At long last, Durant delivers in his Nets debut

  • Staff Writer
  • Joined ESPN in 2018
  • Appears regularly on ESPN Chicago 1000

NEW YORK — Ahead of the Nets’ season opener against the Warriors, Golden State coach Steve Kerr sat down to watch some film of his former player Kevin Durant. He pulled up Brooklyn’s preseason game against Boston and took in Durant’s first competitive play since tearing his Achilles in June of 2019.

“I didn’t know what to expect given that it’s been really a year and a half since his last game,” Kerr said. “But I could not tell one difference between seeing him 18 months ago and seeing him the other night.”

Durant has stayed away from making any sweeping edicts, but Kerr got a front-row seat to Durant’s dominance on Tuesday as he put up 22 points in a 125-99 victory against his former team.

And this time, it wasn’t a preseason warm-up.

Durant splashed in midrange jumpers over Andrew Wiggins, elevated for one-handed slams, threaded the ball through defenders to find DeAndre Jordan at the rim and splashed in 3s. While he wasn’t on a minutes restriction, coach Steve Nash said before the game that he would be “thoughtful” with Durant’s playing time. He ended up out on the floor for 25 minutes.

Along with his scoring, Durant had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He shot 7-of-16 from the field and didn’t miss from the free throw line in seven attempts.

With Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the way, Brooklyn picked up steam quickly. The Nets jumped out to an 18-8 lead in the first quarter after Durant soared toward the basket and delivered an authoritative dunk. He racked up a quick 10 points in the first quarter, and Irving — who hasn’t played competitive basketball since February after injuring his shoulder — led the team with an early 17 points.

Irving — who nailed nearly impossibly deep 3-pointers and showcased his flashy, signature ballhandling — finished with a team-high 26 points. Neither Durant nor Irving played in the fourth quarter.

As Durant made his way to the bench at the end of the third quarter, his night complete, he high-fived every teammate and coach, weaving from the first row of folding chairs to his seat in the second row, grinning. He stared up at the scoreboard, as if taking in the numbers behind his return that were displayed, and pulled his gray warm-up shirt over his head.

With Irving by his side, the star duo watched as their teammates added to Brooklyn’s lead. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Nets were up by more than 30. Durant clapped and doled out high-fives, the next step of his comeback complete.

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