This was a nice reminder that, for all the good feeling you can ascribe to a super-duper-star (an old Reggie Jackson term) in the abstract, it is always something else to see that force rise fully to power. Nets fans have spent so long acclimating themselves to the reality of Kevin Durant that it was hard to full comprehend the reality of Kevin Durant.
Until you see it with your eyes. Until you watched a seven-minute stretch of third quarter on a Christmas Day when the Nets, thanks to Durant, converted what seemed destined to be their first genuine challenge of the season into something else, something epic, something every instinct screams you should take with a grain of salt until you just throw the salt shaker out the window.
This became Nets 123, Celtics 95, but it started out as a 54-51 halftime lead for Boston after 24 hard-fought and entertaining minutes. The Celtics certainly seemed to enjoy themselves in the first half, a week after the Nets eviscerated them in preseason. These are a couple of teams that could well meet up six months from now somewhere in the playoffs. Not bad for the second day of the season. The teams were even. The game was too.
With 11:12 left in the third, Boston’s Marcus Smart drilled a 3-pointer to restore the Celtics’ three-point lead, 59-56. Durant answered with a 15-footer.
Even in the moment, it felt like a lead guitarist finishing off a sound check. Durant had been fine in the first half. But he looked different now. Smart made another jumper and then Durant did too. Nets within one. Durant heating up. The Nets bench seemed to understand something was brewing. Player like this, anything can happen. And it can happen at any time.
Daniel Theis missed a 3. Durant made a short jumper. Now the Nets had the lead. Jaylen Brown answered, but Durant simply floated up a 26-foot 3. Then he found DeAndre Jordan for an alley-oop bucket ahead of the field. If there were people inside TD Bank Garden you would have heard an uncomfortable buzz. It happens that way when the best player on the floor is on the other team.
It was endless. It was relentless. Two more free throws. A driving dunk. Soon enough, Kyrie Irving would join the fun, too, and soon enough the Celtics would simply give up the ghost. The dunk made it 80-70, Nets. The competitive portion of this game was already over.
Durant’s night wasn’t over. But his statement was. He might have yelled that he was back on opening night. This was something else. This was definitive. This was defiant. This was Durant. He’s on the Nets now. The Nets are going to have the best player on the floor most nights they play. That’s a hell of a thing.
“It’s still impressive to watch after all these years,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “His length, his skill, his ability, his mobility, he’s still capable to go on runs like that. … He just took over at times.”
It’s true, actually. Here’s what KD had to say about that: “The ball came back into my hands and I tried to be aggressive, going downhill. It felt like I was waiting for more opportunities in the second half and I just knocked some down.”
Sometimes, it’s worth remembering that Nash, too, played the game at a .01 percentile level of excellence, too, and yet even he is often to observe his star thusly: “For mere mortals in this game it’s impossible to think about. It’s nothing in his mind.”
Durant finished with 29 points and he was +31 for his 33 minutes on the floor, and if you watched that felt like an impossibly low number. Irving added 37 points and eight assists, and was also +31, and if the Celtics really are the upper-echelon Eastern Conference team they’ve been the past few years …
OK. It’s early. The Celtics were missing Kemba Walker. There’s months to go. Nobody can say anything definitive about the Nets yet. But they sure can when it comes to Durant. For a year and a half we knew it was a terrific thing for the Nets that he was on their side. Then you actually see what their side looks like when he steps onto the floor.
If nothing else, that makes for a very Merry Christmas.