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Kyrie Irving scores 37, sets Nets Christmas record as Nets defeat Celtics, 123-95

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

It had shades of their preseason game a week back but it was much, much more. Kyrie Irving was vintage Kyrie while Kevin Durant showed flashbacks of his MVP campaign. Post-game, Durant was asked if he was surprised that he and his co-star have had such strong early returns of success. He succinctly responded:

“No.”

Fair enough.

Final score: Nets 123, Celtics 95. How convincing have the Nets been? The last time an NBA won its first two games of the season by 20 points, was 12 years ago, the 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers, who won the championship that season.

Although overall it was a strong, even stunning Christmas Day performance, the game started with a sloppy first half, which included 12 turnovers. The second half, on the other hand, was a flipped script. Or you might say, a flippin’ script.

The Nets superstar duo arose in the third stealing the Christmas spotlight. After recording only nine points in the first half, Durant took over and ran the show. He lit up TD Garden in the third quarter, scoring 16 points, leaving the Celtics dazed. In addition to Durant piling up those 16, Irving tallied another 12 in the quarter, the two ultimately combining for 66 points, Kyrie with 37, KD with 29.

Steve Nash provided insight into the game of two halves and the show.

“Our offense was a little shaky in the first half. We didn’t set ourselves up, create any advantages, or knock the first domino down enough, but we adjusted.” Nash said. “We turned it over, gave up offensive rebounds in the first half but in the second half, we didn’t turn it over and didn’t give up as many offensive rebounds. That was just down to competing, wanting it, and matching their physicality.”

Durant himself detailed what kindled his ferocious second-half run post-game.

“Ball just came in my hands, and I just tried to be aggressive, going downhill. To end that first half, we played a spread game, ran pick-and-rolls, and relied on our defense. We wanted to end that first-half with the ball in Kyrie’s hands so we could get some good shots and go at their bigs in the pick-and-roll. So I felt like I was just waiting for opportunities in the second half to just be aggressive and shoot it, and I was able to knock them down.”

Irving finished his regular-season return to Boston with a line that would have quieted any crowd if they’d permitted inside TD Garden: 37 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in 33 minutes of play. He shot 13-of-21 overall and 7-of-10 from deep, in the process tieing the NBA record for three’s on Christmas Day.. His 37 points also set a new record for most points scored by a Net on Christmas day.

“We just settled in, let the game come to us, and we just felt back,” Irving said post-game. “It was just about matching their physicality and doing what it took to get the dub.”

KD continued Christmas Day tear

There is no secret that Durant thrives under the Christmas Day lights … and he did not disappoint this time around.

Entering the game with nine Christmas games under his belt, the Nets superstar was only one of five players in NBA history to average 30.0+ points on the holiday. In addition, KD has scored at least 20 points in each of his Christmas day games.

Durant continued his historic Christmas tear Friday, tallying 29 points as well as four rebounds, and three assists in 33 minutes - shooting 9-of-16 overall and 3-of-4 from deep.

So, you may be wondering, how would Durant be spending his historic night?

“With the team,” said KD post-game. “We got a team dinner later on tonight. It’s definitely still tough being away from the fam. A lot of guys got kids. But it’s gonna be good to spend the rest of the night with the guys and enjoy the rest of the night.”

Harris breaks franchise record

In the first quarter, as the Nets and Celtics battled, Joe Harris hit a three and broke a record. By hitting the triple, Harris had made a 3-pointer in 62 games, breaking D’Angelo Russell’s mark set in 2018-19. Harris is now 4-of-9 in two games, or 44.4 percent. Harris was also +23 for the game, behind only Kevin and Ky who were, no surprise, +31.

The Film Room

Caris LeVert had a slow start on Christmas, perhaps a little sluggish from a busy night of delivering presents to children across the land. But that’s the beauty of utilizing the 26-year-old in an off-the-bench role; he only requires one quarter to get hot and swing games.

LeVert carried the charge home in quarter four of the Christmas Day blowout against Boston, carrying the torch after KD’s fiery third-quarter run. “Baby Durant,” as some call LeVert, possesses some of the iciest isolation tools in the game––a stop-and-go skill-set that causes flat tires aplenty for his opponents; a symphony of micromovements and hesitations that work together like a beautiful caroling chorus; and expertise in the pick-and-roll with All-Star qualities.

Below, he gets Jayson Tatum on his backside, waits for Jarrett Allen to spring into action for the screen, and then juts forward a half-second early the opposite direction from Allen’s pick––fooling Tatum wholeheartedly, as he was awaiting the contact of Allen’s screening body, placing Tatum a handful of steps behind the play. Skip pass to Landry Shamet, splash. Masterful.

And then of course, we’ve got to talk about the big guy. Number 7. The former MVP. You know the name.

In what was mostly a dead possession, Durant received the ball at the top of the key with Jayson Tatum, one of the best wing defenders in the entire league, defending with 4 seconds to spare on the shot clock. Durant crosses, hits a hang dribble, and then bulldozes to the basket, using the full length of the half court to his advantage by stretching that dribble all the way to the baseline. Then, all at once, he molds that wiry 6’11” frame around the Boston’s star’s body, twisting and turning his way in for an effortless dunk. A blow-by against one of the best defenders in the entire league.

The man is back.

DEFENSE, DEFENSE

How good has the Nets defense been? For the second straight game, the Nets held their opponent to under 40 percent shooting overall — 37.8 percent — and under 30 percent from deep — 29.6. The Warriors were held to 37 and 30.

The Nets and Christmas

Brooklyn played their third game on Christmas since relocating in 2012. The Nets haven’t really played that well on Christmas Day throughout their history.

After today’s win, the team is now 5-5 all-time playing under the holiday lights. It also helped fans forget their last Christmas Day game which ended in a not-so-merry 95-78 loss to the Bulls.

Looks like New York has their new Christmas Day team moving forward.

The Harden rumors… they never die!

As the days turn, the nights get longer, the winters colder (sort of), yet one thing remains consistent: James Harden and the Houston Rockets continue their standstill, eye-to-eye in the world’s longest staring contest, waiting for the other party to budge.

Harden has, of course, graciously broadened his search for a new franchise to represent, adding the Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers to his prospective list according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick––a list that once upon a time only included the Brooklyn Nets, but circumstances have forced both teams to move on to greener pastures…

Or so we thought…

At halftime of the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks Christmas meetup, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported

“Several teams (are) talking with Houston about James Harden, and among those teams that have had conversations––and even recent conversations––are both Brooklyn and Boston. And I think Houston feels right now, that any deal they did for James Harden might need to include a third team. They are out trying to find a great young player that they could bring in as part of a trade. I think any deal for Harden may be complex, may include three, maybe four teams.”

Sigh. #Beardmare truly never ends.

However, pregame, Steve Nash shot down those rumors with sincerity and aplomb.

“I haven’t had any conversations about (James Harden),” Nash said of talks with GM Sean Marks. “We definitely work in close proximity. I haven’t had any conversations or any alerts, so maybe that says it all. We’re excited for the players we have, working every day trying to get better. For me, it’s just been a blast. I’ve been learning a lot and enjoy working with our guys. No one has conferred with me about the possibilities.”

Well then. I guess there’s nothing better to do but just wait and see. As Jeff Van Gundy said during the Orlando “bubble,” the Nets would be better suited to go with “layers of players” rather than a “third star.”

What’s next

With a day to sleep off the Christmas festivities, perhaps some celebratory eggnog and maybe a few too many Christmas cookies, the 2-0 Nets return to action in what should be an enticing matchup against an incredibly fun upstart squad, LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets. Though the game is in Charlotte’s home arena, the Hornets will be on the wrong end of a back-to-back, hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder the night before.

As of now, there’s no indication that Kevin Durant won’t be participating.

“I wanna play as much as I can,” said KD. “But I definitely want to trust in the training staff and organization to do its best. We’ll see. We’ll see. But I definitely plan on playing in the next game.”

The game will tip at 7PM EST on NBA TV.

For a wholly different perspective on Christmas, head on over to Celtics Blog, our sister site on SB Nation.