It was a battle for first place in the Eastern Conference, but it packed much less of a punch than that fact would otherwise indicate.
The Nets were severely shorthanded against the 76ers, after all. No James Harden, who continues to sit with a hamstring strain. No Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin, who were held out after playing the day prior in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. No LaMarcus Aldridge, who was out with a non-COVID-19 illness.
All of that amounted to a watered-down version of the star-loaded Nets. Kyrie Irving was counted upon for much of the heavy lifting through the first three quarters, but Brooklyn coach Steve Nash opted to roll with his bench players late before the Sixers used a 123-117 win to take control of the East.
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Sixers Crowd Goes off on Durant
With about a minute left in the game, Sixers star Joel Embiid was at the foul line with a chance to put Philly up by five. It was still a game.
The fans at Wells Fargo Center didn’t seem much concerned with that, though. Their minds were elsewhere. Their focus: Durant, who was standing in front of the Nets bench in his street clothes. For all intents and purposes, he was just minding his business, supporting his teammates during his night off.
That didn’t stop the Philly crowd from starting a “KD sucks!” chant as Embiid swished a free throw.
On the ESPN broadcast, a confused Durant was seen looking over his shoulder, toward the stands. He then meekly raised his hands to about waist level, as if to say: “What’d I do?”
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Analysts Take Exception to Durant’s Night Off
Durant only recently returned from a hamstring strain that cost him 23 straight games. Nash has been carefully managing his workload since.
Relatedly, there has been plenty of speculation that this year’s condensed NBA schedule has led to more injuries, a sentiment that was raised again after Pacers star Jamal Murray’s recent knee injury.
Combining those two factors makes the decision to rest Durant on Wednesday seem perfectly reasonable, right? Well, no — at least if you’re asking a couple of prominent sports personalities.
Chris “Mad Dog” Russo had what could only be described as a meltdown in addressing the subject earlier Wednesday on Mad Dog Sports Radio, citing the importance of the game as a compelling enough reason for a star player like Durant to suit up.
“Let’s go tell (former New York Knicks coach) Pat Riley, ‘Hey Pat, no (Patrick) Ewing tonight. I know you’re playing the Bulls and (Michael) Jordan, but Ewing’s going to pass because his knees are sore,” Russo said hyperbolically. “There was many a night in many a locker room when Ewing had to freaking ice his knees. … Every game, sat there with his ice on his knees, and he played night after night after night after night! Played his a** off! Night after night! … And I’ll tell you something right now, Ewing wanted to play! … How about freaking Durant say, ‘I’m playing! Get the hell out of here!’”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith took a similar stance — not just on Durant for resting against the Sixers, but several of his Nets teammates, too.
“Thank God for @KingJames!” Smith tweeted. “He’s the ONLY player who’s EARNED time off. Damn!”