Hours before the tip, Kevin Durant spoke enthusiastically about the foundation the Nets are building for years to come.
The fringes of that foundation then helped show why he is rightly optimistic about the organization’s future – or perhaps even the immediate future if things ever go better than they have been for this weary team.
Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated), Ben Simmons (herniated disc), Andre Drummond (non-COVID disease), Joe Harris (ankle surgery) and Seth Curry (left ankle sprain) for the entire second half, Durant and the ReplaceNets put one together their most impressive wins of the season in a 114-106 win over Western Conference-Power Jazz in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,887 at the Barclays Center on Monday night.
The Nets (38-34) have won six of seven and remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a game ahead of the Hornets in ninth place and two games behind the Raptors in seventh place.
“We flock around each other, we make big games,” said Durant, whose Nets have won three of his last four without Irving. “We just do it more than anything combined.”
Brooklyn finished the game without four-fifths of his likely strongest lineup, but Durant sizzled, Bruce Brown (22 points) looked like the team’s second-best player and an efficient Nic Claxton rounded out an odd but effective Big 3.
As always, Durant was the greatest. He finished the game with 37 points on 15 of 23 from the floor with nine rebounds and eight assists, a tour de force while leading the second half that saw the Nets trail one of the best teams in the West.
“Shooting, passing, defending, rebounding – so much effort from Kevin,” said Steve Nash of Durant, who has 75 points in two games. “We needed him and he was amazing.”
The Jazz (45-27) played the second half of a back-to-back in that New York swing, but they still dressed Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gobert, who was mentored by Claxton.
The Nets had to sacrifice a lot of weight to sit Drummond, but the mobile Claxton (15 points on 7 of 8 from the floor) was everywhere Gobert (11 points in 30 minutes) – and even threw a transition dunk on the three – one-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s all Nic,” Brown said when asked if the nets would restrict Gobert. “Nic did a damn fine job.”
The Nets rolled and they knew it, frequently chattering with the Jazz.
“I’m not a trash talker — but as soon as someone starts talking to me, I start talking,” Brown said.
The Nets won the game in the third quarter when they used a 20-10 run to create a breakup. Claxton and a dusted Blake Griffin silenced Gobert and Hassan Whiteside (six points). Brown went 6 of 11 in the third quarter alone and was the primary beneficiary of Utah’s defense, which switched to Durant. Griffin, a nonfactor since Drummond was added, contributed nine points on 3 of 4 shots while playing defensively.
And Durant was excellent too. The lead was pushed to 84-68 after a pair of Durant 3s, the second of which practically had Durant jumping back on defense and pumping his arms in celebration. They would inflate the gap from there until the final minutes when the Jazz were as much as six points away. But with the game in balance, Durant drove and threw an alley-oop for Claxton, a fitting exclamation point for a team win.
The day started with Durant admitting he understands the Nets may never get whole this season and be worse for it.
“I signed here for five years to play,” Durant said after the Net’s shootaround. “Of course this year is important, but no matter what happens this year, I still want to do it again. And again. I want to keep playing, have this group together for as long as possible.
“So short term that we can focus on that [this year’s chances] sure, but we also look at the big picture.”
Going forward, the Nets hope Irving (who may drop out after this season) will be eligible to play at the Barclays Center as New York City’s private sector mandate is eventually lifted. Just as Simmons – who is struggling with a herniated disc that threatens to delay his team debut until next season – should eventually have a healthy back and sanity.
Both parts may not be present this season.
But if Durant plays like him and the ReplaceNets do, the present looks almost as bright as the future.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/21/kevin-durant-powers-short-handed-nets-impressive-win-over-jazz/ Kevin Durant gives the undermanned Nets an impressive win over Jazz