The Brooklyn Nets made their way to the Bay Area on Saturday night for a primetime matchup with the Golden State Warriors, in what was billed as Kevin Durant's return. He came through in style, putting up 20 points, five rebounds and six assists to help the Nets secure an easy win, 134-117.
There really wasn't too much drama in this one, as the Nets took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again. They led by double digits for the entirety of the second half, and at one point were up by as much as 28 before coasting the rest of the way.
Durant's strong night was matched by his star teammates. Kyrie Irving went for 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, while James Harden ran point and finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and 16 assists. As per usual, the Nets were dominant on the offensive end, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and knocking down 16 3-pointers.
On the Warriors' side, Stephen Curry went for 27 points and five assists in another strong game, but they just didn't have enough firepower to keep up with the Nets. And really, the fact that they ended up statistically having as much offensive success as they did was because Brooklyn was on autopilot in the fourth quarter.
Here are some key takeaways from the Nets' impressive win:
Harden the facilitator
James Harden scores so much that passing is never going to be the first thing anyone mentions when he's discussed, but he really is terrific in that department. And ever since he arrived in Brooklyn, he's made a point to facilitate and get others involved.
Heading into Saturday night, he was averaging 11.3 assists per game with the Nets, which would be a career-high if he maintains that pace throughout the whole season. He raised that average against the Warriors by dropping 16 assists -- his most yet in a Nets uniform.
They weren't just perfunctory swing passes to an open shooter either. He earned his numbers with some truly brilliant finds. This behind-the-back to Bruce Brown was especially slick.
Irving puts on a show
Quantifying something like "tough shot maker" is difficult because it's largely based on aesthetics and personal preference, but even all of that subjectivity can't deny Kyrie Irving his rightful place among the league's best. Honestly it sometimes seems like he purposely makes shots more difficult than they need to be.
Even for him, Saturday night was special. Zig-zagging drives to the basket, reverse layups spun in off the glass, step-back 3s, Irving had it all working in this one. He was showing off all of the skills that have made him one of the best scorers of his generation. Like, what are you even supposed to do against this?
Durant returns to the Bay
The biggest and most obvious story heading into the game was Durant making his return to the Bay Area. With his injury and the pandemic, it was pushing two years since he'd played a game in Golden State. That absence ended on Saturday night, but unfortunately the fan-less environment made it a lot less memorable than it should have been.
Still, the Warriors did their best to make things as special as possible, and played a tribute video for Durant during the first quarter. The front office was on hand to give Durant a standing ovation and acknowledge everything he helped them achieve. Even if things ended in pretty depressing fashion with a torn Achilles and Finals defeat, it was still an incredible three-year run for Durant and the Warriors.
Durant, on the other hand, didn't return the hospitality. He dropped 20 points, five rebounds and six assists to help the Nets secure a dominant victory.
Warriors just not good enough
Ever since Klay Thompson went down with a torn Achilles, the big question with the Warriors was whether or not Steph Curry would have enough help for them to remain competitive. Draymond Green is still there as a defensive and playmaking presence, but he barely even shoots some games these days and was never much of a scoring threat.
So even if Curry gets you 30 a night, you still need a bunch of other players to step up. And to their credit, they have on some nights and against some teams. But against the Nets, they just weren't good enough. Through the first three quarters, Warriors not named Curry were 21 of 52 from the field, and Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. were the only others in double figures.
That's not terrible, per say, but it's also just not good enough to beat a high-caliber team like the Nets.