Kevin Durant was flawless. When he returned to the Brooklyn Nets in the second quarter, they were almost there.
Durant returned from a 23-game absence to spark Brooklyn’s most explosive half-season, scoring 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the Nets’ 139-111 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.
Durant entered the game with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter, and by the end of the quarter, the Nets had 79 points and a 20-point halftime lead. In its 43-point quarter, Brooklyn shot 14 for 18 (78 percent).
“I expected to come out here and play the way I played,” Durant said. “I wasn’t trying to ease into the game.”
In his return from a strained left hamstring, Durant had seven rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes. He was listed in the starting lineup at first, but was removed in a revised lineup released minutes before his first game since Feb. 13.
Coach Steve Nash explained that bringing Durant off the bench allowed the Nets to better control his minutes if the game was close down the stretch.
It wasn’t the case.
“We were dominated on both ends of the field. Completely dominated, “According to Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy. “We were unable to get to the 3-point line. Our defense was ridiculous. They completely dominated us.”
Durant received a standing ovation from the first home crowd he’d played in with the Nets. On February 23, the Barclays Center began allowing limited crowds.
In the Nets’ ninth straight home victory, Kyrie Irving scored 24 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22.
Eric Bledsoe led the Pelicans with 26 points before being ejected in the third quarter.
Zion Williamson finished with 16 points on 4-for-12 shooting, snapping a streak of 25 games with 20 points and 50 percent shooting. That tied Shaquille O’Neal for the longest such streak since the shot clock debuted in 1954-55.
The Pelicans’ defenseless period came sooner than expected, a night after they surrendered 46 points in the third quarter of a loss to Atlanta.
After Blake Griffin’s long 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter, Brooklyn led 36-33. By the time Durant arrived, the lead had grown to 53-44, and the rout was well underway.
The Nets shot 55% and hit 19 3-pointers. They did it all without James Harden, who will be out for at least ten days due to a hamstring injury. He was dressed in shorts and sat on the bench.
Brooklyn added 36 points in the third quarter to take a 115-82 lead into the fourth quarter, while Durant returned to the bench.
“Amazing first game back,” Nash said. “I thought the overall team performance was really strong.” –ESPN