It is hard to believe that any of this could have gone any better. That’s how good it was. That’s how much, how completely, these Brooklyn Nets rose from their blueprints Tuesday night, converting from chalkboard X’s and O’s to flesh and blood and style and pizzazz.
Maybe it won’t be like this every night. Maybe it can’t be. Maybe as soon as Christmas Day, when the Celtics pay a visit to Barclays Center, we can catch our breath a little bit and not allow the hype and the hyperbole to blare onto the city streets, not allow the purple to invade our prose as we describe them play basketball.
For now, let’s put in the simplest terms possible:
Big-time basketball is back in New York City.
The Nets were that good, that smooth, that solid, that impressive in demolishing the Warriors, 125-99. It was an end-to-end brutalizing of a proud, diminished champion missing so many of the key components who helped earn them that designation.
Chief among them, of course, was the man wearing No. 7 in the black jersey on the opposing team. It was impossible not to wonder what Kevin Durant would be Tuesday night. Sure, Kyrie Irving (26 points, four assists) had been beaten up last year. There was some concern how the framers of the Nets’ culture and basic foundation — guys like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen — might react to the new flow chart.
And some of those things will still need to be addressed.
But it was Durant who was, who is, the wild card. And the moment that might have caused the most inner celebration among Nets fans and Durant acolytes wasn’t any of the seven baskets he converted, making it look as easy as ever as he assembled 22 points, or the way he ran the floor, or the way he kept his teammates involved.
No. There was this moment: midway through the third quarter, just before he clocked out for the night, with the Nets already up by 28 points. The Warriors had a breakaway. Stephen Curry, making his own long-awaited comeback, found Justin Toscano-Anderson for what should’ve been an easy layup.
Except here came a blur of arms, flying toward the basket, blocking the shot — but not before it hit the backboard first, half a second earlier. Goaltending. Two points for Golden State. It was a non-play play. And yet, in that moment, it was clear: Kevin Durant isn’t worried, even a little bit, about his Achilles.
So there’s no reason for the rest of us to be, either.
“He looks like Kevin, he plays like Kevin. I don’t want to start making expectations until he gets going, gets some games under his belt,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
And then Nash added: “He has an eye for the long game. He’s grateful to be back on the floor. He’s just enjoying his health and his ability to play in the NBA again.”
Said the man of the hour himself: “I don’t think I have to show anybody anything, whatever people like about my game they can gravitate to. I don’t have to prove myself, but I want to be able to do whatever Coach needs me to do on the floor.”
How about a little bit of everything?
How about looking like you’ve never been gone, your stroke looking perfect, your wind fine, your gait every bit the graceful gallop we remember, the fearless and freaky athleticism awfully close to that.
Again: one game. A great start, but only a start. Still, in New York, where we have for too many years pressed our noses against storefront windows watching superb basketball being played somewhere else — everywhere else — at last we have the possibilities these Nets bring.
At last we have a team good enough to make an empty arena buzz, and to make you wonder if maybe, just maybe, it will be at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues where the next great New York sports story will truly rise.
“We know what the goal is after the first 72 games,” Irving said. “We know it’s about the next 16 wins. Our goals are higher this year.”
Man. We missed this.