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Nets 134, Warriors 117: Kevin Durant Returns to Golden State in a Brooklyn Blitz

When you’ve got three all-world scorers who double up in filling any number of columns in the box score — when they all can do everything, essentially — sometimes it helps to simplify things by adding a little definition.

That’s what Kyrie Irving did earlier this week with James Harden.

“I just looked at him, and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that,” said Irving. “So he’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job. It just makes my job easier to just go out and play free and just make plays. It’s a luxury. I just want to continue it.”

It's not as if the Brooklyn Nets had any issues on the offensive end anyway, but with Kevin Durant back in the fold as well on Saturday night in his return to Golden State, the Nets carved up the Warriors in a 134-117 win.

All the signs pointed to a game like this, with Durant filling out Brooklyn’s big three again after missing the last three games, and with both teams running out small-ball lineups in the absence of both starting centers, setting the stage for a wide-open evening on the offensive end.

The Nets took advantage with six scorers in double figures while shooting 53.8 percent and 41.0 percent from 3-point range. They dished out 35 assists on 50 field goals, with 16 of those distributed by Harden, the most by a Net since the 2011-12 season.

“He’s an elite playmaker,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “He brought that to our team, to our profile as a team, so while he only took 11 shots tonight, still had 19 points. But his playmaking is what makes our team improve more so than his scoring. Now, we want him to be aggressive and score and shoot the ball, but the special part of what he brings to our team is his playmaking and does allow it to all fit together.”

This wasn’t an all-new development. Harden has had double-digit assists in 12 of his 14 games as a Net, he leads the league with 16 points/assists double-doubles this season, and he also came into the game simply leading the league in assists.

But Saturday’s display was a wondrous mix of precision court-length dimes to teammates beating the Warriors down the floor, skip passes into 3-pointers, and point-perfect deliveries to rim rollers. It was an exclamation point on the approach Harden has taken since he arrived a month ago; a three-time, league-leading scorer opting to prioritize playmaking alongside Irving and Durant.

“I came to this team knowing that they have two special scorers on this team,” said Harden. “Obviously I can score when I need to, but as long as I’m getting everybody involved and Ky is getting the shots that he wants, KD is getting the shots that he wants, it’s pretty efficient and it seems to work well that way. And offensively is not the problem for us. We can score in bunches. It’s defensively, and it seems like we’re getting a rhythm as of late, so we’ve just got to keep it up.”

Harden’s latest double-double came with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 5-of-8 from 3-point range — to accompany the 16 assists. Irving led the Nets with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting, plus five rebounds and four assists.

Durant, in his first game at Golden State since tearing his Achilles’ and leaving the Warriors for Brooklyn, had 20 points, six assists, five rebounds and two blocks. Joe Harris had 15 points and Jeff Green came off the bench for 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, with six rebounds.

Bruce Brown had 18 points for Brooklyn, with the 6-foot-4 guard getting the start as the Nets’ nominal center with DeAndre Jordan out due to personal reasons. With Golden State missing 7-foot center James Wiseman, Brown — already finishing at the rim with elite efficiency — made 8-of-12 shots and grabbed seven rebounds.

“With DeAndre out, they also have all their centers injured, so they played small,” said Nash. “So we left Jeff Green for the second unit and the closing lineup if we needed it to save some of his minutes. Bruce can guard multiple positions, he can guard Steph (Curry), he can guard Draymond (Green) a little bit, so it was important I think that we found matchups for him where he could thrive to start the game for us.”

The Nets got some early separation with 15-2 run late in the first quarter that left them with a 37-28 lead going into the second. A 10-2 run in the second quarter capped by a Harden 3-pointer pushed that lead to 16 before the Nets took a 66-51 lead into halftime.

Then they just blew the game open with a 42-point third quarter in which they shot 69.2 percent, pushed their lead to 28 points, and eventually took a 108-82 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We see something early in the clock, we want to try to take advantage of it and sometimes that speeds the game up when we try to get early offense,” said Durant. “Tonight, we got some lobs — full court lobs that got us going. Cuts to the rim that got us going. We feel like we got everything we wanted tonight.”

While Curry scored 27 for the Warriors, he was 2-for-9 from 3-point range, part of the Nets limiting Golden State to 26.5 percent shooting (9-for-34) from deep.

“For the most part, we were locked in,” said Nash. “We were talking and stuck with the game plan, so I thought we grew a little bit defensively. Incredible challenge playing against Steph Draymond (Green), and the way they all play and cut and move, create opportunities for Steph and Steph creates space and opportunities for them. Great challenge, and I thought we were pretty locked in with our game plan, didn’t make a lot of mistakes and had a lot of focus.”