After missing three games with a left thigh contusion, Kevin Durant returned to the Nets’ lineup Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center and picked up right where he left off, making his sensational play look effortless.
Durant did not start but he sure finished strong, scoring 24 of his 33 points in the second half to lead the Nets to a 128-119 victory over the Suns.
The win left the Eastern Conference-leading Nets at their high-water mark of the season, 21 games above .500 at 41-20. They are a league-best 20-6 against the Western Conference.
Durant played 28 minutes, including 20 in the second half, which he did start, and was 12-for-21 from the field.
"Yeah, it’s like riding a bike," he said with a smile. "You get your footing right, you get your rhythm, and I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game.
"The shots that I take in practice and shootaround, I try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm. I started to get a little bit more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start. Hopefully I build on this game and keep going."
The Nets had a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter when Durant went to the bench for a short rest, and they put together a 7-0 burst to push it to 14 points. When Durant returned, he immediately scored four straight points to give the Nets a 113-97 lead with 7:25 left in the game. He scored 14 points in the quarter.
"It’s great," Blake Griffin said of the lift Durant’s return gave the Nets.
"No matter how much you’re used to it, it’s always impressive to see just how efficiently and how easily he scores. I mean, one of my favorite things about him is how much he just loves to play basketball. You know when he’s sitting out, it’s just killing him. Just to see that joy of being able to play basketball again is fun for us."
Kyrie Irving topped the Nets with 34 points. He shot 10-for-19, including 5-for-7 from three-point range, and added 12 assists. Griffin scored 16 points and DeAndre Jordan had 11 rebounds.
Devin Booker led the Suns (42-18) with 36 points. Torrey Craig added 20 points and 14 rebounds and Deandre Ayton had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
When Durant entered the game, the Nets trailed 41-34 with 8:00 left in the second quarter, but the Suns hit a trio of threes during an 11-3 burst that gave them a 56-43 lead. The Nets responded with a 16-5 run, including a pair of threes from Irving and two buckets by Durant, to cut their halftime deficit to 61-59.
Irving was coming off a season-worst 4-for-19 shooting effort in a win over the Celtics on Friday, but he had a wonderfully efficient first half, scoring 24 points and shooting 6-for-7, including 3-for-3 from three-point range. He also went 9-for-9 at the foul line.
Speaking of Irving’s first-half contribution, Griffin said, "He was unbelievable. Even when he’s not hitting shots, he affects the game so much because of the attention he draws. But when he’s like that tonight, you kind of give him the ball and let him do his thing."
Durant scored 11 points during a 16-6 run that started in the third period and lasted into the fourth to give the Nets their biggest lead to that point at 102-92 with 11:18 left in the game.
"Kevin’s shown that his scoring doesn’t seem to get affected by a long layoff," coach Steve Nash said. "His rhythm and timing are excellent. It’s very impressive for sure."