The Nets only played an NBA-low two preseason games, but they absolutely wowed the Celtics in a 113-89 win at TD Garden on Friday, their final dress rehearsal for the regular season that begins Tuesday against Golden State. Best of all, Kevin Durant was utterly dominant with 25 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in the 27 minutes he played through three quarters in only his second game in 18 months.
True, the Celtics were without point guard Kemba Walker, but that really had nothing to do with dominance of the Nets, which was based on what arguably is the NBA’s deepest roster. First-time head coach Steve Nash basically went with an 11-man rotation until the late stages of the game, and the Nets led by as many as 36 points early in the final period.
In addition to Durant’s leadership, the Nets (2-0) got 18 points from Caris LeVert off the bench, Kyrie Irving had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes, and Joe Harris added 14 points. Jayson Tatum topped the Celtics (0-2) with 19 points, but the Nets held them to 34.1% shooting from the field, including 17.8% from three-point range (8-for-45) compared to 45.7% three-point shooting (15-for-31) by the Nets.
For the second straight game, Nash started Spencer Dinwiddie at shooting guard rather than LeVert in the backcourt with Irving. Durant and Joe Harris were at the forward spots along with center DeAndre Jordan. This marked the first preseason game for LeVert, who missed the opener with a bruised patella tendon, but Nash acknowledged he likes LeVert in the sixth man role running the second unit.
After seeing how LeVert performed with Durant and Irving in the second half, Nash said, "Caris is very versatile and skillful. He looked good with them. He looked good without them. He’s got a lot of versatility . . . We’ve got lots of depth, lots of options. I feel confident in our second unit. The five guys who relieved the first unit played very well."
This also was the first game back in Boston for Irving since he signed with the Nets. He missed both trips last season with injuries. Nash said Irving wasn’t treating the game as anything special, although he did burn sage, a cleansing ritual, on the court in pregame warm-ups.
"We utilized this to come out and get better," Irving said following his homecoming win. Asked about burning sage, Irving said he did the same thing before the preseason opener at Barclays Center. "Every game I’m definitely cleansing the energy in here and making sure we feel good as a team," Irving said. "This is sage from my native culture. Just making sure we cleanse energy and we play well. I want everybody to stay safe, not just my teammates."
In the opening period, the Nets fashioned a 21-6 run, including seven points from LeVert for a 35-17 lead. Their second-quarter lead reached a high of 21 points.
Durant led the way with 14 first-half points. Joe Harris hit four three-pointers to help the Nets hit 60% from beyond the arc in the first half (9-for-15). Irving added nine points and five assists. The Nets also were strong on the defensive end, holding the Celtics to 36.2% shooting, including 13.6% from three-point range (3-for-22).
The Celtics surged at the start of the third quarter with a 12-3 run to cut their deficit to nine points. But the Nets regained control with seven straight points, including five by Irving. Ultimately, they turned that into an extended 27-4 run, including 11 points from Durant and seven from LeVert to take a 92-60 lead to the final period.