Fizdale and you could see his timing on offense isn’t there yet, especially with lob plays.

Enes Kanter did not take the demotion well at all and the normally talkative big man kept his postgame comments to a minimum.

Enes Kanter reflects on coming off the bench and leading the second unit in the Knicks' contest against the Warriors.

He finished with 8 points and 13 rebounds in 20:11 and, apparently, was the reason why Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, who is on the inactive list, was ejected from the game. According to ESPN’s Marc Spears, Kanter and Cousins got into a verbal exchange during pregame workouts on the court and had to be separated.

The officiating crew was apprised of the situation and once Cousins started jawing with Kanter during the game, Cousins was warned by veteran referee Scott Foster and then tossed when he angrily protested the warning.

According to Spears, Cousins was telling Green to put Kanter in pick-and-roll every time. That doesn’t sound like something that should get a player ejected, so there’s got to be more to the story.

– Credit MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow for getting Steph Curry as a walk-off interview following the game and then telling Curry how Fizdale said the young Knicks had to earn the respect of the defending champs. “So, did they earn your respect?” she asked. “Oh for sure,” Curry said. But then he went on to butcher Frank Ntilikina’s name — “Nik-a-lina, Nik-a-lina? Is that how you pronounce it?” — while trying to compliment the 20-year-old.

Steph Curry speaks to Rebecca Haarlow after scoring 29 points in the Warriors' 128-100 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

While many of us took a little time to learn how to say Frank’s name, you know you’ve truly earned respect when your opponent knows how to say your name. “How he played tonight obviously showed a lot of promise in what he can bring to that team,” Curry then said. “But it’s an experience. We’ve all been there before in some way shape or form where you want to compete and that’s what they did.”

When told Curry said the Knicks earned the Warriors’ respect, Tim Hardaway Jr. replied, “Thanks but no thanks. No moral victories . . . That’s excellent, but at the end of the day, we’re going home with the L.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. speaks to the media after the Knicks' 128-100 loss to the Warriors at The Garden.

[Watch the Knicks Host the Rival Nets Monday at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Get the App Now]