OAKLAND — Kevin Durant is going to have to be careful now. Not just regular careful, either.
He has to be the kind of careful requires survival in under grim circumstances. Careful about what he says, when he says it, how he says it and to which game official he is speaking to at the time.
Otherwise, the Warriors could pay a price.
They paid one Thursday night, when Durant, returning to the lineup after missing six games due to a rib cartilage injury, was whistled for two technical fouls — resulting in automatic ejection — about as fast as referee Tre Maddox could twice put whistle to mouth.
“I think he said the magic word,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant.
“I got fouled and I told him how I felt about it and he kicked me out,” Durant brief explanation.
Veteran official Bill Kennedy, chief of the three-man crew that officiated this 116-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, put it another way in a statement to pool reporter Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“OK, Mr. Durant was ejected due to the fact of two technical fouls. The first technical foul was issued for vulgarity. After the first technical foul was issued the official tried to walk away, started to walk away, and the vulgarity escalated and then he was assessed a second technical foul for the escalation of the vulgarity, resulting in an ejection.”
Three different witnesses told a similar story to NBC Sports Bay Area, that Durant essentially cussed out Maddox to draw the first technical foul and continued afterward, drawing the second.
There were several moments during the game when Durant’s frustration showed. He was being grabbed. Took at least a couple elbows to his rib area.
On the crucial play, which unfolded with about 11 seconds remaining in the half, Durant drove into the paint, with three defenders — Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Eric Bledsoe — converging. Though all three appeared to make different degrees of contact with an airborne Durant, no call was made.
Durant missed the shot and wound up on the floor. He slammed both hands off the floor, then as play continued, extended his arms while walking a direct path to Maddox along the baseline.
Durant said something, Maddox whistled the technical foul, stopping the clock with 2.4 seconds remaining.
As Maddox walked away, Durant continued speaking in his direction, prompting Maddox to call a second technical foul and the ejection, using a strong throwing motion for emphasis.
Durant was in good spirits as he approached the podium maybe 30 minutes after the game for what surely would be one of his more interesting sessions in a season during which he has been ejected more than anyone else in the NBA.
This was Durant’s fifth ejection, and it was accompanied by his 13th and 14th technical fouls. A 16th tech results in an automatic one-game suspension.
It must be noted, the technical count resets in the postseason.
And that’s where the concern comes in. That’s why Durant, though hardly alone on a Warriors team that has been particularly prickly this season, has to be better at controlling his emotions even if the officials aren’t exactly on top of things.
Asked if he thought he might run into trouble in the postseason, Durant flashed his most charmingly innocent grin.
“Who me? Come on man, you know me a little better than that,” Durant said to the questioner, Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. “We had some nice conversations before. You think I’m really like that because I got thrown out of the game? All right. Thank you.
“You know me man. Come on man. It was a tech. I got thrown out of the basketball game. I wish I didn’t. I wanted to play. I’m sorry. Well I’m not sorry, but I wish I could finish the game.”
The NBA will take a good, long look at what transpired between Durant and Maddox, just as they did earlier this season when Shaun Livingston and referee Courtney Kirkland clashed, literally. A fine is at least conceivable.
Durant was ejected near the end of a 9-0 Bucks run to close the second quarter, the last two points coming when Khris Middleton made both free throws awarded for technical fouls to give Milwaukee a 58-49 lead at the half.
With Durant, the Warriors might have had a chance to recover in the second half.
Without him, they were overmatched. The Bucks led by as much as 20 in the third quarter and the Warriors never really threatened.
For Durant, it was nine seconds of fury that could results in a fine.
For the Warriors, it was a winnable game that immediately went south.
And, moreover, it was the kind of predicament they want no part of once the postseason begins in two weeks.