Durant and Irving shine for Brooklyn in statement win
For 541 long days, through constant questions about Durant's Achilles, media scrutiny surrounding Irving, and a global pandemic, Nets fans eagerly awaited the day they would see the star duo in action. That day finally came Tuesday and it was everything Brooklyn fans could have hoped for and more.
Brooklyn blew out the Golden State Warriors 125-99 in the NBA season opener. Irving and Durant were in peak form, their otherworldly offensive talents on full display in what will be a game to remember. Irving scored 26 points, 18 of which came in the first quarter, on 10-16 shooting from the field and 4-7 shooting from three. Durant dropped a smooth 22 points on 7-16 shooting.
It wasn't just about the win or the stats from Durant and Irving in the game. It was how this Brooklyn team went about their business. There was a feeling of synergy, confidence and swagger previously unbeknownst to Nets fans from the opening tip to the final buzzer. It was a feeling that on that night this Brooklyn team was unstoppable with the whole world watching.
Confident would best describe Durant's performance. The former MVP did whatever he wanted on the floor, cutting on a dime and exploding to the rim without hesitation to the delight of Nets fans. Durant looked like his old self, a player that many regarded as the best in the league prior to his injury.
The 6'10" forward's shooting stroke remains pure. Durant pulled up from three and elevated over defenders in the mid-range with ease. Couple that with a quick first step and tight handle and you have arguably the best three-level scoring threat in basketball history. A player who will frequently make plays that cannot be guarded, like the one below.
Durant's trust in his leg was apparent on the defensive end as well. He was an active force defensively, blocking shots, taking charges and cutting off driving lanes.
Amazingly, Irving possesses a similar scoring acumen at just 6'2". The point guard's change of direction and ball-handling ability allow him to breakdown defenses at will. He also has astonishing body control in the mid-range and at the rim, making him one of the best finishers in NBA history. All of this is illustrated in this play.
Irving has been underrated as a shooter throughout his career. He has posted career shooting splits of 47/39/88 (field goal/three-point/free throw), eerily close to the prestigious 50/40/90 club, a threshold that has been eclipsed in a season by only eight players. Amazingly, Irving's head coach Steve Nash accomplished this feat four times. Nash is one of two players in NBA history with multiple 50/40/90 seasons, the other being Larry Bird.
Irving's elite scoring repertoire wasn't the only thing on full display Tuesday night. The floor general's hustle on both ends of the floor jumped off the screen. Diving on loose balls, working hard to fight over screens, battling for offensive rebounds, Irving was doing it all.
A lot has been made about the point guard's difficulties with the media, and rightfully so, but these acts of hustle are what win the respect of teammates. Irving has reportedly taken several young players under his wing. One being fifth-year Net Caris LeVert.
“Super helpful,” LeVert said of Irving via Brian Lewis. “Super, super, super helpful. He’s one of those guys that’s calling me after a good game, calling me after a bad game, talking after every practice, when we’re on the plane, constant communication. And that’s something that I thank him for every day."
As expected, Nash brought LeVert off the bench Tuesday night and the 26-year-old looked fantastic in the sixth man role. LeVert posted 20 points, nine rebounds, and five assists on 3-5 shooting from three. Brooklyn didn't miss a beat when Irving and Durant sat with the swingman captaining the second unit. If LeVert continues his ascension towards star status he could be the piece that puts Brooklyn over the top.
Nash's squad has three players in Durant, Irving and LeVert who can create their own shot at will. Four if you include Spencer Dinwiddie. This is what often separates elite teams from pretenders come playoff time. Players that can truly be counted in clutch championship moments are extremely rare. Brooklyn has two.
While this win was over a shorthanded Warriors team, it was certainly a reminder to the league of Brooklyn's capabilities. If healthy, the Nets are a team that no one will want to face come playoff time. A team that has all the ingredients to win a championship.
Brooklyn will face a more formidable test when they travel to Boston on Christmas Day. It will be interesting to see how Brooklyn matches up with Jayson Tatum, one of the Eastern Conference's most talented scorers. Will Durant take the role of Brooklyn's defensive stopper? Or will Nash pass the duties off to a role player to preserve his health?
The win was just the first step for the Nets in what will be a long journey towards a championship. It's a long season but Tuesday night was a refreshing reminder of how far this franchise has come and how bright the future can be.