After being missing for nearly two months, Kevin Durant was back. And he was brilliant.
Durant’s return from a hamstring injury took the Nets to another level in a 139-111 defeat of the Pelicans before 1773 at Barclays Center. The win took the Nets (36-16) to first place in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of the 76ers.
While James Harden watched from the couch with a hamstring tension, Durant came back after missing 23 consecutive games with his own hamstring tension. Wednesday was his first action since February 13 in Golden State, and his first game as Net for Brooklyn fans.
Durant missed last season to recover from a torn Achilles, and COVID-19 forced the Nets into Barclays Center without fans this season. The fans’ initial taste of their star player was sweet. Durant had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists (and was a plus-17) in just 19 minutes off the bench. He also had six sales.
“I expected to come out here and play the way I played. I was not trying to calm down in the game. I just wanted to get out and get right into the action, ”said Durant. “It was good to play for the fans too.”
Kyrie Irving had 24 points and six assists, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points. But Durant was perfect from the floor (5 for 5), off the 3-point arc (2 for 2) and off the charity line (5 for 5). In true MVP fashion, he opened the game to everyone.
Coach Steve Nash took him off the bench to manage his minutes in case the game was close. He needn’t have worried, the way the Nets blew out New Orleans. The Nets shot 55.4 percent, hit 19-for-41 from deep and led a whopping 38 points.
“Everyone is excited to see him, which is a big part of our team he is. And he’s one of the greats of all time, so it was absolutely thrilling that our guys saw him out there, it gave them a boost, ”said Nash. “We’ve had a lot of it this year, guys in and out. So it was nice to have him back.
“It has been a long absence that no one predicted, even when it first happened. So we’re just excited that he felt good, played well and is back. And seeing that smile on his face was important to me too. So just excited for him. He loves the game more than anything, and he has to play out of it. “
By the time Durant warmed up and made it to the jury table in the second quarter, the Nets were already in control. When he checked in with 7:37 over in the half – to a loud roar – they led 53-44.
Durant reversed an Irving feed to make the Nets 58-46 with 6:42 left in the half, sending them off to the races.
From the moment Durant checked in to half time, the Nets hit 8 of 12 shots to end the half with a run of 26-15.
“When we move our bodies and we move the basketball like we did and we talk about defense, it’s fun out there,” Durant said. “You have experienced players who know how to play and it feels like these guys can finish my sentence before I’m done. So these guys know the game inside and out. “
By the time he sat down again with 4:46 left in the third, the Nets had put together an extended 48-30 run that spanned the break. They fired a misprint-like 17-for-22 with Durant on the floor during that protracted attack.
‘You could see that I think there is a lot of potential there. Playing basketball with Kevin Durant is not difficult. He’s gonna make boys better, ”Nash said.
“After missing two months and then coming back and looking so comfortable, it’s just crazy,” said Blake Griffin. “But in terms of playing with him, players like that, some of the guys we have just make the game easy.”
The Nets started their lead early in the fourth to 120-82 on a 3 to Chris Chiozza, and the rest of the game was time to waste.