As fans trickled out the Barclays Center corridors with the Oklahoma City Thunder dribbling out a 112-102 victory over the Nets Sunday evening, the feeling of two succinct words spread throughout the arena.
It was around this time last season, when Kevin Durant went down with an MCL sprain and Kyrie Irving was only a part-time player, that a promising season unraveled. Durant’s injury, Irving’s unvaccinated status and a frustrated James Harden sent the Nets on an 11-game losing streak. They never recovered and were eventually swept out of the first round by the Boston Celtics.
And if they don’t get their act together, another season-swinging slump is on the table. The loss to Oklahoma City was the second in a row with Durant shelved with a knee injury. Ben Simmons was also a late scratch with back soreness.
But the Nets still had Kyrie Irving, who is supposed to be the best player on the court when Durant is out.
He was far from it.
Irving may as well have been part-time Sunday evening. He finished with just 15 points on 7-20 shooting.
This is where the Nets find out what they’ve got. Because this is where the pressure starts to mount.
It’s one thing for Kevin Durant to be out a month. It’s another when Ben Simmons is a late scratch due to back soreness.
Just like it’s one thing to lose to the Boston Celtics in the first game Durant missed with a sprained MCL in his right knee. It’s another to blow a 10-point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder — even if the lottery-chasing Thunder are playing well.
Even two of Brooklyn’s three stars are out.
Sunday’s 112-102 loss to the Thunder is a cause for concern because Kyrie Irving was unable to leave an imprint on the game. He had 13 points entering the fourth quarter and mustered just one basket in the final period.
The Nets followed his lead. They scored only 22 points in the fourth quarter to Oklahoma City’s 37.
Seth Curry scored a team-high 24 points off the bench and Nic Claxton finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. But Irving’s inability to hit shots crippled the team late. After a breakout scoring game, reserve forward TJ Warren also turned in just nine points on eight shot attempts.
Meanwhile, the Nets brought lacking energy against a scrappy Thunder team now two games below .500. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey each tallied 28 points and Lugentz Dort added 22. Dort’s production frustrated head coach Jacque Vaughn, who called two timeouts on consecutive possessions after the team lost Dort first on a wide-open three, then on an offensive rebound tip-in immediately after the first timeout.
The loss is also disappointing because the competition only gets stiffer from here. The Thunder were supposed to be one of the easier teams on the docket. The Nets have 16 playoff opponents in their next 18 games, with the San Antonio Spurs — a non playoff opponent — next on the schedule.
Vaughn said the season is about not making excuses, but the team played as if Simmons’ late scratch was a reason not to bring it. They’ll be destined for another losing streak if the attitude and effort doesn’t change. After Durant’s off-season trade request, the last thing the Nets can afford is to fall down the standings while he’s out a second season in a row.
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