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Nets survive in OT, beating Raptors with eight players, 131-129

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Heavily depleted but not down.

The odds were stacked against them but it was about the resiliency and the fight Tuesday. With only eight players — including one superstar — the Nets defeated the Raptors in overtime, 131-129. With the thrilling OT victory, Brooklyn improved to 20-8 on the young season, the fastest to 20 wins in franchise history.

“I tried not to get too up and down about it. Just let all the information come in, get a handle of what’s coming down the pipeline, what decisions will have to be made and just be calm,” said Steve Nash on his emotions coming into tonight’s game with seven players out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. “Also, a decision on Kevin’s ankle and whether we can play the game at all. Kevin wanted to play even under these conditions and he was rewarded for that.

“As coaches, we just tried to stay calm and our attitude was to pump these guys up. Let's show them we’re going to have a great time tonight regardless of who is in the lineup and who is not. We have belief and confidence in you guys and we want you to have a blast out there.”

Although the Nets had a minimum number of players, they had the maximum amount of heart. Kevin Durant was Kevin Durant but it was two Nets rookies, second-rounder Kessler Edwards and undrafted David Duke Jr., who rose to the occasion at the end.

“Man, I can’t even explain how I feel,” said Durant on the resilient win. We’re down seven players and we could’ve easily punted this game. I’m just so proud to be a part of this group and to play with these young dudes. It was amazing to be out there.”

After trailing by three in the closing seconds of regulation, Patty Mills drained his seventh three of the contest off a chaotic possession to send the game into OT with the score knotted up at 120.

Kevin Durant then scored six straight points for Brooklyn and Mills hit a nifty midrange jumper to lift the Nets to a 128-124 lead with 2:07 left. Up two with 52.7 seconds remaining, Steve Nash and the Nets challenged a defensive foul call on Blake Griffin, but the challenge failed, sending Blake Griffin to the bench with six fouls, and losing a vital timeout.

Then, with the game on the line, both the vets and rookies stepped up.

On the following Nets possession. Mills pulled a veteran move, dribbling out the shot clock and after a missed pull-up by Durant, David Duke Jr. soared in for the offensive rebound. The rookie was fouled and hit the pair of free throws to put Brooklyn up 130-126 with 10.3 seconds remaining. Fred VanVleet kept the Raptors in it, drilling a fall-away three from the right-wing to trim the deficit to one point with 3.3 seconds remaining. Mills hit one out of two free throws and off the miss, Toronto rookie Scottie Barnes missed a deep three, sealing the win for Brooklyn.

“Patty’s added so much to our franchise. He made big shots down the stretch and he’s an incredible competitor, a clutch player and he’s a proven winner and champion,” said Nash on Mills’ play in the fourth and in OT. “Just his spirit, winning mentality and attitude is just off the charts. He’s added so much to our group. He’s been a guy that’s tied it all together, spiritually held us all together and leaves it all out there. His game speaks for itself. That fourth-quarter performance, he deserves it for everything he foes for our team.”

Durant had his second triple-double of the season (14th of his career), finishing with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a game-high 48 minutes of play. The Nets superstar stated he knew he was going to play in the contest since earlier Tuesday morning.

“I was gassed, for sure in that fourth. To see Kessler, Patty, Duke and Blake make plays in that fourth re-energized me going into that overtime,” Durant said. “I was able to hit a couple of shots there in overtime and give us a little small cushion if anything. Patty was just an assassin tonight. It was an overall team effort and words can’t describe how proud I am to be a part of the group. It was incredible.”

Mills delivered a brilliant 30-point performance on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 7-of-14 from three-point range in 43 minutes — his first 30+ point game since 2019. KD was questionable coming into the game with right ankle soreness and if he or Steve Nash decided against playing, the game would’ve been postponed.

“We had to debate Kevin’s situation. We’re talking about a franchise player. We don’t want to risk it, so we were more cautious than he was. But he really wanted to play so that was it,” said Nash on Durant playing against the Raptors. “In the end, Kevin really wanted to play and that was the decision.”

Although Durant and Mills’ scoring performance pop off on the box score, it was the rookies that made the win even more of a thriller. Edwards recorded a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting overall and 3-of-6 from 3-point range in 44 minutes off the bench. David Duke Jr. also had a double-double in the win, recording 10 points and 13 rebounds to go with three assists, two steals and two blocks in 38 minutes.

“He does a lot of things on the basketball floor. He’s a physical, athletic, strong defender. He can get his hands on the ball, deflections, steals, offensive rebounds. He’s also a pretty good playmaker. He can get in the paint and make good decisions. He does a lot of things. We’ve always liked him and see a great future for him. To see him get out there tonight in his first extended action and see him respond that way was reinforcing what we see as an organization.”

Nic Claxton scored 16 points — two short of a career high — and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of play, followed by Blake Griffin with 13 points, six assists and five rebounds in 31 minutes. Day’Ron Sharpe and Cam Thomas had quiet outings, combining for only 11 points but Sharpe’s efforts on the boards was a key factor early — snagging seven rebounds (four of them offensive). As a team, Brooklyn dominated the boards, 60-41 with a slighter advantage on the offensive glass (19-13).

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The depleted Nets went with Mills, Duke Jr., Durant, Griffin and Claxton to start the contest. Brooklyn hit six of their first 10 shots to take an early 14-13 advantage with 6:56 remaining in the first. Claxton was very active in that span, scoring six points on 3-of-4 shooting.

Despite a short bench, Brooklyn thrived in the first, taking a 33-32 lead after one. The rookies looked sharp, combining for nine points in the frame while Claxton led the team in scoring with 10 points in nine minutes of play. The 6’11” Sharpe was the only active Net not to see minutes in the first, but he started the second.

Brooklyn, led by their youth with Durant on the bench, opened the second on a 13-6 run to expand their lead to eight points with 7:11 left in the second. Although Thomas was off to a slow start, Sharpe and Edwards were very active on the boards, giving Brooklyn second-chance opportunities powered by a lot of hustle. After Toronto called for a timeout at the 7:11 mark, the crowd gave the youth a loud round of applause.

A huge part of Brooklyn’s offense in the second was the fast break. The Nets compiled 20 points on the fast break — a season-high in that category — a 14-point advantage at the break. On the boards, the Nets took a 33-17 advantage, but it was their effort on the offensive glass that stood out, outpacing the Raptors, 10-5. The 10 offensive boards tied a season-high in any half.

Gary Trent Jr. drilled a left-wing three at the buzzer and Brooklyn hit the break nursing a 10-point lead (66-56). Durant and Trent Jr. exchanged some words after the buzzer-beater. The Nets superstar scored 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes in the first half but the Brooklyn’s rookies combined for 25 points, led by Duke Jr. and Edwards (eight points each). Claxton had a strong half of 12 points in 14 minutes of action.

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

But then Toronto dominated the third.

The Raptors picked up their intensity in the opening minutes of the quarter, playing with a lot more physicality, energy and toughness. Toronto took their first lead of the second half off a wide-open triple from Barnes in the corner (85-83) with five minutes remaining.

After taking the lead, the fiery Raptors got hot, forging a 7-1 run-off defensive miscues from the rookies. Despite Brooklyn being outscored 44-25 in the third, Durant kept the ship afloat, scoring 11 points to keep the Nets within striking distance heading into the fourth (100-91).

The Nets had the Raptors number to open the fourth, going on an 8-2 run, slowly chipping away at the deficit. After a pair of threes from Edwards, along with the usual midrange shooting from Durant and another three from Mills, the Nets were back in it. Mills let the fans know how he felt, banging his chest to the crowd, Brooklyn regained a 109-108 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. The Aussie guard wasn’t finished, drilling another pair of threes that erupted the Barclays Center crowd and mounted a small 8-3 run to take a six-point lead.

In the end, Fred VanVleet kept the Raptors in the game, drilling a fall-away three from the right-wing to trim the deficit to one point with 3.3 seconds remaining, but Mills hit one out of two free throws and off the miss, Toronto missed a deep three to avoid a second OT and capping a resilient win for the depleted.

The boss liked what he saw.

The Film Room

Each of Brooklyn’s rookies flashed intriguing skills. Even on a poor shooting night, Cam Thomas showcased a heightened interest in playmaking. Day’Ron Sharpe was as advertised as a rebounder but looked noticeably sprier on defense with his slimmed-down physique.

David Duke Jr. stole the headlines with his two-way prowess, getting into opponents’ jerseys and finding the gaps on offense. He’s straight from the school of Bruce Brown and DeAndre’ Bembry, doing the dirty work to squeeze out as much playing time as possible.

Below, he picks off an errant inbounds pass and turns into it a three-point opportunity on the other end with the off-hand and-1 finish. Oh, and the dude is a freaking rebounder. He sealed the game with an offensive pick-off and eventual free throws.

At 6’9” with impressive athleticism, Kessler Edwards already profiles as a rebounding pest and grabbed 10 boards on the night.

“I think, just extra efforts,” said Edwards about his rebounding. “Something I learned to do in college — just crashing the boards a lot. Running in there, giving efforts when other guys aren’t necessarily paying attention, and then just my length and my physical tools helped me out a lot too.”

Defensively, he toggled between multiple assignments, even at one point forcing Raptors All-Star caliber point-guard into a double-dribble. His 40% accuracy from deep in college may not be a fluke; below, he connects on a three-ball after a rescreen on a pick-and-pop with Patty Mills. That’s a lot of movement before the shot, yet Kessler looks cool, calm, and collected the entire time.

Getting the extra stuff from him — like this coast-to-coast floater with a euro finish — is just an added bonus. Kessler Edwards wasn’t just the best Nets’ rookie on Tuesday; he was one of the best players on the floor.

“Just super proud you know these guys,” said Patty Mills about the rooks. “I think if anything, this was one of those games for them it was a rewarding effort, a rewarding win for them knowing that they put in so much work behind the scenes that no one sees.”

With a shorthanded roster, these Nets could be in a heck of a lot worse shape. Give Sean Marks and front office credit: These rookies can play.

Milestone Watch

Per Elias Sports, Kevin Durant is the 1st player in the Nets NBA history (since 1976-77) to record a 50-point game and a triple-double in consecutive games. Durant is the first player to do that for any team since Damian Lillard in the 2019-20 season (January 26-29, 2020).

Also, per Justin Kubatkow of Statitudes, Durant is only the fourth player since the ABA-NBA merger to average a 40-point triple-double over a two-game span. He joins Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Westbrook and Harden have done it multiple times.

Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. are the first Nets rookies to post a double-double in the same game since Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson on April 4, 2009 at Chicago. Edwards and Duke Jr. are also the first Nets rookies to rack up a double-double within their first three games since Derrick Favors did it in his third-career game on October 31, 2010 vs. Miami.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets guaranteed

DeAndre’ Bembry was one of seven Nets in quarantine Tuesday night but as Wednesday dawned, he had some good news.

Bembry becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster January 7.

Hardship exceptions?

The Nets can add up to five players under the league’s COVID rules, per Bobby Marks of ESPN but each would cost Joe Tsai $500,000 in salary and luxury taxes. Steve Nash said that it’s too early to decide what the Nets will do.

“I would be speaking too soon to say so,” he said post-game.

The Nets can sign any free agent to a 10-day hardship exception but it’s more likely that they will first look to the Long Island Nets roster. Long Island and Brooklyn use the same offensive and defensive schemes.

KD to Skip Bayless: ‘I really don’t like u’

For a long time, Skip Bayless has praised Kevin Durant as the best player in the world. No argument there. But it never had the ring of authenticity. Why? Because the FOX Sports analyst has a long-standing animus toward LeBron James. Take last night...

Well, KD has had enough of being Bayless’ foil in his war on LeBron. So, 25 minutes after Bayless tweet — and his triple double — Durant responded with this...

It would appear that KD was still at Barclays Center when he tweeted! He misses nothing, not shots, not tweets.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next?

Who knows? As of now, the Nets are out Paul Millsap, James Harden, James Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jevon Carter, DeAndre’ Bembry and Bruce Brown due to COVID protocols. That list is unlikely to get shorter. It can’t get longer without the Nets having to postpone a game — or add players under a hardship exception.

The depleted Nets will return to action on Thursday, December 16 when the team hosts the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Tuesday night’s game, check out Raptors HQ — our sister site covering the Raptors.