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Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant total 66 points as Nets rout Celtics

Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates

Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates after a basket during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors with teammate Kyrie Irving #11 at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Given the Nets’ elevated national profile, it was no surprise that they landed a sweet early-evening time slot in the NBA’s Christmas slate, something that for most of their history would not have been a consideration.

After all, the Nets and Celtics, their opponent on Friday, are two of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and it was Kyrie Irving’s first regular-season trip to TD Garden in Boston since he left the Celtics two seasons ago.

But the twist even the most optimistic of fans could not have seen coming was that the Nets suddenly look more like a potential juggernaut than a mere contender.

Their 123-95 rout made them the first team since the 2008-09 Lakers to win their first two games by at least 20 points — the Nets beat Golden State, 125-99, on Tuesday — and very much got the attention of the rest of the league.

"I think it’s the deepest team in the NBA," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, "and quite possibly — certainly in the conversation for the best."

Most of all, the victory was another showcase for the preternatural talents of Irving and Kevin Durant, who took turns controlling the game.

Irving had 37 points, eight assists and six rebounds, then insisted that playing his former team was not an added source of motivation.

"No, I’m just grateful that we’re all healthy and we’re all here to be able to play the game that we love," he said. "Obviously, competing against those guys, competing against the coaches that I had almost a year-and-a-half ago, like I said, I’m grateful.

"We’re going to continue to see them. We’re in the same division. So to get us started here in Boston, nothing added."

Perhaps Irving took care of the old Boston spirits last week, when before a preseason game he burned sage while walking around the court.

Durant scored 29 points, 16 of them in a third-quarter run that enabled the Nets to take control after a lackluster first half.

"I felt like I was just waiting for more opportunities in the second half to just be aggressive to shoot," he said. "I was able to knock some down."

Coach Steve Nash said of Durant’s offensive outburst, "It’s still impressive to watch after all these years. Just his length, his skill, his mobility, his athleticism. It’s an incredible package.

"For him to have little runs like that is nothing for him in his mind. For mere mortals in this game in the NBA, it’s impossible to think of sometimes. So yeah, an incredible run there."

"We have two of the most talented offensive players who have ever played in the NBA," said the Nets’ Joe Harris, whose team outscored Boston 72-41 in the second half.

Jaylen Brown had 27 points and Jayson Tatum added 20 for Boston, which played without the injured Kemba Walker.

The closely contested first half ended with the Celtics leading 54-51, at which point Nash felt his team was getting outhustled and pushed around.

Irving’s 14 second-quarter points kept things close until Durant got it going in the third, during which the Nets led by as many as 12 points before settling for an 86-77 lead at the end of the quarter.

The Nets then went ahead 95-79 with Irving and Durant taking a break on the bench, an illustration of the Nets’ enviable depth.

Everyone involved cautioned that the season is long and that this is only a start. But when Durant was asked if he is surprised how quickly he and Irving have developed effective chemistry, his answer was two letters long:

"No."

Notes & quotes: The Celtics held a pregame moment of silence for K.C. Jones, who died at 88 on Friday. He won 12 NBA championships as a player, assistant coach and head coach, 11 with the Celtics. "I just think the way he was revered by the players he played with, the people he worked with, other players who played for him — he was special," Stevens said. "Basketball is basketball, but his legacy and character as a person has been something I have heard constantly about since I’ve been here." . . . The Nets wore their new City Edition uniforms for the first time . . . Asked before the game if he had heard anything from general manager Sean Marks about ongoing reports of a potential trade for James Harden, Nash said, "I haven’t any conversations or any alerts, so maybe that says it all."

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