After missing almost two months, Kevin Durant was back. And he was brilliant.
Durant’s return from a hamstring injury lifted the Nets to another level in a 139-111 route of the Pelicans before 1,773 at the Barclays Center. The victory boosted the Nets (36-16) to first place in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of the 76ers.
When James Harden looked off the bench with a hoarding load, Durant came back after missing 23 straight games with his own hoarding load. Wednesday was his first action since Feb. 13 at Golden State, and his first game as a net in front of Brooklyn fans.
Durant missed last season by recovering from a broken Achilles, and COVID-1
“I expected to come out here and play the way I played. I was not trying to ease into the game. I just wanted to go out there and dive right into the action, ”Durant said. “It was also good to play in front of 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), beyond the 3-point arc (2-for-2) and from the charity strip (5-for-5). In true MVP fashion, he opened the game to everyone else.
Coach Steve Nash brought him off the bench to control his minutes, in case the game was close. He did not have to worry about how the Nets jumped out of New Orleans. Net shot 55.4 percent, was 19-for-41 from deep and led by as many as 38 points.
“Everyone is happy to see him, what a big part of our team he is. And he’s one of the greats, so for our guys to see him out there was definitely exciting, gave them a boost, ”said Nash. “We have had a lot of that 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’m just excited that he felt good, he played well and he’s back. And it was also important for me to see this smile on his face. So just excited for him. He loves the game more than anything else and he needs to be out there and play. ”
When Durant took his warm-ups off and stroked against the goal scorer’s table in the second quarter, the nets were already in control. When he checked in with 7:37 left in the half – to a loud roar – they led 53-44.
Durant hit a turnaround from an Irving feed to put the Nets up 58-46 with 6:42 left in the half and sent them off for the race.
From the time Durant checked in for the break, the Nets hit 8 out of 12 shots to close out the half on a 26-15 run.
“When we move our bodies and we move basketball like we did and we talk in defense, it’s fun out there,” Durant said. “You have veteran players who know how to play and it feels like these guys can finish my sentence before I even finish. So these guys know the game inside out. ”
When he sat back with 4:46 left in the third, the Nets had put together an extended 48-30 run that spanned breaks. They shot a misprint-like 17-for-22 with Durant on the floor during the extended offensive attack.
“You could see, I think there is a lot of potential there. It’s not hard to play basketball with Kevin Durant. He wants to make guys better, ”Nash said.
“After missing two months and then coming back and looking comfortable, it’s just crazy,” Blake Griffin said. “But when it comes to playing with him, players like that, some of the guys we have, they just make the game easy.”
The Nets opened their lead up to 120-82 early in the fourth on a 3 by Chris Chiozza and the rest of the game was rubbish.