PHILADELPHIA — After the Brooklyn Nets needed to score 16 of the final 17 points and a triple-double from Kevin Durant to win their first game of the season, coach Steve Nash said he loved the competitiveness he saw but also set early expectations for his title contender.
“It’s not going to be pretty for a little while here,” Nash said after the Nets’ come-from-behind, 114-109 win that spoiled the Sixers’ home opener. “We just got to continue to fight, play for each other and figure out ways to compete and stay engaged while we figure out rotations and combinations and what we are all about.”
The coach has been preaching patience as he experiments with big and small lineups and different rotations. Harden, though, said he and Durant will figure out how to lead the team while Irving remains absent.
“We’re the best at what we do. We’ll figure it out,” Harden said. “Me personally, I’ve been through a lot where I had different teammates, different lineups and playing small ball, so I’m used to trying to figure it out and just go with the flow and making it work. We have a really good team, and we’ll figure it out.
“Kevin is the same way and one of the best to ever touch a basketball. So we just got to go out there and do what we do and things will work out.”
After the Nets were blown out, 127-104, by the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on the road in the season opener, Brooklyn got off to another slow start that saw it fall behind 20-6 to a Philadelphia team dealing with its own drama surrounding star point guard Ben Simmons.
Durant, though, had his second career triple-double with the Nets by the end of the third quarter before finishing with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. Down 108-98 with 5:33 remaining, he found LaMarcus Aldridge for a basket before drilling a 16-foot pull-up jumper.
Aldridge was terrific for the Nets, scoring nine of his 23 points in the final 5:16. The big man, who retired in April due to heart concerns before being medically cleared to return, was 10-for-12 from the field. New Nets guard Patty Mills continued to take advantage of Irving’s absence with 11 points off the bench. Mills has made his first 10 3-point shots of the season.
“I think they are excited for their new teammates,” Nash said of Durant and Harden, who had 20 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. “But it takes time to find that rhythm and combinations. And also we lost a big piece [Irving].
“It is not just the new pieces, it’s the void that we are used to playing with. It is, it is a lot for us to take on at this moment in time. But hopefully in the weeks coming, we start to clear some of the debris so to speak and figure out how we can best play together.”
Durant said each game will present a new challenge for him and Harden. In Philadelphia, Durant felt the need to score early before getting into the paint and making plays for teammates due to Philadelphia’s defensive coverage.
“We wasn’t planning on having to do this, but you know, it’s good for us to make adjustments,” Durant said of playing without Irving. “It’s good for guys who wasn’t expecting to play bigger roles to step into those roles and see who we are. This is the situation we were in, and I think a lot of guys have taken advantage of it.
“For James and myself, it feels like each game may be different and we may have to do different things than we thought coming into the season. But it’s all good. It’s always gonna help us get better.”