What happens when you plug Kevin Durant into the NBA’s hottest team?
The superstar returned on Wednesday night and played his part in a superlative offensive show as the Nets blitzed the New Orleans Pelicans, 139-111 at Barclays Center.
The Nets had won 21 of their last 25 games coming in, much of that while Durant was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Make that 22 of 26 and a 36-16 record that keeps the Nets atop the Eastern Conference standings as the Net won their ninth straight game at Barclays Center, and their 18th in their last 20.
In his first game since Feb. 13, Durant scored 17 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including two 3-pointers, with seven rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes.
Durant entered the game with 7:37 remaining in the second quarter and quickly scored his first points curling into a smooth mid-range jumper. Fouled on a 3-point attempt, he made three free throws, then scored in transtion to put the Nets up 63-50. He played the remainder of the half from his entry, putting up nine points before halftime.
“He played great,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “You know, he's been on the court a ton; he just hasn't been able to go up and down until more recently. So his skills have been sharp, making shots and all that stuff. And like I said before the game, he's a guy that can fit into almost any style. So, amazing. First game back, I thought the overall team performance was really strong, attention to detail defensively was there and proud of the guys for the effort.”
The Nets steamrolled the Pelicans over the middle quarters, turning a three-point game into a rout by outscoring them 79-49 while shooting 73.6 percent overall and 66.6 percent from 3-point range in the second and third quarters.
The Nets took a 33-point lead into the fourth quarter, having scored 115 points while shooting 60.6 percent overall and 58.6 pecent from 3-point range through three quarters. They finished up with a season-high 37 assists and seven double-figure scorers.
Kyrie Irving led Brooklyn with 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-6 3-pointers, plus six assists. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 8-of-12 and made both of his 3-pointers in scoring 22 points.
Joe Harris scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Jeff Green had 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists.
Chris Chiozza scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and Blake Griffin finished with 10.
The Nets shot 56.5 percent overall and 61.1 percent from 3-point range in taking a 79-59 halftime lead, outscoring the Pelicans 43-26 in the second quarter. It was a season-high for any half for the Nets this season, and the third-most first half points in any game in franchise history. The 43 second-quarter points matched a season-high for any quarter.
Griffin’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Brooklyn a 36-33 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the Nets just took off from there. Aldridge and Griffin combined for a 9-2 burst to open the quarter and extend the Brooklyn lead to double-digits.
Brooklyn was up 66-54 before closing the quarter on a 13-5 run. Harris and Nic Claxton converted drives, and Irving delivered a highlight pass to Green for a transition finish. After five Pelicans points, Irving made a 3-pointer, Durant hit two free throws, and Irving did the same with 1.6 seconds left in the half for a 20-point lead.
The Nets shot 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) and 6-for-7 (85.7) percent from 3-point range in the second quarter and made all nine of their free throws.
There was no respite for New Orleans after the break. The Nets made 12 of their first 13 shots in the third quarter, including 5-of-6 3-pointers, ran their lead to 35 points, and took a 115-82 lead into the fourth quarter, celebrating Durant’s return and a one-sided win.
“I think everyone's excited to see him, what a big piece of our team he is,” said Nash. “And you know what, he's one of the all-time greats. So I think for our guys to see him back out there was definitely exciting, gave them a boost. I think we've had a lot of that this year, guys in and out. So it was nice to have him back; it's been a long absence that no one predicted, even when it first happened. So we're just thrilled that he felt good, he played well, and he's back. And to see that smile on his face was important for me as well. So, just thrilled for him. He loves the game more than anything, and he needs to be out there playing.”