This was completely different. This one was distinctive. For the primary time, actually, these Nets have been pressured to make a press release: about themselves, about their season, about the place they intend to take the steadiness of this season. For the primary time, actually, these Nets, have been ordered to declare themselves.
It may need been not possible to imagine again in October that such a stand could be required earlier than May Day, or that it could occur towards a Charlotte Hornets group that was scuffling and one sport below .500. But, then: the Nets have been scuffling and one sport below .500. They don’t imagine their report, which is okay, so long as they might make one thing of a counterargument.
Which they did. At ear-splitting quantity.
“That,” Steve Nash would say, “was about as well as we’ve played all year, both sides of the ball.”
He was referring to the primary half of Tuesday’s 132-121 taming of the Hornets at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center, and he was proper. The Nets squashed the Hornets all throughout these first 24 minutes, rolling to a 69-43 lead. That cushion would develop as giant as 34 earlier than the Hornets began making just a few pictures, however by then the message was already despatched.
The Nets actually will be frighteningly good generally.
“It felt like this was my night, getting to that deep place where you’re not distracted by anything,” Kyrie Irving mentioned. “That look on my face was that we’re ready to go out there and do what’s needed to get this win. And the results are the results.”
Irving’s voice was the loudest, and the clearest. He turned in one of many signature performances of his life, dropping 50 factors (on simply 19 pictures) taking pictures 9-for-12 from 3, including six assists. That it got here on an evening when Kevin Durant was uncharacteristically sluggish and scored solely 14 factors (although he had seven assists) was maybe essentially the most helpful half.
Because with all of the drama that has consumed the Nets up to now few weeks — centered across the James Harden/Ben Simmons sagas — and with all that has occurred to the Nets, and the world, since July of 2019, it has been simple to neglect one thing.
These Nets’ emergence as a title contender was initially — and, it was thought on the time, utterly — tied to Irving and Durant. Before there was ever discuss of a Big 3 there was the truth of the Big 2, Durant and Irving agreeing to go to Brooklyn collectively within the mid-to-late levels of their primes, teaming as much as see what they might do, the place they might go, how excessive they chilly carry a franchise that’s title free for the reason that ABA closed up store 46 years in the past.
That, alone, had made the Nets an electrical story. When Harden arrived from Houston, it appeared merely an additional toy so as to add to the chest. Harden, in any case, was becoming a member of a work-in-progress that Irving and Durant had already begun to construct. And now that he’s switched locations with him, that’s the position Simmons will fill, no matter how prepared he’s to play when he does return to the court docket.
The nucleus was all the time KD and Kyrie.
That was all the time the ability supply.
Durant was sensible Sunday in Boston, when the Nets practically stole one from the Celtics. On Tuesday, it was Irving’s flip.
“We showed,” Nash mentioned, “the level we can play at.”
Yes, the Nets’ ambitions are, and all the time have been, higher than a Tuesday evening in March in North Carolina. But the Nets’ actuality is one thing else: they must be ready to put a damage on all of the groups with whom they’re presently battling for the play-in video games. The Cavaliers — simply above the play-in cutline — received once more, so that they remained six video games up within the loss column with 16 Nets video games left. There remains to be loads of heavy lifting forward.
Tuesday was a reminder that this isn’t merely a group constructed on hype and hyperbole. When Irving and Durant play collectively, they will make basketball look remarkably stunning, and so they could make even the steep mountain they’re going to must climb, nonetheless, appear nearly manageable. The Big 3 didn’t fairly work out. But the Big 2 could be all they actually need.