CHARLOTTE, N.C. — So that’s what the Nets look like with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the court.
Even when Durant is having an off night.
Irving pumped in a season-high 50 points on Tuesday night as the Nets snapped a four-game losing streak, got back to .500 and took over sole possession of eighth place in the East by outclassing the Hornets, 132-121, at Spectrum Center.
Irving shot 15-for-19 from the floor, 9-for-12 from three-point range and 11-for-13 from the line in the fifth 50-point game of his career and third with the Nets.
"We needed that Kyrie," Seth Curry said.
Andre Drummond added 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Nets, who shot 18-for-35 (51.4%) on threes.
Durant, in his third game back after a knee injury, had a quiet night with 14 points. Durant scored 31 and 37 in his first two games back, but the Nets lost both.
Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier led the Hornets with 30 points apiece.
On Sunday in Boston, after Durant picked up his 25,000th career point, Irving serenaded him in the postgame news conference by clapping his hands.
Durant returned the favor on Tuesday, clapping his hands 10 times when asked about Irving.
"I’ve been saying it: Everything he does is pure," Durant said. "I seen it in his eyes at the start of the game. He wanted to impact the game from the start and led us the whole game. It was just a master class."
Irving, who was booed mercilessly in Boston, admitted it affected him and said it motivated him to have a big game on Tuesday.
"I’m human," he said. "So going back — I know we’ll see Boston again — but tonight, just wanted to have a fresh start. I know that me coming out playing aggressive, it sparks energy in our team and just makes everyone else’s job a lot easier. It felt good to do it in the flow of the game. I wasn’t trying to go out there and get 50. It just ended up happening."
Still, Irving did admit he knew he was one bucket away when he hit his last one with 55 seconds left.
"I’m not going to sit here and lie to y’all," he said.
Irving became one of 22 players in NBA history with five 50-point games, according to Basketball Reference. His career high is 57 points on March, 12, 2015, while with the Cleveland Cavaliers in an overtime win against San Antonio.
The Nets and Hornet came into Tuesday night with identical 32-33 records. But the Nets looked as if they belonged in a different, higher league.
The Nets led by as many as 28 in the second quarter and 34 in the third. Charlotte used a 20-4 run to close to within 15 in the third, but the Nets still led 100-84 entering the fourth and held on to break a seeding logjam with Charlotte. Seeds 7-10 will participate in the play-in tournament.
It’s not where the Nets expected to be. But it’s where they are.
"As long as we don’t fall out of the play-in [tournament]," coach Steve Nash said before the game. "We know all these games mean something."
The Nets are trying to get guys used to playing with each other on the fly while holding onto at least a play-in spot. Nash, who could take the fall if the Nets completely crater, isn’t shy about pointing out the lack of cohesion as a reason the Nets had lost 17 of 20 going in.
Durant and Irving played together for the second straight game. The unvaccinated Irving will also be allowed to play on Thursday in Philadelphia, but after that he can only appear in three of the Nets’ final 13 (and one of the last eight) unless New York City changes its COVID-19 rules.
The Nets were without big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out with a right hip impingement. Aldridge, who had an MRI, will miss Thursday’s game as well. Cam Thomas (back contusion) returned after getting hurt on Sunday.