Kevin Durant told reporters when he returned from his sprained MCL that he didn’t see himself as a savior for the Nets. That may be true, but it’s hard to deny the superhero-like impact he has had since his return to the floor.
Durant’s latest example was a 53-point effort against the New York Knicks on Sunday in which he scored Brooklyn’s final seven points to lift them to a win. It was the highest-scoring game by a Net against New York since John Williamson scored 43 in 1978.
But Durant just made it look easy, shooting 19-of-37 from the field and a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the free-throw line. The afternoon included 9 assists for Durant and 6 rebounds.
“You feel kind of at ease knowing that you can affect so many different plays and different areas of the game with my skill set,” Durant said. “I can affect my teammates and how they approach the game with my skill set about the big picture and seeing — I know I work on my game and I got to this point as an individual player, but I’m at a point in my career it’s like, ‘All right, how can I impact everybody out here? How can I make the other coaches think about their game plan?’
“So I feel like I up the level of everybody out on the floor, and that’s a good feeling to have.”
The Knicks threw the kitchen sink at Durant to try and stop him on Sunday. First, they countered with their star Julius Irving out there to guard him, but Randle found himself in foul trouble and Durant had put up 27 points by halftime.
New York tried RJ Barrett and then used the double team in the second half to try to slow the Nets superstar down. In the end, it seemed none of that worked for the orange and blue.
“It’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of,” Andre Drummond said of Durant’s performance. “He’s the best player in the world. It’s real cool for me just to be a part of this and to watch him be great.”
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 14, 2022
Aside from Sunday, Durant has quickly found himself back to being the centerpiece of the Nets’ offense. Through his first five games since the return, he’s averaged 32 points along with 7 assists and 6.6 rebounds.
In a superhuman show of endurance, Durant finished the afternoon against the Knicks playing 43 minutes, which was the ninth time this year he has played 40-plus minutes. It was also his fourth-highest playing time this season for the Nets.
While Durant didn’t mind it, telling reporters “let me die out there,” Nets head coach Steve Nash doesn’t want to make it too much of a habit. With Kyrie Irving still unable to play games at home, the expectation is that Durant will have to pick up the slack in the meantime.
“Obviously we hope that we can keep him under 40,” Nash said. “Tonight though was one of those games where we just needed him. Seth (Curry) going out we too many lineups without a shooter on the floor and it just makes it so difficult to score. So we rode Kevin a lot tonight and we needed all of it for the win.”
Admittedly Sunday’s game was closer than it should have been. The Knicks, while winners of three of their last four entering the afternoon, are a team that will see its season come to an end in early April as their playoff hopes diminish further.
Even without Irving or Ben Simmons, who is still working his way back to the court, Durant and the Nets that were on the floor should have beaten the visitors from Manhattan without too much of an issue.
Still, Durant’s performance and the skills that he possesses are what keep the Nets a part of the conversation when it comes to making a run at an NBA title.