Kevin Durant scored 33 points in his return from a three-game injury absence as the Brooklyn Nets solidified their hold on first place in the NBA Eastern Conference with a 128-119 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Durant came off the bench early in the second quarter and showed little rust after being out with a thigh injury. In 28 minutes of playing time, Durant shot 12-of-21 from the floor in a Sunday afternoon clash between two of the best teams in the NBA.
“It was a good start. Hopefully, I’ll build on this game and keep going,” Durant said.
Kyrie Irving scored a team-high 34 points, going 30-plus for the 15th time this season, and Blake Griffin finished with 16 for Brooklyn, who improved to 41-20 for a one and a half-game lead over the second-place Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings.
Jeff Green and Joe Harris scored 10 points each for the Nets, while DeAndre Jordan had 12 rebounds in front of the pandemic-limited crowd of 1,700 at Barclays Center arena.
Devin Booker scored 36 points for Phoenix, while Deandre Ayton scored 20 points with 13 rebounds, as the Suns lost two straight for the first time since late January.
“I thought we started off pretty well, they just continued to make shots,” Booker said. “I think we had a lot of miscommunications on a lot of our switches and that’s that.”
Torrey Craig tallied 20 points while point guard Chris Paul was held to just 14 points on five of 11 shooting.
Phoenix, second in the West behind the Utah Jazz, dropped to 42-18 and are now 2-2 on a five-game East coast road trip with another contest on Monday against the red-hot New York Knicks, who have won nine straight.
Brooklyn, who were without injured James Harden for the 10th straight game, outscored the Suns 31-27 in the final quarter after trailing by as many as 13 in the second period. They have won six of 10 games with Harden out of the lineup.
The Nets led by just five, 97-92, at the end of the third but a three-pointer from Durant stretched the lead to 102-92 early in the fourth and they held off Phoenix the rest of the way.
Durant scored 10 points in the third quarter, then had the first five of the fourth to give Brooklyn its first double-digit lead at 102-92.
“The thing I love the most is that we all know, one of my favourite things about him is how much he just loves to play basketball,” Griffin said. “So you know when he’s sitting out it’s just like killing him, so just to see that joy of just being able to play basketball again is fun for us.”
In Atlanta, Bogdan Bogdanovic equalled his season-high of 32 points as the Atlanta Hawks came from behind to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-104.
Lou Williams scored all 15 of his points in the final quarter, including three three-pointers during a 19-6 run by the Hawks.
Bogdanovic was 12-for-21 from the field and six-for-11 on three-point baskets for Atlanta, who snapped a six-game losing skid.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds and Khris Middleton tallied 23 for the Bucks, who dropped to 37-23.
The Hawks also got 20 points from Kevin Huerter and 18 points from John Collins.
Atlanta was playing without leading scorer Trae Young for the second consecutive game due to an ankle injury.
Elsewhere, guard Devonte’ Graham poured in 24 points to lead a balanced attack as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Boston Celtics 125-104.