Maybe there’s a way Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area could’ve gone better.
But unless it had come in an NBA Finals game, it’s hard to imagine.
The Nets put on a dominant offensive display in thrashing the Warriors, 134-117, on Saturday in San Francisco. It was Durant’s debut at Chase Center, and his first return to the Bay Area since rupturing his Achilles while playing for Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals.
With center DeAndre Jordan out, the Nets went all-in on small ball. Durant started at stretch five and excelled with 20 points, six assists and five rebounds against the Warriors team with which he won consecutive Finals MVPs.
“It was cool. We came out, played a great game. We focused from this morning, waking up for shootaround, and it was a good vibe all day,” said Durant, who was honored with a one-minute video — a far cry from the venomous response he got when he went back to Oklahoma City after leaving the Thunder.
“The tribute video was cool. I think about those moments daily. Every single moment I have in this league, I think about it and try to analyze it and get better from it. My time here in Golden State was so much fun and such a big learning experience, especially learning the game of basketball. A different philosophy. I’m going to take that with me for the rest of my life.”
And bring the lessons learned to Brooklyn (16-12), in a quest for another title.
Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, while James Harden had 19 points, 16 assists — the most by a Net in the Brooklyn era — and eight boards. The Nets led by as much as 28, and it was 131-110 by the time the Big 3 checked out with more than three minutes left. They scored or assisted on 100 points, and the Nets were a plus-21 with them on the floor.
“That’s what they do,” coach Steve Nash said of the trio. “They’re incredibly talented, and they love the game. They came to play and that’s the luxury we have of having those offensive players. It’s still a work in progress, and our defense has got to improve, but I thought we took a step defensively.”
And stepped over the Warriors (14-13) in the process.
The Nets shot 53.8 percent and 16-for-39 from 3-point range. But far more auspicious was their maligned defense having a second straight strong game, holding the Warriors to 9-of-34 from deep on the other end in a complete rout.
The lesson learned?
“If we play defense, we can blow teams out and win games,” Bruce Brown said.
Though Durant was the nominal center, it was Brown who played like a pivot. Not known as a shooter, the physical guard punished Golden State with defensive play and savvy cuts, with Harden repeatedly finding him. He finished with 18 points and seven boards in the blowout.
Down 24-22, the Nets went on a 7-0 run to go up 29-24. They never trailed again.
Brooklyn closed the first quarter on a 15-4 run to lead the Warriors 37-28.
They kept pouring it on with Harden throwing a pass from three-quarter court for an alley-oop to Durant and a 83-63 lead. Harden’s bullet pass to Jeff Green under the basket for a three-point play made it 92-68, and Durant’s nine-foot driving floater made it 94-68 with 4:01 in the third.
Irving’s step-back pushed it to 98-70 and the Nets cruised, putting all five starters over 15 points in regulation for the first time since April 16, 1999, against the SuperSonics. They handed out a season-high 35 assists.
“It was great to see Kevin tonight. We’re all so happy for him that he’s healthy and playing at such a high level and he looks very happy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “If you don’t come out with some intent and purpose in how you are going to attack and how you are going to beat a team like that, you are in some trouble because their talent is just going to take over.”