After a crazy Friday night that saw Kevin Durant pulled midgame due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the Nets continued their trend of playing down to their opponents and finding ways to lose to losing teams.
It cost them in a 123-117 defeat to the Raptors at Barclays Center. And now they likely will have to head to Philadelphia on Saturday to face the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers without Durant.
“I believe there was a bunch of, they continued to test to try to gain clarity and I think there was a positive test, there was a negative test, there was an inconclusive test,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “You add it all up, it was misleading for a moment, and that’s why he was allowed to play. They continued to test to try to gather more data, and the last test was positive, so think that was the final straw that pulled him out of the game, but I don’t want to say too much. My head’s spinning a little bit from all the parameters of Kevin’s situation, but also trying to coach our team in a shifting landscape.”
The Nets had no answer for Pascal Siakam, who scored a game-high 33 points, or Kyle Lowry, who finished with 30. Possibly thrown off-kilter by the last-second scratch of Durant from the starting lineup for health and safety protocols, the Nets dug themselves a 17-point hole. And with Durant limited to 19 minutes — and his first single-digit scoring outing since 2017 — they couldn’t quite come back.
The Nets are 7-2 against teams .500 and above, but fell to 7-8 against losing clubs.
Bruce Brown — who replaced Durant in the starting lineup — had a putback to put the Nets ahead 110-108 with 3:50 left. But they coughed up eight unanswered points in a Toronto blitz that determined the game.
The Nets learned Durant would be a last-minute scratch from the lineup due to health and safety protocols just minutes before the starters were announced. After the league reversed its decision, Durant entered the game, but was pulled again in the third quarter. Now, he’s expected to miss the huge clash with the 76ers.
“I was frustrated, especially [since] we follow the protocols, we get tested every single day, so I don’t understand the whole thing where he couldn’t play and then he came on a court, and then they took him back,” Harden said. “There’s just a lot going on. There’s too much going on.”
The Nets looked out of sync from the opening tip. They coughed up the first seven points of the game and fell behind 13-4 on a Fred VanVleet and-one. They spent the rest of the first half chasing Toronto.
Durant did get cleared to play, at least for a while, and checked in with 4:23 left in the first and the Nets down, 26-17.
The deficit swelled to 44-27 on a DeAndre’ Bembry running dunk with 10:07 left in the half. But with Durant back out on the floor, the Nets stormed back with a sizzling 40-point second quarter — their sixth 40-point period of the season — to pull within 67-63 at the break.
The Nets finally got over the hump and went ahead, 68-67, on a wing 3-pointer by Joe Harris with 9:45 left in the third quarter.
Both VanVleet and Raptors coach Nick Nurse picked up technical fouls, and Kyrie Irving hit both free throws to put the Nets ahead 70-69. That was still the score when Durant — who already had committed a pair of charges — got whistled for his fifth foul chasing down a loose ball with 9:06 remaining in the third.
Nets coach Steve Nash challenged the call and got it overturned, but Durant ended up sitting the rest of the game, once again ruled out for health and safety protocols.
Brown’s putback gave the Nets a 110-108 edge with 3:50 to play, but that’s when they went cold and endured the game-deciding 8-0 blitz by the Raptors.
Lowry hit a 27-foot pull-up that gave the Raptors the lead for good. And after Irving committed a turnover, Lowry hit another with 3:11 left. When James Harden missed a pull-up jumper, Chris Boucher’s finger roll left the Nets down, 116-110, with 2:37 in regulation.
They didn’t have enough to force overtime.
Harris’ 3-pointer did cut the lead in half, but VanVleet answered with a 3 of his own. The Nets never challenged after that