K.D. sits as Kyrie bails Brooklyn out
Irving's big first half helps shorthanded Nets end slide
The best thing about having two superstars is that sometimes you only need one.
The Brooklyn Nets found that out Tuesday night at a still-fanless Barclays Center.
With Kevin Durant quarantining after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Kyrie Irving stepped up and helped the Nets avoid a season-high third straight defeat by leading Brooklyn to a 130-96 blowout of the visiting Utah Jazz.
Durant, who tested positive himself for the coronavirus back in March, was placed into a seven-day quarantine earlier in the day that could wind up costing him four games, including Thursday’s contest against Philadelphia on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
Not one to shy away from the spotlight, Irving had it mostly to himself in Durant’s absence and didn’t blink at not having his future Hall of Fame teammate on the floor.
The mercurial point guard scored 20 of his team-high 29 points in the first half, including 18 in the opening quarter, which saw the Nets (4-4) jump out to a 35-14 lead.
Irving hit 12-of-19 shots from the field, including a 5-for-7 performance from 3-point range.
He also grabbed six rebounds, handed out five assists and picked up three steals, which had dropped four of its previous five games after opening the season by winning two in a row.
“(Irving is) going to score,” Nets guard Bruce Brown told the Associated Press after getting a rare start beside Irving in the Brooklyn backcourt.
“He was hot. … Kyrie just went crazy today.”
And he wasn’t the only one.
Caris LeVert poured in 24 points off the bench and Jarrett Allen had a monster game along the interior, scoring 19 points and pulling down 18 rebounds to outshine Utah center Rudy Gobert, who was limited to 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting by the Brooklyn defense.
“We have Kevin out with COVID protocols. We were struggling. I think we are going to continue to experiment. We have to find out who we are, what we are, and where we need to improve,” noted Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“And sometimes just giving guys different opportunities at different times can mix things up,” he added. “We’ll see different lineups. Really proud of everyone for accepting that change and that dynamic and coming together and just playing their butts off for one another.”
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had 11 points and Joe Harris added 10 for the Nets, who held a 63-44 lead at the half and never looked back.
“It’s really satisfying, especially because we played so well on the defensive end, which is kind of where we’ve been struggling,” said LeVert.
“We feel like we can score with anybody in the league offensively. We felt like it was a matter of time before that came back. But defensively, I felt like we were on the same page. We took a step in the right direction.”
They’ll have to take several more without Durant in the lineup, on the bench or at the practice facility as the two-time NBA Finals MVP endures his second quarantine in less than 10 months.
According to LeVert, however, Irving playing the way he did Tuesday night in Durant’s absence was just what he and rest of the Nets expected.
“Ky has been playing like that every game to be honest with you,” LeVert said. “Nothing he does kind of amazes us. We kind of expect that from him. That was a great start. He took the shots the defense gave him, and he was very efficient out there.
“(Irving is) great at leading as well, talking to us on the defensive end, talking us through plays, talking to us with the new group he was out there with. That’s really underrated playing with a new group out there. Bruce that was his first time playing, first start this year, and it looked very seamless out there. I think Ky should get a lot of credit for that.”
He will as long as Brooklyn continues to win, especially with Durant out of commission for the next several games.
Nothing But Net: Durant’s COVID-related absence came one day after injured Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie underwent successful anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery on his right knee. According to a team-issueed release, the procedure was performed by Dr. Riley Williams III at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dinwiddie, who suffered the injury during a loss to Charlotte on Dec. 27, is slated to begin rehabilitation next week and is expected to make a full recovery. The former Sixth Man of the Year candidate and NBA All-Star Skills Challenge champion was averaging 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in Brooklyn’s first three games. Though it remains a long shot, Dinwiddie and the Nets are still holding out hope that he may be able to return in time for a potential postseason run.
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