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Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving open up Nets pick-and-roll opportunity

Virtually nothing has gone according to plan since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving came to Brooklyn.

But from the start of this experiment, the Nets hoped two of the greatest offensive performers in the NBA could connect their games to form a duo that is difficult to stop.

When the game hung in the balance Wednesday, the Nets gave a peek at how potent the pair can be when they are simultaneously isolated and working together.

In the closing minutes of an eventual 122-116 win over the Hornets at Barclays Center, the Nets’ offense transformed into a two-man game featuring Durant and Irving. Repeatedly, the Nets, who were without Ben Simmons, turned to a previously seldom-used pick-and-roll that Charlotte struggled to control.

The Nets, who had watched a 23-point lead whittle down to just one in the fourth quarter, leaned upon their two offensive forces and rolled to the win.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives up court in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Brooklyn, NY.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST Photo

“Getting those two to play together in pick-and-rolls can be lethal for us,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the Nets won their fifth of six on this seven-game homestand. “You don’t see it all the time. It was great for them to kind of produce and see how they can execute at the end of the game together.”

Maybe the Nets called upon the play because of the looks they saw from Charlotte’s defense. Or maybe the wrinkle will become a larger part of their offense.

“We definitely should get to it a lot more,” said Irving, whose next chance to run the play will be Friday at Barclays Center against the Hawks. “We’ll see as we continue on, but it’s definitely a high-efficiency play.”

The Nets’ offensive style does not lend itself to many two-man games. They set a lot of off-ball screens and rely heavily on cutters. When those sets don’t generate shots, they can let Durant or Irving create on his own.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the basket in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Brooklyn, NY.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST Photo

The Nets are among the leaders in one-on-one isolations, but they have run pick-and-rolls the least in the NBA, just 11.2 percent of the time. When the Nets do run the play, Nic Claxton is far more often the picker-and-roller.

But with four-and-a-half minutes left in a game they were leading by four, the Irving and Durant show was screened.

The Hornets were double-teaming Durant, so he handled the ball near half-court as Irving set up for a pick. When Irving’s man stuck with Durant, Durant passed over the double-team and found a rolling Irving, who knocked down a jumper.

“He’s a versatile player,” Durant said of Irving, who is a great finisher under the basket. “[It] allows us to play different ways in that pick-and-roll. I think we can both operate the same areas on the court, midrange, at the rim, 3-point line, off the dribble.”

The next possession, Irving was the ball-handler, and after the middle-of-the-court screen, Durant was freed up because Charlotte’s Jalen McDaniels briefly stuck with Irving. McDaniels scrambled back to Durant, who then created enough space to sink a long jumper. If Durant were covered, he had Seth Curry and Joe Harris — in a small, sweet-shooting lineup — in the corners.

The next possession was executed similarly, but Durant stayed behind the 3-point line after setting the screen, then caught, shot and swished a triple. About 30 seconds later, the Hornets’ defense swarmed to Durant after another pick-and-roll with Irving, which created a wide-open 3 for Royce O’Neale (who missed).

“Me and him coming off screen-and-rolls with each other, being aggressive and making plays, it’s one of the good plays for our team,” said Irving, who scored 33 and looks back in stride 10 games after returning from his suspension.

The Nets would have far preferred to see Durant, who has been overworked, and Irving watch from the bench for the fourth quarter in a game that looked like a laugher for the first 24 minutes.

But because they allowed the Hornets back in the game, they were forced to play their best players — and perhaps tap into a set that gives those best players a chance to excel together.

“We have to utilize it, but it’s got to be a balance,” said Durant, whose Nets did not practice Thursday. “We can’t run it the whole game, but we got to figure out when’s the right time to use it.”