Durant takes ‘good first step’ in Brooklyn
Star forward solid in Nets preseason opener at Barclays
A league Most Valuable Player award, 10 All-Star Game appearances and two NBA Finals MVPs weren’t enough to keep Kevin Durant from feeling both “anxious and nervous” for his much-anticipated Brooklyn debut on Sunday.
The Nets’ superstar forward, out for the previous 18 months due to a gruesome Achilles injury suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals as a member of the Golden State Warriors, described his first game at Downtown’s Barclays Center as a “good first step.”
“I visualized this moment for so long, you know? Nine, 10 months just thinking about how it would be this next phase of my career,” Durant said after putting up 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals in the Nets’ 119-114 preseason victory over the Washington Wizards.
Durant spent the better part of the past year and a half rehabbing from injury and wondering when or if the 2020-21 season would begin as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the sporting world.
Though he had been practicing and working out with teammates at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park since training camp opened last month, Durant wasn’t sure exactly how his 32-year-old body would respond in an actual game, albeit of the exhibition variety.
“I felt good,” said Durant after hitting 5-of-12 shots from the floor in 24 minutes, including a driving dunk for his first two points as a Net just 48 seconds into play against the Wizards.
“I want to play at the highest level of basketball, you know? That’s the highest intensity of basketball, and it’s not in preseason.”
The Nets had been waiting to show off Durant to the Brooklyn faithful since the Washington, D.C., native signed here alongside Kyrie Irving in the summer of 2019.
While Irving played 20 games during an injury-shortened campaign last year, Durant had to sit and wait his turn while watching his teammates get bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by Toronto at the NBA’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida.
Despite the grueling rehab and a bout with the coronavirus himself back in April, the waiting was the hardest part for Durant, who was brought here with Irving to deliver the Nets’ first-ever NBA title and our borough’s first major pro sports championship since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“So, I felt like I was just chomping at the bit. Especially once COVID hit, I was just so frustrated because I didn’t see an end,” Durant revealed.
“I mean, I didn’t see the future, where the season was going to start in the future, so I was just so, I was going through it. So to go through this felt solid, and I’ve just got to keep building on it.”
Durant will get that opportunity on Friday, when the Nets travel to Boston to face the Celtics in another fanless preseason contest.
That will be the final tune-up before Brooklyn’s regular-season opener on Dec. 22 against Durant’s former Warriors teammates on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
Irving finished with a team-high 18 points Sunday in his first game action for the Nets since Feb. 1, when he was shut down for the season to undergo shoulder surgery.
Rookie head coach Steve Nash enjoyed the view from the Brooklyn bench as Durant and Irving combined for 33 of the Nets’ 68 first-half points.
“That’s one of the perks of this position is you get to coach two incredible players,” said Nash.
“Ky was super sharp, and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff, was very good and close to being incredible. He’s going to keep building and getting comfortable. When you have that type of injury, it’s kind of remarkable that he’s at the level he’s at. Those two were great, and we’re really positive about them getting a stretch of minutes and some game time in their legs and we’ll keep building.”
As will Durant, who knows the best is yet to come, both for him in a Brooklyn uniform and for the Nets as a serious Eastern Conference contender.
“Like I said, it’s a good first step. I want to play at an elite level late in the season and playoffs,” Durant noted.
“That’s when I want to play my best basketball, so I’m working towards that point. So I think every single day just keep working and getting used to it. I think my rhythm and timing is going to get better as I move on, so I’m just looking forward to each day.”
Nothing But Net: Though most of the attention went to Durant and Irving on Sunday, several other Nets had big games in the exhibition win. Newly acquired Landry Shamet scored 13 points, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Taurean Prince had 11 apiece and Spencer Dinwiddie added 10 for Brooklyn, which ran out to a 38-20 lead after 12 minutes. “I thought we saw flashes of everything,” said Nash. “We saw good stints, where I thought we were really impressive at both ends of the floor, but overall, it wasn’t really as sustainable as we’d like. But that’s to be expected this early, a week of practice, and like I said, we’re going to err on the side of trying to help them manage their physical preparation as much as anything. Overall, it was a really productive exercise for us today. It will be good to look at it overnight and continue to refine and tweak. The guys, I thought, played well and tried to play the right way and we’ll get better.”
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