Durant begins ‘new era’ in Brooklyn
Superstar shines in Nets' season-opening rout of Warriors
It didn’t take Kevin Durant very long to feel at home in his new Barclays Center digs Tuesday night, even if there weren’t any fans in the building.
The former two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player scored 22 points in 25 minutes as the Nets opened their most anticipated campaign ever with a 125-99 rout of Durant’s former team, the Golden State Warriors.
Playing his first regular-season game since signing with Brooklyn in the summer of 2019, Durant looked none the worse for wear despite sitting out the previous 18 months while rehabbing from a torn Achilles and a positive COVID-19 test back in April.
The one-time league MVP and 10-time All-Star went 7-of-16 from the field, hit all seven of his free throws, grabbed five rebounds, handed out three assists and picked up a trio of steals in his first contest since Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when he was still in Golden State.
Though he downplayed facing the Warriors, a team he won two championships with in three years before heading to Brooklyn, Durant couldn’t hold back what had been building inside him since Nets general manager Sean Marks brought him here along with Kyrie Irving.
“I know it’s a lot of emotions and a lot of things. I got so many calls and texts about playing again,” Durant revealed about his comeback.
“For me, I was just, I’ve got to focus on the first possession, and then try and get through that and move on each possession. I try not to make too much of a deal out of this whole thing, and realize I’ve been playing this game since I was eight years old, so just got to revert back to what I know.”
What Durant knows could be enough to help Brooklyn seriously contend for its first Eastern Conference title since 2003, its first-ever NBA title and our borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955.
But he won’t do it alone and certainly didn’t have to on Tuesday as the Nets flashed the form that has many picking them to come out of the East this season.
Irving, limited to just 20 games a season ago due to shoulder surgery, led Brooklyn with 26 points to go with four rebounds and four assists.
He and Durant teamed up to put the Warriors away early, building a 21-point lead halftime lead and opening a 35-point bulge through three quarters.
“I think it’s been a long time coming and I’m grateful that we could let our games do the talking,” noted Irving.
Caris LeVert added 20 points off the bench, Joe Harris had 10 points and seven rebounds and DeAndre Jordan snatched 11 boards for Brooklyn, which will be in Boston on Christmas Day at 5 p.m., to face the Celtics.
Though Durant and company had their way with the Warriors, the 32-year-old forward doesn’t expect himself or his new teammates to get too ahead of themselves.
“I know everybody’s excited about this new era of the Nets,” he said. “But as players we just try and take it a day at a time and focus on our jobs individually and try and bring them to the group as best as we can. And I think everybody did a solid job of that tonight.”
As did neophyte head coach Steve Nash, who began his career on the bench with what he hopes will be the first of many more wins in this 72-game campaign.
“I’d be lying to say we’re not blessed with a lot of great offensive players, and depth, a lot of shooting,” said Nash.
“So we should be able to score the ball; that shouldn’t be a problem. But we’ve just got to continue to refine it, be efficient.”
Brooklyn also showed off the defense that helped it rank 10th overall last year despite the prolonged absences of Durant and Irving.
The Nets held the Warriors to 37 percent shooting overall and just 30 percent (10-of-33) from 3-point range.
“I don’t want us to take too much credit for some of the shooting nights they had,” Nash said.
“A different night, they might knock some of those down and it looks a little different. But overall it was really solid. Not a ton of mistakes. Really diligent with our principles and game plan. So, was proud of them.”
Nash saved his highest praise for Durant, who gave Brooklynites their first taste of being serious contenders for an NBA crown with two of the sport’s biggest stars on the roster.
“He looks like Kevin, he plays like Kevin, but I don’t want to start making expectations of him until he gets going and get some games and some rhythm under his belt and adapts to playing three in four nights and playing almost every other night for a stretch,” Nash said.
“That’s the next step for him.”
Though the Nets’ next step is in Boston on Friday, Durant is still trying to play a bit of catch-up after missing out on most of the team’s basketball activities over the past year and a half.
“I’m just learning my teammates tendencies, where they like the ball, just their routines. Just getting to know my teammates a little bit more,” he revealed.
“I think with each game as we continue to build we’ll get more and more comfortable with each other. That’s probably the thing I’ve learned the most, trying to learn each guy’s favorite spot on the floor and what they like to do. So that’s going to take some time to get everyone downloaded.”
Nothing But Net: Though the Nets weren’t permitted to bring in fans to Barclays as per state guidelines, they did have several special guests at Tuesday’s opener, including clinical nurse Damalai Dalgetym, who was honored alongside the rest of the community’s essential workers throughout the game. “In the initial phases (of the coronavirus pandemic), we were very frightened,” Dalgetym recalled. “We were frightened, but we weren’t deterred. So, we got up every day, because we’re nurses, and you have to come to work. You have to take care of your patients. You have to put your hands on them. And this was the time that I feel as though I am happy that I’m a nurse. The patients need us. We had to be there for them.” The Nets also raised an Essential Workers 2020 banner to the rafters of the arena. “We’re excited to get the season started,” Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said in a pregame speech. “And without the work you guys do every day and will continue throughout this year and next year, that wouldn’t be possible.”
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