Starting with “The ‘Clean Sweep” on June 30th, 2019, it’s been quite the wait.
Add in that it’s been 552 days since Kevin Durant played on the NBA hardwood, and 316 days since Kyrie Irving played and you can see why Sunday was emotionally charged and the end of an anxious wait.
Bottom line: The Nets kicked off their most anticipated preseason with some early sparks and a win. After a shockingly good first half, Brooklyn and Washington fought hard throughout the final two quarters with Chris Chiozza replicating his big game in Boston back in March, scoring the last four points to give the Nets a 119-114 win.
The Nets held control throughout the first half against the short-handed Washington Wizards, who rested Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans. Brooklyn piled on 68 first-half points and their offense was flowing. Durant and Irving combined for 33 points in the first half. As a team, the Nets shot 63.9 percent from the field.
As the Nets superstar duo met Steve Nash’s minute mark, the Wizards kicked off the second half on a 12-0 run but could not take a lead in the third. The Nets second unit, barely kept afloat by the hot shooting of Landry Shamet, struggled to find a rhythm late in the fourth. Shamet, acquired from the Clippers in a Draft Night trade, finished with 13.
Washington took their first lead since the opening minutes at the 5:07 mark of the fourth and the game came down to the final minute. Chiozza sealed the deal with a 26-foot three with 29.8 seconds remaining, followed by a big stop on the defensive end, and hitting one of two free throws to seal the deal.
Nets superstar duo came to play
Durant, wearing the black and white Nets threads for the first time at Barclays, took to the court and gave the Nets and their fans quite that first glance of greatness
It did not take long for the 32-year-old superstar to record his first points as a Net with an emphatic slam dunk.
S ▪️ E ▪️ V ▪️ E ▪️ N pic.twitter.com/4OQIVo6xlG— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 13, 2020
Durant did not shy away from contact in his Nets debut. The 10-time All-Star took charges and drove through contact throughout the game. He finished his Nets debut with 15 points, three rebounds, and three assists in 24 minutes of play. He shot 5-of-12 from the field and 0-of-2 from beyond the arc.
“That is one of the perks of this position is that you get to coach two incredible players,” Nash said following the win. “Ky was super sharp and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff, was very good and close to incredible so he is going to keep building and getting comfortable. When you have that type of injury, it is kind of remarkable that he is at the level he is at. Those two were great and we are really positive about them getting a stretch of minutes, some game time under their legs, and we will keep building.”
As for Irving, he was rolling, rolling, rolling in the Nets preseason opener, showing flashes of his Nets debut a year ago October. The 28-year-old delivered 18 points, four assists, and one rebound in 17 minutes of play. Irving finished the night shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep.
For the duo’s teammates, how’d it feel to play with these supernova talents on the floor, you may ask? The always candid Spencer Dinwiddie wasn’t shy about the experience.
“Stress-free. That’s the best I can put it, shoot! I’m trying to win. If you can throw it to either one of them to get a bucket, and then you get the third defender, fourth defender checking you, you can get a bucket. Stress-free; this is fun, this is good for my health.”
And KD was proud of his friend, Kyrie.
“Kyrie looked incredible,” Durant said. “He is unstoppable. He is a master at his craft so he can pretty much do whatever he wants on the floor. He set the tone for us.”
Durant also praised another friend.
“Steve was great.” Durant said. “Obviously, making rotations, adjustments, and calling plays but it’s his first preseason game and he’s trying to get a feel for every player and rotations but we have a great staff too. All of those guys come in and chime in. There is no one single voice that is taking over so it has been fun thus far. We got to keep growing though.”
Reggie Perry stock rising early?
The Nets’ second-rounder showed some early bright spots in his preseason debut.
The 20-year-old rookie played eight minutes as a stretch-5 and impressed alongside the starters. His first NBA bucket came off an elbow jump shot off a pick-and-roll with Spencer Dinwiddie.
The rook is on the board @_R1bang_ with his first NBA bucket! pic.twitter.com/w7Ja6OukEp— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 13, 2020
Perry returned to the hardwood early in the fourth seeing minutes with the second unit. The rookie played well with both squads, finishing with five points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes of play. The 6’10” 250 pound Mississippi State product attempted one 3-pointer in his preseason debut as well.
On the defensive end, Perry moved well, showed his strength down low, and looked comfortable on the floor. As Perry mentioned during Nets “Media Week” he brings a different type of game to Brooklyn five depth.
“Just a different type of game,” Perry said Thursday. “Being able to stretch the floor a little bit. Being able to learn from those guys and what they do on how they play their game. Just find a balance on how to play that position.”
As it looks and yes it is early, Sean Marks got a late second-round steal. As Sarah Kustok noted at one point, the Nets think Perry could help them this season.
Caris LeVert to mirror Manu Ginobili’s role?
Ahead of the Nets vs. Wizards, Nash was undecided about what role Caris LeVert will fill for the Nets but he has an idea.
Nash is unsure whether LeVert will be a starter when he returns to the rotation ... or fill a less traditional but important role. The 46-year-old coach believes LeVert can mirror a Manu Ginobili role with the San Antonio Spurs.
“Still working through it,” Nash said. “Caris is a starter. Will he start for us? I am not sure yet. He is so good with the ball in his hands. There is a case to be made that he plays that [Manu] Ginobili role where he is clearly a starter. Manu played in All-Star games, starred on the bench, ran that second unit, and closed games.
Nash notes how the decision on Levert is a great one to have as a coach. He also has had thoughts of giving LeVert more reps with the ball in his hand outside of playing off-the-ball.
“We’ll see how it goes. It is a great luxury to have and there is a thought where he can have more reps with the ball in his hand. He captains the second unit for two stretches in the game then plays with the starters in moments or to close. All that stuff is to be figured out but it is a great decision for a coach to have.”
LeVert is coming off an impressive stint in the NBA “bubble,” posting averages of 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in six seeding games, earning him a second team berth in the so-called All-Bubble team.
The Film Room
Kyrie Irving said it best to Kevin Durant on his inaugural 7/11 Instagram live show on Saturday night.
“In my past life, I was you. I was YOU. What you are now? Same mentality. I’m getting to a spot. I’m raising up. I’m getting to a bucket. My footwork is impeccable. I have length. I’m able to shoot over the top, hold the follow-through, and I don’t see people!”
And honestly, who can blame him for having KD dreams?
Kevin Durant’s inaugural Brooklyn bucket was exciting, don’t get me wrong. To see him blow by his defender and elevate for a dunk, showcasing some zip and a very healthy frame is certainly something to get excited about.
But the bucket below… THIS is the KD we’ve all been missing. To start, Durant establishes post position and receives the entry pass from Kyrie Irving to get him deep on the block. Durant turns, faces, and then half-steps his right foot forward as if he’s about to drive. Rui Hachimura’s left foot drops back in anticipation of what could be another drive and dunk, and Durant’s release––which is practically indiscinerable from when he’s dribbling downhill––takes hold and he elevates over the top for that trademarked pull-up J.
Still can't stop KD in the midrange pic.twitter.com/IIraHHPMzu— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 13, 2020
Pristine. Post. Play. Like so many of the greats before him: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki. Just wonderful.
One more clip before we head out.
Midway through the second, Rui Hachimura decided he wanted to return the favor. Rather than rising over the top of Kevin Durant for jab-step J, he busted out some speed and resilience that only a 22-year-old could have. In response, Durant quickly flips his footwork, keeps tabs on the second-year pro, and allows him to get to the basket before tapping the ball off the glass for the chase-down block.
Kevin Durant with the block! #WeGoHard x #DCAboveAll pic.twitter.com/kSsBmWCxfX— Italo Santana (@BulletClubIta1) December 13, 2020
Look, I don’t want to jinx anything, but that sure looks like a healthy Kevin Durant. The speed, agility, and most of all, trust in his body to allow Hachimura to fall into his mouse trap of a chase-down block is a good sign for the Nets organization. Knock on wood, but the dream of small-ball five Kevin Durant, a resilient weakside protector, is alive and well.
And look, even if he isn’t 100% just yet... isn’t that even scarier for the league at large?
Landry Shamet sure agrees: “I knew they both looked really good. Only Kevin knows where he’s at. Whatever percent of Kevin Durant you saw tonight is better than… a lot of guys. It’s not really my job to say where he’s at. Both of those guys, regardless if they’re not all the way at 100%, they’re better than other guys you might see.”
For a different perspective on the game, head on over to Bullets Forever, our Wizards sister site on SB Nation.
The Nets will look to make it two out of two when the team travels to TD Garden to play the Boston Celtics on Friday. The matchup marks the first time Irving will be active to face his former team in a Nets uniform. No word on whether Nash or the Nets will rest any players for their second and final preseason game.
Game tips off Friday, Dec. 18 at 8:00 PM. Both YES and ESPN2 will carry it live.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 119, Washington Wizards 114 - NBA.com
- Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 119, Washington Wizards (Video) - NBA.com
- Highlights: Irving vs. Wizards (Video) - NBA.com
- Highlights: KD vs. Wizards (Video) - NBA.com
- Kevin Durant reflects on win over Wizards (Video) - YES Network
- KD, Kyrie shine in first half as Nets win preseason opener (Video) - ESPN
- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving Shine in Preseason Homecoming - Sopan Deb - New York Times
- Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving’s first Nets game couldn’t have gone better - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets not committing to Caris LeVert being a starter - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Return of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving has Nets seeing stars in preseason opener - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Nets coach Steve Nash sees Caris LeVert as possible sixth man or starter - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Fun-loving DeAndre Jordan takes Nets leadership role seriously - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving join forces for the first time as Nets in Brooklyn’s 119-114 preseason win over Wizards - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Steve Nash: Caris LeVert could play Manu Ginobili-like role off the bench for Nets - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant will know he’s back when he plays ‘the top players at my position’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant’s return, Kyrie Irving’s ‘incredible’ play and other Nets takeaways - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York
- Nets’ Kevin Durant opens up on first NBA game back in Sunday’s 119-114 preseason win over Wizards - Garrett Stepien - SNY
- ‘Explosive’ Durant scores 15 in 1st preseason game with Nets - AP
- ‘Nervous’ Kevin Durant shines in return from injury, calls Brooklyn Nets debut ‘good step’ - Malika Andrews - ESPN
- Nets vs. Wizards: 3 things we learned from the Nets’ win - Nick Friar - USA Today
- Kobe Bryant Couldn’t Overcome Achilles Injury. Like Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Durant Just Might - Mike Mazzeo - Forbes Sports Money
- NETS 119, WIZARDS 114: KEVIN DURANT, KYRIE IRVING SHARP IN PRESEASON OPENER - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- GALLERY: NETS VS. WIZARDS - Brooklyn Nets
- Four takeaways from the Wizards’ preseason opener against the Nets - Ava Wallace - Washington Post