The main storyline prior to the Nets’ visit to San Francisco on Saturday was Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area, where he won championships with the Warriors. The reunion went as planned: There was lots of love for KD and Brooklyn won comfortably, 134-117.
But then came the postgame interviews, where another of the Nets’ stars said something that nudged the Durant story to the side.
The statement became one of the three main takeaways from the ABC prime-time matchup.
Plot twist: Brooklyn has new look in backcourt
Kyrie Irving casually let drop that the Nets’ offense has undergone an important change: He’s now playing off the ball and James Harden is the primary ballhandler. The switch worked great against Golden State: Harden had 19 points and 16 assists in 35 minutes, while Irving had 23 points and four assists in 34 minutes.
“I feel he’s just been doing a great job of just managing the point guard role,” Irving said. “We established that, maybe, four days ago now? I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard,’ and that was as simple as that.
“He’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job. It just makes my job easier, just go out and play free and just make plays. It’s a luxury.”
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“Four days ago” from Saturday would have been sometime during the Nets’ midweek back-to-back vs. the Pistons and Pacers. Harden had 12 dimes against Detroit on Tuesday but just five the next night against Indiana.
Irving said something else that made the change appear more like a personal quest.
“It’s easy to play off somebody that’s willing to complement your game and [is] ready to sacrifice, and it’s easy to do so for me,” he said. “I think I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that playing with other great players, not just [Team] USA, not just All-Star Games or anything like that, but capable of fitting into a high-level group, not just for scoring or not just for passing or anything like that, just continuing to do the little things, the details to win.”
The switch in roles isn’t shocking; Irving and Harden can excel at both spots. It’s more that Irving announced it to the world the way he did. It makes one wonder whether Nets coach Steve Nash at least got a heads-up after the change was made. If he didn’t, then he surely figured it out once he saw the tandem operate on the court.
KD comes back as . . . a center?
The NBA’s official box score listed 6-4 Bruce Brown as the Nets’ starting center, but Durant was announced on social media as the five in place of the absent DeAndre Jordan (personal). The 7-0 Durant didn’t change his game for the small-ball Warriors, who started Draymond Green at center, so the switch was basically semantics.
More importantly, Durant got back into the flow after missing a week to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. He wasn’t great from the floor (8 for 19 overall, 1 for 6 from 3), but he was one of six Nets to score in double figures as he notched 20 points in 33 minutes.
“It’s good to be back on the court. Good to be back doing something I love to do every day. It’s good to get a nice win on this road trip,” Durant said.
Warriors couldn’t stick to the plan
Golden State was down by only three after the first couple minutes of the second quarter; that’s when Brooklyn started a 12-4 run to lead by double digits. The Nets led 66-51 at the break.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr took a dim view of how his team handled playing one of the NBA’s top teams.
“We didn’t play a very mindful game,” he said. “You’ve got to come into a game like this knowing you’re an underdog and knowing that you’ve got to follow a game plan and you’ve got to have a plan [for] how to beat them, and it just felt like we were out there hooping without much of a plan.”
Green was more inclined to compliment Durant and Co.
“The game plan was to help each other, and you know, their personnel is such that makes it hard to do that,” Green said, per NBC Sports Bay Area. “We didn’t execute the game plan well. But in saying that, they’re a part of the reason we didn’t. I mean, you have to give them a lot of credit for why we didn’t.”