In sports, as in life, there are heartfelt returns to a place you once loved and still love…and then there are returns that you don’t like so much.
Both were on display in the NBA on Thursday as Damian Lillard made his long-awaited return to Portland as a Milwaukee Buck, while Kevin Durant returned to Brooklyn as a Phoenix Sun.
Lillard, who spent 11 years as a highly regarded member of the Trail Blazers before seeking a trade for a chance at a championship, admitted he got lost after first heading to the Moda locker room Center.
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“I really didn’t know where to go,” Lillard said in a pregame press conference.
“I’ve never been in the visitors’ locker room until today.”
The Blazers greats have also kept the door open for a comeback down the line.
“Because of how I feel about Portland,” Lillard said.
“How I feel about the organization here and the time I spent here, in my mind I always thought that was how my career would end.
“Right now, I’m just in a space like, this is where I am now. I’m in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to compete and our team has the opportunity to compete for this year and the years to come and I just live in that. But definitely, when I got traded, I see a day where I’ll wear a Trail Blazer uniform again before I’m done.
The Blazers showed two tribute videos during the first quarter, one about his accomplishments on the court and one about his impact off the court, with Lillard receiving a minute-long standing ovation from the crowd .
He revealed that his former teammate CJ McCollum called him on the way to pre-match shootouts to tell him to embrace the emotions of the night.
“My feelings about playing here, my feelings about doing my best for the organization while I was here, it was genuine,” Lillard said.
“It’s taken a toll on me, so I’m sure it’ll be a lot of emotions.” I’m just back there and I see the familiar faces. A lot of people in the crowd, I’ll recognize those faces because I’ve seen them many times, so many years.
“Then I’ll leave things as is.” I’m not going to cry, none of that. I’m not a big cryer, but I’m not going to hide the emotions I feel about it. I think it’s a moment that means a lot to me and a lot of other people.
Lillard had 25 points but his Bucks suffered a shock 119-116 defeat.
Meanwhile, the story wasn’t quite as sweet in Brooklyn, where Kevin Durant seemed nonplussed in front of a pregame tribute video to celebrate his brief attempt at building a superteam with the Nets.
Although he was cheered more than booed after the video, which Durant had said he didn’t want to see, the boos quickly piled up as Durant’s 33-point night led the Suns to victory.
He still praised the Nets for the post-game video, explaining: “There are some classy people here. They appreciate everyone who put on the jersey… And it shows great organization when you can appreciate everyone who stepped up and put in their blood, sweat and tears. So I respect that.
At one point, Durant rolled over Cam Thomas, which is as absurd a scenario as the Nets could imagine.
He made his way down the lane during the third quarter and stood up as Thomas continued to reach. Durant easily turned over a bucket, heard the whistle signaling a foul and looked not at Thomas but at the fans behind the basket.
The former (and short-lived) Nets superstar raised his right hand and extended his index finger and thumb about an inch apart: the universal symbol for too short.
That evening, the Nets had indeed brought the JV to a varsity game.
During Durant’s return to Brooklyn, his Suns dominated the Nets – more in style of play than final score – in a 136-120 victory at the Barclays Center against a severely undermanned Jacque Vaughn squad. , a word we mean literally.
The Nets (19-28) ended a brief two-game winning streak and haven’t won three in a row since early December.
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This one, against the superstar that followed Kyrie Irving out of Brooklyn last year, must have hurt a little more than most. This must have hurt the poor wings who had to guard Jusuf Nurkic the most.
Without Ben Simmons, Dorian Finney-Smith and Day’Ron Sharpe, the Nets were forced to place comparative ants on the Suns’ 7-footer whenever Nic Claxton was off the court. (Claxton couldn’t hang on either.)
Nurkic largely dominated the match, finishing with 28 points on 11 of 15 shots, many throw-ins that met no resistance.
Nurkic added 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, helping his team past the Nets, 52-36.
Simmons, who sat out nearly three months before returning Monday, was on the bench a game later with a bruised knee.
Finney-Smith missed a second straight game with a sprained ankle and Sharpe remains out with a knee injury.
So it was wingers like Cam Johnson, Royce O’Neale and Spencer Dinwiddie who received an unfortunate matchup, and they were knocked down.
A team featuring Durant (33 points), Devin Booker (22 points) and Bradley Beal (12 points) was somehow led by a veteran center who was never an All-Star.
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The Nets had trailed during the first half and entered the break with just three points. They were rebounded poorly, but were cautious offensively, turning the ball over only twice in the half and shooting 51.1 percent from the field early.
They weren’t going to outplay Nurkic, Durant & Co., but they were going to try to outplay and outscore them, grabbing 11 steals.
The plan fell apart in the third quarter, when a 75-75 tie at the 7:31 mark became the last time the Nets could feel good about themselves.
The Suns went on a 24-6 run thanks to Durant’s 10 points, and the game never became competitive again.
A big fourth quarter from Cam Thomas (eight of his 25 points in the final period) kept the final score respectable, but the Nets were never within single digits in the fourth.
NBA SCORES (February 1 AEDT)
Bulls 117, hornets 110
Pistons 121, Riders 128
Clippers 125, Wizards 109
Kings 106, sleeve 115
Pelicans 110, Rockets 99
Mavericks 87, Timberwolves 121
Magic 108, Spurs 98
Nuggets 100, Thunders 105
Suns 136, Nets 120
Bucks 116, Trail Blazers 119