BOSTON — Nets star Kevin Durant said it “means the world” to him to pass Hall of Famer Allen Iverson for 25th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list during Brooklyn’s 123-104 victory over the Celtics here at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
“I mean, it means the world. I dedicated my life to this game at an early age … so I watched all these guys that I’m like passing up,” Durant said after scoring 21 points for the Nets, who improved to an Eastern Conference-leading 14-5.
“I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be in the NBA like them, and make an impact in the league like them. So Iverson, he was the pantheon for me. One of those guys that I emulated every time I went outside and played with my friends. It’s all surreal. I pictured I would be in the league, and had an idea … but to do it is pretty special.”
For Durant, the meaning of passing Iverson is two-fold. Not only was he a kid when Iverson first exploded onto the NBA scene in the 1996-97 season, but growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, he got a front-row seat to Iverson’s college exploits at Georgetown.
Durant said that growing up, even when playing center on his childhood teams, he was still trying to emulate Iverson’s signature crossover.
“I really became a huge Iverson fan, obviously, just like everybody else his rookie year. But seeing him at Georgetown and playing for coach [John] Thompson and that whole culture that they built there, he was a huge part of that,” Durant said. “But once he came to the league, he had players … I was a center, power forward on my young team, and we all were long crossing and double crossing. He influenced a lot of people.
“So to pass him on the list and to be up there with some of the greats on that list is incredible. I’ve just got to keep going.”
Durant, who passed Iverson with his first basket of the game Wednesday night and has a shot to move inside the top 20 scorers of all time this season, and the Nets kept their recently strong run of play going with their performance against the Celtics (10-9), who had entered the game with wins in eight of their previous 11 games before trailing by as many as 29 points against Brooklyn.
Adding an extra layer of satisfaction to the win for Durant was going up against Ime Udoka, the coach of the Celtics who served as an assistant coach on both the Nets last season and with Team USA under Gregg Popovich this summer. Durant admitted there was some “friendly” trash talk between the two during the game, and that getting a win here in Boston was made all the sweeter because Udoka was on the opposite sideline.
“Me and Ime got tight over last year and over the Olympics,” Durant said. “So just friendly trash talk. I mean, he talks so much s— to me. Yeah, so it helps I guess that there’s competition between us two teams. We’re all going to be around here late in the season.
“It was good to beat Ime. I get excited about coming here and winning in Boston. It’s a tough place to play. But now that Ime is a coach, it makes it even sweeter.”
The Nets, who surprisingly sit sixth in the NBA in defensive rating, held Boston to 37.4 percent shooting overall and 11-for-48 from 3-point range, including Boston’s star wing tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown finishing 9-for-31 from the field and 1-for-17 from 3-point range.
“Not discouraging at all,” said Brown, who was a game-time decision as he continues to recover from the hamstring strain that cost him eight games before he returned Monday in a win over the Houston Rockets. “We have been playing good basketball, and we’ve got to continue to play good basketball.
“We can’t let this loss dictate the rest of the next four, five, six, seven games. We have to bounce back. That’s what good teams do.”
Brooklyn’s defensive performance, coupled with the Nets shooting over 50 percent from the field and hitting 14 of their 35 3s, prompted James Harden to call Wednesday Brooklyn’s most complete game of the season.
“Definitely,” said Harden, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and two steals. “I mean, so far. It’s only been 20 games or something. But so far, yeah, and we can continue to build on this.”
Now, Brooklyn returns home with a matchup against the Phoenix Suns — one of two teams, along with the league-leading Golden State Warriors, with a better record than the Nets so far this season. But while the game in Brooklyn last week between the Warriors and Nets resulted in a lopsided win for Golden State, Durant stressed that Saturday’s game — win or lose — doesn’t take on any outsized importance in terms of showing the Nets where they stand.
“We gauge who we are every day,” Durant said. “We understand that these teams are coming in, and teams are playing well. But it is November. I mean, every team wants to be that round into shape in the middle of the season, as the playoffs are starting to come around.
“I’m not saying that we want to give away any games, but, win or lose, I don’t really think this is going to tell us that much about where we’re headed as a team, you know what I’m saying? But we obviously want to come out there and stick to our principles and keep getting better at that stuff. From the outside looking in, I understand the records and the narratives around games and stuff. But I don’t think this can tell us too much about what may happen down the line.”