Almost nothing has gone according to plan since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving arrived in Brooklyn.
But from the start of this experiment, the Nets hoped that two of the best forwards in the NBA would connect to form a duo that was hard to stop.
With the game in the balance on Wednesday, the Nets got a look at how strong the pair can be simultaneously isolated and working together.
In the closing minutes of a 122-116 win over the Hornets at Barclays Center, the Nets’ offense turned into a two-man game involving Durant and Irving. Time and time again, the Nets, without Ben Simmons, resorted to the previously rarely used pick-and-roll, which Charlotte struggled to control.
The “Nets”, who watched the difference of 23 points in the fourth quarter, relied on the power of two attackers and won.
“Having those two play together can be devastating for us,” coach Jacques Vaughn said after the Nets won five of seven games. “You don’t always see that. It was great to see some production for them and how they work together at the end of the game.
Maybe the Nets called the play because of the looks they got from Charlotte’s defense. Or maybe wrinkles become a big part of their crime.
“We’ve definitely got to get more of that,” said Irving, whose next game is against the Hawks at Barclays Center on Friday. “We’ll see as we go along, but it’s definitely a high-performance game.”
The Nets’ offensive style doesn’t lend itself to many two-man games. They set a lot of off-ball screens and rely heavily on cutters. If those sets don’t create shots, they can let Durant or Irving create them themselves.
The Nets are among the leaders in one-on-one isolations, but they run the fewest pitch-and-rolls in the NBA, just 11.2 percent of the time. When the Nets run the play, Nick Claxton will be more selective.
But when they were up by four with four and a half minutes left, the Irving and Durant show was on.
The Hornets split Durant, so Irving drove the ball near half court as he prepared for the pick. With Irving’s man stuck on Durant, Durant went over the double team and found a rolling Irving, who knocked down a jumper.
“He’s a versatile player,” Durant said of Irving, a great finisher under the basket. “[It] allows us to play this pick-and-roll in many different ways. I think we can both handle the same areas in the court, midrange, rim, 3-point line, off the dribble.
The next possession, Irving was the ball-handler, and after a screen over the middle, Durant broke free as Charlotte’s Jalen McDaniels stuck with Irving briefly. McDaniels cut back to Durant, who then made enough room for a long jumper. If Durant was covered, he was part of a small, sweet shooting lineup with Seth Curry and Joe Harris in the corners.
The next possession did the same, but Durant got behind the 3-point line after setting a screen, then caught, shot and hit a three. About 30 seconds later, the Hornets defense swarmed Durant after another pick-and-roll with Irving, which set up a wide-open 3 for Royce O’Neale (who missed).
“Me and him playing off each other on screens and roles, being aggressive and making plays, that’s one of the good plays for our team,” said Irving, who scored 33 goals and is 10 after returning from suspension. ‘yinda looked back. .
The Nets would have preferred to watch an overworked Durant and Irving off the bench in what looked like a laugher for the first 24 minutes of the fourth quarter.
But because they let the Hornets back into the game, they were forced to play with their best players — and perhaps get into a set that gives their best players a chance to dominate together.
“We’ve got to use him, but it’s got to be a balance,” said Durant, who the Nets did not practice Thursday. “We can’t use it the whole game, but we have to find the right time to use it.”