It had been since March 8, 2020 against the Bulls — before COVID-19 changed our country — that the Nets played at home in front of a crowd this big.
And far, far longer since they had played in front of a crowd this electric.
But the raucous sellout crowd of 14,391 at Barclays Center on Saturday night — 93 percent of them fully vaccinated, and all of them boisterous — left an impression.
“It was incredible,” said Kevin Durant, who had 32 points and 12 boards — both game highs — in the Nets’ 104-93 Game 1 win over the Celtics. “Our fans are loud, they were there early, they gave us an advantage. It was weird because we haven’t seen them all season.
“There was 1,500 the last couple months of the season, but to see people at the front row and even more in the upper and lower bowl, it was pretty cool. I’m sure our fans enjoyed the win, but we want to play better for them as well.”
After playing to first a cavernous empty arena for much of the season, and then tiny socially-distanced gatherings numbering in the hundreds over the second half of the schedule, Saturday’s Game 1 was a shock to the Nets’ system.
Brooklyn came out frazzled and were missing easy looks. Afterward the Nets said it had more to do with the moment than their lack of time together.
“I think it’s more the occasion,” Steve Nash said. “Everyone is excited and the place was packed and maybe we just rushed and were a little impatient to start the game. So I’d probably say the truth is somewhere in a little bit of that.“They haven’t played much together, a little bit that it was an exciting evening for everyone to walk in the gym and see that many people and our fans were outstanding and I just think it was all new, off to a fresh start and we just really weren’t sharp offensively. So, probably a few factors contributed.”
Kyrie Irving — who had 29 points, 13 in the fourth quarter — grew up a Nets fan in West Orange, N.J., and relished playing his first playoff game for his childhood team’s fans.
“Woo. It definitely felt different compared to what most of the season was like, going to different arenas but coming back home and welcoming a lot of our fans home,” Irving said. “You could feel the anticipation for just a quality basketball game out there.
“The fans just want to see their team win, us, and I felt like we put on a good show. We’ve just got to do it three more times. One at home and then hopefully just go into Boston and then whatever happens, happens. We just want to take it one game at a time. It was good to have some supporters there.”