Stars have gravity. It’s what keeps everything perfectly aligned.
It’s the same way in sports as it is in space. And in Kevin Durant’s first game in nearly two months, his gravity was on display — from the way he pulled New Orleans’ defense out of shape to the way he changed Brooklyn’s offense.
“He’s going to put a lot of pressure, he’s going to create space for his teammates, and he’s going to make the defense really react and potentially overreact a lot,” coach Steve Nash said. “He makes us quite a lot better, stating the obvious.
“He’s going to make guys better. He demands a lot of attention and creates a lot of space on the floor. He’s a shotmaker, but he creates a lot for his teammates as well, whether it’s through passing or his presence. … He affects his teammates so positively, so a lot of the combinations are going to improve because of him being back.”
The effect was clear and immediate in a 139-111 thrashing of New Orleans on Wednesday.
Returning from a strained hamstring, Durant had 17 points, seven boards and five assists. And Neil deGrasse Tyson couldn’t have given a better example for gravity than Durant being a plus-22 despite being limited to just 18:56 off the bench.
“A big part is him. As soon as he checks in the game, defenses shift their attention,” Blake Griffin said. “He changed the game for our offense and defense.”
Durant was a perfect 5 of 5 from both the floor and the free-throw line and 2 of 2 from deep. He didn’t miss an attempt or a beat. That’s impressive for a player who had missed 23 straight games and hadn’t seen live action since Feb. 13.
Part of that is because of a game based around length and skill, not overwhelming athleticism or perfect timing. That length helped the Nets bottle up the previously hot Zion Williamson, and Durant never let his skill get rusty.
Even while he wasn’t playing, he was working — both by himself, and with teammates like Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton. With practice time limited — and James Harden, Landry Shamet and Tyler Johnson all hurt — the Nets have been working overtime off the court to get in sync.
Whether it’s film sessions, shootarounds or even away from the court, both Durant and Nash said the Nets have used the time to build cohesion.
“We’ve always been in communication about different sets and different actions when I was on the bench and practices and film room,” Durant said. “We were learning each other throughout that time, and finally getting on the floor, we didn’t have to say much. We know each other’s games and what to do on each play. Guys have been in constant communication, no matter if it’s a game or off day. It helps.
“We’ve got veterans that know how to play the game. We have a coaching staff that most of the guys played and know how to explain the game in simple terms. That’ll help us going forward, especially with guys being out.
“Late in the season we want and need everybody on the court to actually see how this stuff works, but we got a good gauge on who we are as a team, and we want these guys — James, Landry, TJ — we want them 110 percent when they get back on the floor. In the meantime, everybody’s always talking about the game. Everybody here loves to play.”
Nash said Durant’s ability to play off the ball makes assimilation easy. He added the star will be on a minutes limit the next few games as he moves toward full conditioning and his normal starting role.
“Whatever coach throws at me, I’ve got to be prepared for. I’m sure he’s going to try to toss some curveballs at me to see how I handle it, and I’m looking forward to it,” Durant said. “A few games of this, and I’ll be back to probably normal minutes and rotation.”