The only thing the Nets proved in their opener was they could beat up a bad team at home. But this? Friday’s Christmas present to their fans was an impressive 123-95 road rout of Boston, thrashing one of their top rivals in the East.
Kyrie Irving made his first regular-season return to TD Garden since bolting Boston for Brooklyn a year and a half ago. And despite there not being any fans in the building to see it, he and Kevin Durant led the way in a nationally televised masterclass performance against the Celtics.
“We can’t exceed our own expectations. We know this is a long journey ahead. Another great sparring session,” Irving said in an on-air TV interview. “We were just happy to put on a show.”
Irving had a game-high 37 points, eight assists and six rebounds, shooting 7 of 10 from deep. Durant added 29 points on 9 of 16 shooting, four rebounds and two steals. And when the Durant found Irving for a 3-pointer with 2:39 left, it was fitting. The Nets lead was 24, and it was that pair that built it.
The Nets (2-0) became the first team since the 2008-09 Lakers to win its first two games by at least 20 points. And they’re still growing.
“They’ve got a couple of guys who aren’t in their rotation who were starters last year. That tells you all you need to know,” Boston coach Brad Stevens had warned beforehand.
The Nets showed his concerns weren’t unfounded.
“Their two lineups and the way that they play and complement each other, 48 minutes of really good play in the center spot surrounded by versatile skill players all around the court that complement their best players. It’s a really good team,” Stevens said. “All it took was a couple of minutes watching them to tell that they were special. Everybody that plays them will have their hands full, us included.”
The Nets proved more than Boston could handle. Brooklyn allowed just 38.1 percent shooting and 29.6 percent from deep.
“I don’t know [if it means extra to Irving],” Steve Nash had said before the game. “He’s been playing great, and been unbelievable in camp and so I haven’t got a read on him. We’ve been here obviously a week ago for a preseason game, so I don’t think I can answer that question.”
Irving’s play implied it might have.
The Nets led 26-22 after the first.
When the Celtics bounced back and put the clamps on Brooklyn’s running game, Irving kept them afloat with 14 points.
Trailing 54-51 at the break, the Nets were still trailing 61-60 after a Jaylen Brown floater. That’s when Brooklyn seized control of the game for good.
The Nets went on an 11-2 run, hitting six straight shots. Durant’s 28-foot pull-up gave Brooklyn a 71-63 cushion with 6:35 left in the third quarter. They padded it from there, with Durant and Irving spending the rest of the period putting on a show.
Brooklyn kept building on the lead in the fourth quarter. Caris LeVert found Landry Shamet for a 3-pointer that made it 95-79, with Stevens calling a timeout and sending in massive subs. They didn’t help.
Irving’s 3-pointer extended to lead to 111-90 with 3:44 to play. And he hit another off a Durant feed to make it 116-92. The clock read 2:39 remaining, but the game had been over for awhile.