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When your basketball team has a nucleus that consists of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, it's fair to say that you won't have too many hiccups. However, in the first half of Raptors vs. Nets at Barclays Center on Friday, the Nets struggled mightily. Turning the ball over, taking undisciplined offensive fouls, and not having your best player so far this season be able to start because of a contact tracing incident, caused the Nets to go into halftime down 67-63.
An issue addressed by Nets head coach Steve Nash and "The Big 3" (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden) is the fact that the Nets tend to play down to opponents of lesser ability and skill or have a different mentality against these types of teams. Though this likely won't be an issue come playoff time, it remains an issue right now, and if it continues, seeding could change quite drastically for the Nets and their NBA postseason hopes.
The Nets did not come out ready to play basketball on Friday, playing one of the sloppiest halves we have seen in a while. For the first time in his then 866 NBA game career, Kevin Durant could not start because of COVID-19 precautions. Instead, about eight minutes into the first quarter, he came off the bench. He recorded 8 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes of play in the first half and had 3 fouls. James Harden and Kyrie Irving both had 11 first-half points. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, and Landry Shamet had 9. The Nets dug themselves into a deep hole early on but were almost able to climb their way out. They knew that they had to come out in the second half and send a loud and clear message to the 9-12 Toronto Raptors.
Well, spoiler alert: the Nets did not send any roaring message after halftime. They cleaned up their game a bit but overall were still pretty sloppy and undisciplined. The NBA's protocol system decided that Durant was ineligible to play, and he was removed from the game in the third quarter, just moments after a foul called on him was overturned. James Harden was not happy about this removal in his postgame press conference. Durant is not expected to travel to Philadelphia for Saturday's game against one of the East's best teams, despite having multiple negative COVID tests.
With Durant out, Joe Harris stepped up, and the Nets played a decent fourth quarter. Despite falling 123-117, Brooklyn somehow made this a close game after a disastrous first half. James Harden finished with 17 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. Joe Harris had 19 points, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds. Kyrie Irving had 15 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. Bruce Brown continues to bring an impressive all-around game to the table, and Jeff Green has found his stride again.
As previously mentioned, the Nets didn't send the loud and clear message to the Raptors that we all had hoped for, but this game should send a loud and clear message to Brooklyn's general manager Sean Marks that size, depth, and rim protection are needed badly. Most of the pieces are in place; however, a couple are missing. The buyout window ends on March 1st, and the trade deadline is March 25th.
The Nets fall to 14-10 overall and 4-2 with "The Big Three." They will take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. Tip-off is set for 8 PM (EST).