With the clock running down and the Nets up four, Kevin Durant sensed blood in the water. He drove right, brought the ball behind his back, then stepped-back for a dagger wing three-pointer, putting the nail in the coffin for the Nets in their 122-116 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
The shot touched nothing but net, and as Durant ran back to his bench after a Nuggets timeout, he gestured a reverse fist pump with his thumb, as if to say “get them out of here.”
This is why you pay him the max.
The Nets signed Durant to a $164 million contract despite knowing he’d be out all of Year 1 due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Without Kyrie Irving (personal leave) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partial ACL tear), Durant turned in his most dominant performance as a Net, leading Brooklyn to a timely win over a likely Western Conference playoff contender.
The star forward recorded his first triple double as a Net, running up 34 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds on the night. He scored 28 points in his first 29 minutes on the floor before heating up again down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
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Without their two-best playmakers, the Nets needed Durant to be more aggressive in picking his spots. He turned the ball over seven times but consistently looked to get his teammates involved and made the correct read out of double teams.
Durant’s night was also historic: He passed both Elgin Baylor and Dwyane Wade to move up to 29th on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list, while recording his seventh straight game with 25 or more points. The franchise record is eight straight, held by Bernard King in the 1977-78 season.
The Nets were ugly out of the gate. Turnovers piled up, with Brooklyn recording seven giveaways in the game’s first 10 minutes. The so-called “prioritized” Nets defense also gave up 70 Denver points in the first half.
The Nets couldn’t get a handle on all-world center Nikola Jokic, who dominated Jarrett Allen to the tune of 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds on the night. Allen could not guard Jokic in the paint, or on the perimeter and turned in one of his worst games of the early season: just six points, five rebounds and three assists on the night.
DeAndre Jordan did not play, marking the first time the veteran center has recorded a DNP since being named the starter on opening night. The Nets may have been able to use Jordan’s size and strength against the lumbering Jokic, but Nash opted for a small-ball lineup, running veteran forward Jeff Green as the team’s backup five.
Nash also went with yet another new combination of starters, marking his seventh different starting five in his 11 games. The Nets started Bruce Brown at the one, along with Joe Harris, Green, Durant and Allen.
Caris LeVert came off the bench and turned in one of his better performances, finishing with 20 points, six assists and five rebounds on the night. Brown, in his first start at the one, finished with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks, while playing strong defense on Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray.
It is unclear whether Durant, who is still fresh on the court after taking a year off to rehab his ruptured Achilles, will play Tuesday’s game against the Knicks since it will be the second game of a back-to-back.
What became clear on Tuesday night was just as clear when the Nets signed Durant two summers ago: When healthy, No. 7 can be the best player on the floor at all times.©2021 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.