Kevin Durant has dazzled in the postseason, having claimed two Most Valuable Player Awards in N.B.A. finals. But earlier than Saturday night time, his final postseason look was in 2019.
Durant, a member of the Golden State Warriors then, had labored hurriedly to return to Game 5 of that 12 months’s N.B.A. finals from a calf pressure. He performed a few quarter towards the Toronto Raptors earlier than limping off the court docket with an Achilles’ tendon tear.
Plenty has occurred in basketball and in the world since. But on Saturday night time, a tinge of familiarity returned.
There was Durant, in Game 1 of a first-round playoff collection towards the Boston Celtics, pacing the Nets in scoring in entrance of over 14,000 cheering followers at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“The whole ride this year, seeing him come back from such a devastating injury, he had such a long layoff, such a big hill to climb and a lot of doubt,” Nets Coach Steve Nash mentioned of Durant. “Who is aware of if he comes again anyplace close to the degree he’s accustomed to?
“So a tribute to his work ethic, his sacrifice, his expertise, that he’s nonetheless capable of play at an extremely excessive degree after that harm, that layoff.”
The N.B.A. had waited months to learn how Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden would carry out as headliners in a star-studded lineup.
To be certain, the Nets are working by way of wrinkles usually smoothed over throughout a conventional coaching camp, and even the common season. Cycles of accidents prevented Durant, Irving and Harden, who came to visit from Houston in a blockbuster commerce in January, from sharing the court docket usually.
Game 1, a 104-93 victory over Boston, was the first time Durant, Irving, Harden, Blake Griffin and Joe Harris began collectively this season.
“We knew it would be fun to play in front of the fans, but to step out there and see the place packed like that and the energy in the building was unbelievable,” Nash mentioned. “I think there was a little bit of newness in many ways. We weren’t sharp offensively, but we found a way.”
Nets guard James Harden celebrated a Three-point shot towards the Celtics. The Nets missed their first 10 Three-point makes an attempt, and completed eight of 34 from past the arc.Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press
The Nets disregarded a sluggish begin and, maybe, the unfamiliarity of taking part in in entrance of a large crowd for the first time since the N.B.A. paused the 2019-20 season in March.
An off-brand model of the Nets emerged in the bubble restart final 12 months at Walt Disney World in Florida. Durant and Irving had been rehabilitating from accidents. Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan didn’t play after testing optimistic for the coronavirus. Wilson Chandler opted out of resuming the season.
The Nets needed to scramble to fill out their roster, and Toronto shortly swept them from the first spherical of the playoffs.
Saturday introduced a conventional really feel, extra according to what was envisioned when Durant and Irving shook up the N.B.A. by deciding to hitch forces in free company earlier than the 2019-20 season.
Barclays Center rocked and reverberated with 14,391 spectators in attendance, the most allowed and just some thousand in need of the area’s full capability.
“Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but the crowd kind of just threw me off a little bit,” Harden mentioned. “It was pretty loud in there. The vibe was what we’ve been missing.”
The Nets missed their first 10 Three-pointers and trailed by as many as 12 factors in the first half.
“They definitely gave us an advantage, and it was weird,” Durant mentioned of taking part in once more in entrance of a giant crowd. “We haven’t seen them all season. And there was 1,500 there the last couple months of the season, but to see people at the front row and then see more in the upper and lower bowl, it was pretty cool. And I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the win, but we want to play better for them as well.”
Durant, Irving and Harden ignited in the third quarter, offering the Nets with their first 22 factors of the second half, whereas erasing a 6-point halftime deficit.
Importantly, the Nets restricted Boston to 40 second-half factors.
“Maybe we just rushed,” Nash mentioned. “We were a little impatient to start the game. I’d probably say the truth is somewhere in the middle — a little bit that they haven’t played much together, a little bit that it was an exciting evening for everyone to walk in the gym to see that many people, and our fans were outstanding.”
Durant ended with 32 factors and 12 rebounds. Both had been sport highs.
“It’s always great playing in this time of year,” Durant mentioned. “That intensity is the next level; it’s different than what’s in the regular season. It felt great to be back out there among the best teams and players in the league and looking forward to Game 2.”
Irving scored 29 factors. Harden added 21 factors, 9 rebounds and eight assists.
“It definitely felt different compared to what most of the season felt like, going to different arenas,” Irving mentioned. “But coming back home and welcoming a lot of our fans home, you could feel the anticipation for a quality basketball game out there.”
The attendance at Barclays Center on Saturday night time was 14,391. Credit…Elsa/Getty Images
Even this depleted model of the Celtics is just too skillful and prideful to be labeled as a breezy matchup for the Nets.
Marcus Smart is fortunate he isn’t a debit card, as a result of there isn’t any cost he’s unwilling to take. Robert Williams was a nuisance in the publish, blocking 9 photographs, a Celtics single-game playoff report. (Blocks grew to become an official statistic after Bill Russell had retired.)
Boston will want far more from Jayson Tatum (6 for 20 for 22 factors) and Kemba Walker (5 for 16 for 15 factors) to steal a sport or two and switch the matchup right into a collection.
“Anything can happen,” mentioned Irving, a former Celtic who would know firsthand when he mentioned Boston was a well-coached workforce. “Especially against the Celtics. That lucky Irishman is always around the Celtics.”
Irving added: “It’s going to be a great battle between a lot of great players on the floor.”
If it’s the case that “anything” doesn’t occur, Brooklyn will proceed utilizing this collection to get wanted repetitions earlier than going through what will likely be a tougher second-round opponent, the winner of the collection between the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the sixth-seeded Miami Heat.