It has been two games and two losses for the Brooklyn Nets in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s MCL sprain which will keep him out of action for the next several weeks. First, they saw the Boston Celtics pull away late for a 109-98 win. And now, the supposedly-tanking Oklahoma City Thunder did the same coming away with a 112-102 victory.
The loss moves Brooklyn to 27-15 on the season, though they retain the second spot in an Eastern Conference that remains muddled behind the Celtics with just two games separating the No. 2-seeded Nets and the No. 5 seed, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Star guard Kyrie Irving cited attention to detail for the first one and blamed the second on a lack of defense.
He also shared why he isn’t concerned with a hint of shade for a former teammate.
Kyrie Irving Appears to Throw Shade at James Harden
“I’m consistently in the lineup, that helps,” Irving said postgame. “We also don’t have halfway in or halfway in anybody in the locker room. And there’s just a primary focus for the big picture here. These are warm-up games for the big performance that’s coming late in April. Just got to enjoy them and smile sometimes at how you lose and be able to pick yourself back up.”
Irving’s mention of no one in the locker room being “halfway in” could be a shot at former teammate James Harden who recently spoke on his time with the Nets — where he forced his way to and from — in an unflattering matter.
“I just feel like, internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there,” Harden told Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports.
“Am I still the quitter,” Harden asked.
It can be seen as a shot at Irving directly. The mercurial Irving missed 53 games last season most of which were due to his refusal to get vaccinated for COVID, an issue Harden poked fun at during a postgame press conference in January of last season saying he was going to “give him the shot myself.”
This season, there was a contract standoff in the summer and then an eight-game suspension for sharing a video considered to be anti-Semitic.
He has also long since admitted that his absences have been a distraction for the team.
Brooklyn went 5-3 without Irving during that suspension and has been one of the hottest teams in the league at 18-6 since he returned to action with the seven-time All-Star averaging 25.2 points on 60.3% true shooting in that span.
Kyrie Irving Vows to be a ‘Better Example’
“I’m doing the best job I can,” Irving said after Brooklyn’s loss to the Thunder saw them squander a 10-point lead. “Wish I could make a few more shots within the minutes and be efficient. I know that’ll come and I’ll continue to prepare the best way I know how. And just continue to be a better example for the guys in the locker room.”
Irving finished the night with 15 points on 7-of-20 shooting with eight of his points coming in the second half on 4-of-12 shooting from the floor.
He had just two points in the fourth quarter going 1-for-4 from the field.
It’s just the fifth time in 24 appearances since Irving returned from being suspended that he has failed to surpass the 20-point mark. It’s also just the second time this season he’s had to play without Durant alongside him this year.
“When anybody’s out, on our team the way we’re structured,” Irving admitted of the Nets roster. “We’re built to be a great, multi-dimensional team, multiple options on positions. So, when those two guys aren’t in there, obviously, other guys have to fill in and we just have to find our rhythm defensively and make sure we know our rotations.”
Brooklyn – who was missing a big component of their defense in Ben Simmons due to back soreness – has just three players averaging double-figures this season.
It’s why there have been calls for them to trade for another piece. Their margin for error is thin.
“The little things matter in terms of us staying communicative and just not holding our heads after losses,” Irving said. “It’s not time to start pointing fingers or listening to some external noise that has nothing to do with what we got going on. Just paying attention to what we can control.”
Kyrie Irving Pushes Back on Narrative
Irving was asked again about what makes this time around without Durant different from last season when the Nets went 5-16 including 11 straight losses when Durant suffered an injury. This time he bristled slightly at the constant comparison.
“It was all ‘glory, glory’ last week when we were winning game after game,” he said. “And, now, we’re answering questions about potentially struggling. I don’t believe we’re going to struggle with Kevin out. That’s not my belief. I know guys in the locker room don’t believe that. And this isn’t last year at all. So the comparisons just got to stop. I’ll leave it up to you guys to do that. But, for us, we don’t have any comparisons in here to last year. We just want to control our focus level and how we prepare out there.”
Brooklyn’s five-game road adventure will start with the tanking San Antonio Spurs but will also take them to see – in order – the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, and Philadelphia 76ers. They have not yet played Phoenix or Utah and took a 115-106 loss to the Sixers on November 22.
“All we can do is control the now. Just got to shake this one off and get ready for our road trip upcoming and take it one possession at a time, one minute at a time. And just invite the growth that can happen here. Guys can definitely fill in some shoes, play some different roles. And it gives us a chance to really grow as individuals. Some guys have been in this position, some guys have not.”
It will certainly be a telling stretch for the Nets especially if Simmons is out of the lineup too.