It happened with just under eight minutes to go in the second quarter.
The Barclays Center crowd grew anxious as Kevin Durant, who was announced a starter after missing 23 games with a hamstring injury, was replaced in the starting lineup by Bruce Brown at tipoff. That anxiety grew palpable as coach Steve Nash deployed 10 other players in the first quarter alone.
Was everything OK? Did Durant suffer a setback? Would a socially-distant and almost sold-out crowd have to wait another day to see the best player in the City?
No. No. And ultimately, hell no.
Durant returned on Wednesday night and powered the Nets to a 139-111 victory over the Pelicans. More than any basket or assist or rebound or steal he logged, it was his presence that opened the floodgates for a blowout.
The party started at Barclays Center with 7 minutes, 50 seconds to go in the second quarter. That may have been by design: Nash subbed his ace in when his team took an early nine-point lead.
Durant’s slim, seven-foot frame sauntered off the bench to the nearest baseline, where he did a hopscotch-like warmup under the basket. Then he walked up the sidelines, donning the brightest of bright yellow sneakers, and sat on the scorer’s table. Kyrie Irving hit the ground shortly after, prompting a whistle from the nearest official.
Durant, accompanied by Nash, looked up at the jumbotron, then took off his warmup shirt. The number seven and his last name approached the hardwood for the first time since Feb. 13, when he strained his hamstring in San Francisco against his former Warriors teammates.
The anxiety disappeared and out came excitement and confidence. It was party time in Brooklyn, and the guest of honor finally arrived.
It didn’t take long for Durant to get his first bucket. The self-proclaimed “Easy Money Sniper” first cashed in on a mid-range shot created by a pindown screen. He scored again shortly after, attacking in transition for a contested layup.