The Nets got superstar Kevin Durant back on Sunday night. What they didn’t get was Kyrie Irving – or a win.
Despite Durant’s strong return from a week-long quarantine, the Nets still took the lead 129-116 in a loss to Oklahoma City at the Barclays Center.
After missing the last three games due to health and safety logs – a term used for COVID-19 contact tracing – Durant didn’t skip a shot with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. And despite being asked if he could stand out alongside Durant, Caris LeVert added 21 points, six assists and four boards.
The Nets (5-6) led by five points ahead of around the middle of the third quarter, before allowing an extended run of 25-7 to end the period. They shot just 3-11 and made four turnovers, watching a 74-69 edge turn into a 13-point hole.
« We want to play right, so to speak, no matter who is in the lineup » said coach Steve Nash. « Obviously you’re going to be playing a slightly different game with Kevin in the line-up than without his skills, his ability to score in isolation, in the mail, at all levels, in all scenarios. In a sense, you can lean on that while you are when he’s not in the line-up, have to rely more on the connectivity of the ball movement.
« But no matter who’s in the line-up, we have to play together. We have to play hard and stick to our principles defensively. There are certain principles that we need to build on every night if we are to continue to develop into a really good basketball team. Kevin gives us a huge boost in the talent department, but we still want to play right, see the movements, actions and connectivity. “
Brooklyn allowed hot shooting of 54.4 percent and dropped 21 fast break points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 31 points, seven assists and six boards while Hamidou Diallo added 25.
Granted, Nash used his sixth starting grid of the season, with Jeff Green, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris to Durant and LeVert came across. Harris, who had fallen off the bench in the last three games, started unprepared and Green started as a small striker in the Nets version of Going Big.
It helped the ricochet – a big weakness – but not ball safety or the Full defense, two other Nets Achilles’ heels the Thunder took advantage of.
For the first time since joining the team, Durant played without Irving by his side. And the All-Star Point Guard’s presence was sorely missed, especially with the Nets, which also had Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) and Tyler Johnson (quarantine) removed. The nets were too sloppy and not only revealed their own scoring opportunities, but also cheap transition buckets in the other direction.
Nets led 74-69 with 6:52 in the third on Durant’s free throw. But then they gave up a 15-2 run, including the last 10 in a row, to lose control of the game. They followed an Isaiah Roby 3-pointer at eight and never recovered.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot hit a 3 and then attacked Gilgeous-Alexander while the Tauride Prince’s drive pulled the nets within 84-81. But that’s as close as possible and another 10-0 run is being abandoned to end the period.
DeAndre Jordan’s apparent foul sealed the run, leaving her behind at 13 after the third. The Thunder opened the fourth with a baseline dunk from Diallo – a former Nets draft pick. The nets – 96-81 – spent the rest of the night hunting.
The nets have a back-to-back pattern that begins Tuesday against the nuggets and Wednesday in the garden against the curtsey at home. It remains to be seen whether Irving will play in either country, but at least they have Durant back. « Kevin is excited, » said Nash. “He was devastated to have to sit outside. We all know he loves the game and likes to mature. So he’s happy to be back and of course I’m a happy coach to have him back. I am very happy that he has his legs under him again. «
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