Scoring at a fervent rate seems elementary for Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who returned to the lineup off the bench on Sunday to drop 33 points in 28 minutes after missing the last three games with a bruised thigh.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Durant said following the Nets’ 128-119 victory over the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, the Phoenix Suns. “You get your footing right and just get your rhythm going, and I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game. I just wanted to resort back to that work I put in. The shots I work on at practice and shootaround, try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm, and then start to get a little more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start.
“Hopefully, I build on this game and keep going.”
Injury issues have plagued the 32-year-old after he missed the entire 2019-20 campaign — his first year after signing with the Nets — while rehabbing a ruptured Achilles. He’s appeared in just seven of the previous 37 games, yet he’s still averaging 22.3 points and five assists per game in an average of just 23.7 minutes played per outing during that stretch.
Sunday saw Durant come on with eight minutes to go in the second quarter before playing 20 of a possible 24 minutes during the second half — a clear plan to ensure the superstar was readily available down the stretch and in crunch time against a dangerous opponent.
“I just deal with it and adapt to the situation. [Head coach Steve Nash] asked me if I wanted to start or come off the bench, and I felt like it would be a bigger challenge for me to focus in and lock in if I came off the bench, so I wanted to see how that worked,” Durant said. “If I would’ve shot bad, I probably would’ve been pissed I came off the bench, but I was able to knock down some shots.
“But it was solid exercise for me to ease back into the swing of things.”
The quicker Durant settles in, the better chance the Nets will have in securing home-court advantage throughout the postseason. Sunday’s win over the Suns opened a 1.5-game lead atop the Eastern Conference for Brooklyn with 11 games remaining.
With James Harden out indefinitely, the Nets’ push reverts back to its dynamic duo of Durant with Kyrie Irving as they head to Toronto to face the Raptors on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET) where Nash expects his returning star to keep up the scoring pace.
“Kevin has shown his scoring doesn’t seem to get affected by a long layoff, whether it was coming off the Achilles or coming off the hamstring,” Nash said. “He seems to come right back, and his rhythm and timing are excellent. It’s very impressive, for sure.”