12/25 Game Preview: Nets at Celtics
The pairing of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant created big expectations for the Brooklyn Nets, and the duo did not disappoint in their debut.
The pairing also created a desire by the NBA's television partners to give the Nets as many nationally televised games as possible, and that includes the league's five-game Christmas Day showcase on Friday when Brooklyn visits the Boston Celtics.
Due to injuries, the Nets and their fans waited 18 months to see Durant and Irving together. Durant was recovering from rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals with Golden State, while Irving was limited to 20 games in 2019-20 due to shoulder injuries in a season in which he averaged 27.4 points.
On Tuesday, the Nets rolled to a 125-99 win against the Warriors in the NBA's season opener. Irving scored 26 and Durant had 22 against his old team. They combined for 17-of-32 shooting in a game Brooklyn led by as many as 38.
"It's been a long time coming," Irving said. "And I'm grateful that we could let our games do the talking."
Both players sat out the fourth quarter in Steve Nash's successful coaching debut due to the lopsided margin.
"He looks like Kevin, he plays like Kevin, but I don't want to start making expectations of him until he gets going and gets some games and some rhythm under his belt," Nash said.
The pairing of the superstars has resulted in Brooklyn's first Christmas Day game since a 95-78 home loss to the Chicago Bulls in 2013. That was the franchise's second season in Brooklyn when it acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in a trade from Boston that landed the Celtics four first-round picks.
Those acquisitions resulted in a 44-win season and also forced a rebuild by 2016. The rebuild went quicker than anticipated, resulting in a playoff berth by 2018-19 and the signings of Irving and Durant when free agency started in July 2019.
The Celtics are appearing in a Christmas Day game for the 34th time and for the fourth straight year.
Besides the return of Irving, who starred for the Celtics from 2017-19, the focus in Boston is on the emergence of forward Jayson Tatum.
Tatum averaged a career-high 23.4 points last season and signed a max extension last month. He is among the No. 1 options for the Celtics while they wait for Kemba Walker to return from a knee injury sometime next month.
In the season opener on Wednesday, Tatum led the Celtics to a dramatic 122-121 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He scored 30 points and banked in the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds.
"Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be in that position," Tatum said. "If it goes down or not, that's what I work so hard for. You just want to be in that moment."
Jaylen Brown scored 33 points for the Celtics, who got the dramatic win after entering the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead. The Celtics also got solid showings from newcomers Jeff Teague (19 points) and Tristan Thompson (12 points, eight rebounds).
"Those are the type of shots that we trust JT with, that he looks forward to," Brown said. "I don't know if he called glass, but I'll take it."
The teams split four meetings last season. Caris LeVert scored a career-high 51 points in Brooklyn's 129-120 overtime win at Boston on March 3 and the Celtics shot 56.8 percent in a 149-115 romp in the Orlando bubble on Aug. 5.