Nets 128, Suns 119: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving Combine for 67 Points in Brooklyn Win

There aren’t a lot of combos than can combine for 67 points on 55 percent shooting and leave the impression of a routine day. The Brooklyn Nets have one of those back intact as Kevin Durant returned to the lineup on Sunday afternoon to team with Kyrie Irving in a 128-119 win over the Phoenix Suns.

“It’s more normal that they're efficient like that, than otherwise,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “I think Kevin's shown that his scoring doesn't seem to get affected by a long layoff whether it was coming off the Achilles or coming off the hamstring, Kevin seems to come right back in; his rhythm and timing are excellent. So yeah, I mean, it's very impressive, for sure. I don't want to diminish how special they are. But it's more the norm than I think than extraordinary for those two.”

Durant had missed Brooklyn’s last three games after leaving last Sunday’s game against Miami due to a thigh contusion, but as when he returned from a longer layoff two weeks ago, he looked right in rhythm.

Again, Nash brought Durant off the bench in his return to manage his minutes, and again the Brooklyn offense took off shortly after he entered the game, turning a 12-point second-quarter deficit into a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

After entering the game with eight minutes to go in the second quarter, Durant scored nine points before halftime and went on to score 33 in 28 minutes, shooting 12-of-21 overall and 2-of-4 from 3-point range with six rebounds and four assists.

“You get your footing right, you get your rhythm, and I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game, and I just wanted to resort back to that work that I put in,” said Durant. “The shots that I take in practice and shootaround, try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm, and I started to get a little bit more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start. Hopefully I build on this game and keep going.”

Irving was equally efficient, particularly with a fast start in which he scored 11 of Brooklyn’s first 13 points on the way to having 24 at halftime. He finished with 34 points — his 15th 30-point game of the season — 12 assists and six rebounds. Irving shot 10-of-18 overall and made 5-of-7 3-pointers and all nine of his free throw attempts.

“He was unbelievable,” said Blake Griffin. “Even when he’s not hitting shots, he affects the game so much because of the attention he draws. But when he’s like that tonight, you kind of give him the ball and let him do his thing. That’s a luxury to have as one of our top three guys. Him being able to go get a bucket is huge. He was great tonight, but even when his shot’s not falling, it’s the same. I still think he’s great.”

Even with Irving’s early scoring flurry, the Nets trailed 32-27 at the end of the first quarter and by as many as 12 points, with Phoenix up 56-44 with 3:44 to go in the first half.

“More than anything, (Deandre) Ayton had seven or eight offensive rebounds in the first half, and that hurt us,” said Nash. “But you could probably pick a few reasons. We weren't maybe as sharp early in the game as we were later. But we kind of grew into it and figured it out. I think some of the defensive patterns that we needed to get better at and so we got better as the game progressed. But there's probably a few factors as to why we fell behind early.”

The Nets went into halftime on a 12-3 run to close within 61-59, and it carried over when Durant came out to start the second half. Brooklyn made 15-of-23 shots — including 7-of-10 3-pointers — in a 38-point third quarter to take a 97-92 lead into the fourth quarter. Tied at 86, the Nets put together an 11-4 run that started with Durant’s baseline jumper and Jeff Green’s transition drive. A Griffin 3-pointer and Durant free throw had the Nets up 97-90 before Ayton scored for Phoenix to make it a five-point game at the end of the third quarter.

Durant scored the first five points of the fourth quarter, with his 3-pointer stretching the Brooklyn lead to 10. That launched a 16-5 run to start the quarter for Brooklyn, with a Durant jumper putting the Nets up 113-97 with 7:25 remaining in the game.

Griffin had 16 points for Brooklyn on 6-of-9 shooting with five rebounds and four assists, while Green and Joe Harris had 10 points each. DeAndre Jordan grabbed 11 rebounds.

With the win, the first-place Nets improved to 41-20, and they’re now 20-6 against the Western Conference this season. More significantly, with the win over second-place Phoenix, they’re 7-2 against the West’s top five, any one of whom could be a potential NBA Finals opponent.

“I look at it as where we are today,” said Nash. “And today we performed. We could have been better defensively, but a lot of good stretches. We created separation with our defense and offensively we were able to score. Tonight was good, lots to build on, lots of positives, but for me it’s never, ‘this is where we are,’ it’s ‘where are we going?’ And so this is an indicator of what we can do well and where we can improve and continue to chip away and get better. I don’t ever really look at it as far as who we are, where we are, I look at it as where are we trying to get to and how do we build off of this. Whether we win or lose, play well or bad, what was the lesson and what can we learn from this?”