NEW YORK • It is rare that a National Basketball Association (NBA) pre-season game becomes must-see television.
But Sunday’s match-up featuring the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards might have been the most anticipated pre-season game in New York basketball.
Steve Nash roamed the sidelines for the first time as head coach. But for Nets fans, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, one of the most talented duos in the league with a combined 16 All-Star selections, played for the first time as teammates.
A torn Achilles tendon meant Durant missed all of last season, while Irving’s own injury problems limited him to 20 games.
The Nets won 119-114 at the Barclays Centre but what mattered was the product on the floor.
Durant and Irving looked every bit the stars they have been their entire careers. Pre-season or not, the pair mostly looked like the same players, giving the Nets brass enough to be optimistic about their championship aspirations for the 2020-21 season.
One of the best scorers in the history of the NBA, Durant pulled off moves he had refined before his injury, like his one-footed fadeaway, and was also active on defence.
After scoring 15 points in 24 first-half minutes, the forward felt that the game was a “good first step”.
“It felt great to get back in the routine and get back on the floor and feel like a player again,” Durant said of his first game since June 10 last year.
“I was anxious, nervous. I visualised this moment for so long – nine, 10 months of thinking about how I’ll be in the next stage of my career. I was champing at the bit. Especially when Covid hit, I was just so frustrated. I didn’t see when the season would start in the future. To go through this felt solid and I have to keep building on it.”
Nash, a Hall of Famer starting his rookie year as a coach, added: “The beauty of Kevin, obviously on top of all the ability he brings to the game, is his love for the game.
“He brings a child-like joy and a love for the game every day when he comes to work. So it’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him out there.”
Irving was not any different, finishing with 18 points and dishing out four assists.
“That’s one of the perks of this position, you get to coach two incredible players,” Nash said. “Ky was super sharp and Kevin, after such an extensive lay-off, was very good and close to being incredible.”