After missing 23 games with a hamstring strain, Nets forward Kevin Durant finally made his return to the floor on Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, helping lead Brooklyn to a 139-111 blowout win.
Though he was initially in the team’s announced starting lineup, Durant was taken out of the starting five just before the game began. But with 7:37 left in the first half, the 11-time All-Star officially checked in for the first time, playing in front of Nets fans for the first time this season.
It didn’t take him long to get on the scoresheet, as Durant made a catch-and-shoot elbow jumper less than a minute into his first stint on the floor, with his jump shot looking as smooth as ever. Durant scored nine points in the first half, hitting both of his shot attempts while knocking down all five of his free throws.
Durant continued his stellar play in the second half, pushing his point total up to 15 on perfect 4-of-4 shooting, including two threes.
In all, Durant played just under 19 minutes off the bench, and he didn't miss a shot, finishing 5-for-5 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the line for 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.
"I expected to come out here and play the way I played. I wasn't trying to ease into the game," Durant said afterwards. "I just wanted to go out there, and get right into the action. The game was fast-paced already, so watching from the bench I knew exactly how I needed to approach it.
"It was pretty cool coming off of the bench, I can’t lie. But it was also good to play in front of the fans as well."
While Nets fans surely loved seeing Durant back in action, they weren't the only ones. After the game, teammates and coaches expressed how excited they were to have a player of Durant's caliber back on the floor.
"I thought he was obviously very, very good," Blake Griffin said. "After missing two months, and then coming back and looking that comfortable, I mean it’s crazy."
"It’s not hard to play basketball with Kevin Durant," added head coach Steve Nash. "So, I think he’s gonna make guys better. He demands a lot of attention and creates a lot of space on the floor. He’s a shot-maker, but he creates a lot for his teammates as well, whether it’s through passing or his presence.
"I think his length also helps the group. In a number of ways he affects his teammates so positively, so I think a lot of combinations are going to improve because of him being back in the lineup."