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Confusion reigns as Kevin Durant exits game due to COVID protocols and Nets fall to Raptors, 123-117

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It was as bizarre a game as imaginable in these trying times ... and one that left one of the game’s biggest stars and his teammates frustrated and angry.

The Raptors ended the Nets’ season-best six-game home winning streak Friday, beating Brooklyn, 123-117. With the loss, the Nets fall to 14-10 on the season as the Raptors improve to 10-12 on the season.

Kevin Durant was the top storyline of the game. A few minutes before tip, Durant was pulled from lay-up line and told he wouldn’t start. An associate had tested inconclusively for COVID-19 and so, under the league’s health and safety protocols, KD was sent to sit in room off the court at Barclays. Then with 4:17 left in the first, the league relented and he was subbed in. It was the first time in his career with Seattle, OKC, Golden State and Brooklyn hadn’t started.

Then, it really got confusing. After playing 19 minutes, Durant was pulled again, with 9:06 in the third, during a timeout, following word that same associate’s test was determined to be positive and Durant was told he had to leave the game. As he departed, Durant tossed a water bottle aside and not long after, tweeted this out of frustration.

Later, the league tried to explain the situation...

None of that assuaged Durant...

... and finally...

Making things worse, Durant will not travel to Philadelphia Saturday to play the 76ers. per Adrian Wojnarowski...

And his return beyond Saturday remained up in the air...

His Nets teammates expressed not just frustration but anger, post-game.

“It was frustrating. We follow the protocols, we get tested every single day, and so I don’t understand the whole thing where he couldn’t play and then he came on the court then took him out. It’s a lot going on and too much going on.” Harden said on the Durant situation.

“It’s overwhelming, especially when we are in the midst of a tough game and these games are going to add up, especially if we are going to talk about playoff seeding. We are talking about positioning ourselves to home-court advantage, catching a rhythm, and all that. It is overwhelming and frustrating.”

An uncharacteristically animated Joe Harris (yes, animated!) sounded off as well.

“Confusing, frustrating. I mean, it’s bizarre. For him to not start, and then be able to come in, play, and then be taken out of the game. That literally just doesn’t make any sense,” said Harris. “I woulda said, ‘hey, if he’s sitting for contact tracing, he’s with all us on the court!”

Joe went on...

“It’s just a lot of stuff where it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’m not the one making the decisions. I just work here.”

And on!

“I don’t know what the rules and everything are, but I’m assuming it’s going to be the same as last time where he had to sit for a week or whatever it was,” explained Harris. “I mean it’s tough. And it sucks for him. The guy doesn’t even have positive tests!”

When asked if Harden communicated with Durant since the news, Harden took it to another level noting how the game should have been postponed.

“He feels the same way,” Harden said on Durant. “Him already having it and like I said, we get tested every single day, he’s been negative. I don’t understand what the problem is. If that was the case, the game should have been postponed. I feel like if we are talking about contact tracing, he was around all of us. I don’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to play then was able to play then taken back off the court. If that was the case, we should have postponed the game. That is how I feel.”

Even though Durant tested positive for the virus back in March and presumably has antibodies, under league rules, he still must be tested. The rules apply to other Nets who’ve tested positive including at least James Harden, DeAndre Jordan, Landry Shamet, and Spencer Dinwiddie.

So after recording eight points, six rebounds, and five assists, Durant was done for the night and he lost two records in the process ... his career-long record as a starter and his personal and franchise record of starting the season with 17 straight games of 20 points or more.

As for the game, the Raptors held a lead up until the 9:45 mark of the third. After that, both teams traded baskets and multiple leads as the game outcome came down to the final minutes.

The Raptors entered the final minute of play with a six-point lead with the Nets in desperate need of stops and big plays on the offensive end. Brooklyn struggled to overcome the late game deficit.

Outside of Durant, James Harden, who only attempted three shots in the first half, paved the way for Brooklyn facilitating and scoring, finishing with a double-double of 17 points and 12 assists to go along with seven rebounds in 40 minutes of play. The double-double marked his ninth double-double as a Nets matching Spencer Dinwiddie’s total in that category from last season.

Kyrie Irving had a strange game scoring 15 points, well under his 28.5 point average along with two assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes. He also turned the ball over seven times.

Joe Harris followed, providing a boost offensively scoring 19 points, shooting 5-of-8 from deep. to go along with seven rebounds, and two assists in 37 minutes. One positive note: Landry Shamet shot 4-of-9 from three, scoring 12 points in his best shooting display of the season. Over the last four games, the 23-year-old has shot 9-of-24 or 37.5 percent. Perhaps his season-long slump is at an end.

As a team, the Nets finished the loss shooting 49.4 percent overall and 41.5 percent from deep. Brooklyn’s 18 turnovers paid a heavy toll as Toronto scored 26 points off them. To go along with the points off turnovers, the Nets were outscored 64-40 in the paint.

The Raptors were led by Kyle Lowry, who finished with a season-high 30 points in 38 minutes followed by Paskal Siakam with a game-high 33 points in 39 minutes. As a team, the Raptors finished the win shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from deep.

Prior to the game, Nick Nurse spoke about the offensive firepower the Nets have, emphasizing trust in his team will be in need of.

“If you don’t help, then you’re not gonna stop them,” said Nurse pre-game. “They got three guys that can’t be guarded one-on-one, so you gotta help. You gotta trust your help and your rotations and you gotta do it. We’ve gotta not get caught up in thinking that you can’t help. You have to guard the ball hard, and you have to be in your help positions. If someone goes by you, then the rotations start and you’ve gotta be really good at them. Really good.”

Steve Nash, following the loss, explained how the Nets are just gathering information on the Durant situation as he is unsure how much time he will miss.

“I’ll try to explain this from what I know. I do not believe he will come to Philly but I don’t think he necessarily is decided. It is just a contact tracing procedure and I think it is to be determined how much time he will have to miss,” Nash said on Durant following the loss. “We are just gathering information at this point.”

Now, let’s dive into some film.

The Film Room

Matt here, hi. This is going to sound like the “easy” argument, I know, but boy Kevin Durant’s COVID-19 exit really seemed to affect the team, hm? Without Durant in the first quarter, the Nets came out sluggish. And then, when Durant was pulled in the third, a feeling of lethargy overwhelmed the group. To be truthful, my biggest takeaway from this game is that I... truly have no idea what the NBA’s COVID-19 Health & Safety protocols are. None. Not the slightest idea. How can someone be cleared to play and then immediately pulled? What the heck is going on here? If it’s contact tracing, why did it originally seem like Durant was in the clear, just for that to not be the case? Why are the Nets finding out this information halfway through the game instead of beforehand? Whatever. That’s for a different day.

In the minutes that KD was in, the Nets looked pretty good! Funny how that works. That whole “having your best player makes you better” thing!

For example, here’s the man himself sticking out an arm to pick off the pass to the rolling big (Aron Baynes), leading to a transition possession for the Nets.

Without Durant, the Nets fought, sure, but ultimately the loss of star power and, frankly, size doomed this Nets team down the stretch. Toronto posted 64 points in the paint against the Nets, who went mostly small down the stretch with Jeff Green at the five, and without KD and his near-7 foot frame, that strategy wasn’t as efficient as it normally is.

Truthfully, with everything that happened with Durant, this game sort of felt more like background noise. Even for coach Nash, it was hard to concentrate amidst all the mayhem.

“If I am honest, I probably didn’t handle it great just trying to juggle all those balls and all that different information. What does it mean and I probably got a little distracted off what it means long term for our team,” Nash said, more diplomatically than his players.

“We were playing guys a lot of minutes and Kevin is not playing, are we going to run the remaining guys too many minutes so maybe I got a little bit distracted. The big picture is that is how the year is going to be. We are going to be out of COVID situations and minute pileups and all the difficulties we are going to face this year. It’s going to be similar for everyone so we just got to try to adapt and be able to bounce back from setbacks like this.”

What a bizarre night.

Nick Nurse sounds off on the Big 3

The Big 3 has gotten off to quite the start, going 8-4 since the day of the James Harden trade. Much has been said about the Nets early prosperity––who is playing what roles, how the players are gelling so fast, what sets are best for the group––but maybe most important is analyzing who of the three all-time scorers has taken the biggest gut-check in terms of a role change. Well, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has his guy in mind for that specific question.

“I think you’ve gotta say Harden probably,” answered Nurse. “I mean he had the ball for every single possession for the last 27 years. That’s a little different because there’s times in the game now where Kyrie races it up and give Durant the ball in ISO situations as well. That’s the only difference; I mean, Harden still gets his share of that kind of stuff. They play fast, they get a lot of possessions. They all still look very much like the same players.”

It’s tough to argue. While Harden’s scoring numbers have fallen by 10 points (from 34.3 points per game in 2019-2020 to 24.1 points on average as a Net), he’s supplemented that decrescendo in statistical output with an uptick in facilitating; 12 assists per game represents a career-high for Harden should that number hold over a full season.

So much for that ballhog narrative, eh? (Not a Canadian joke, I promise).

A ‘Quote of the Year’ contender from Jeff Green

Tensions were obviously... high after KD was pulled from a key game against a conference rival. All the while, multiple superstars (including Brooklyn’s own James Harden) expressed some skepticism about the decision to hold an All-Star game during such dire times.

Jeff Green, bless him, provided reporters with a brief moment of comedy amidst a very tense night.

“Well, I don’t know. I ain’t gonna be in the All-Star game anyway,” said Jeff Green to a question about whether the All-Star game should happen or not. “I won’t be there. So I ain’t gotta worry about it.”

Joe E. Buckets moving up 3-point ladder

With his 5-for-8 shooting from deep, Joe Harris has now moved into seventh place ALL-TIME in 3-point shooting percentage, surpassing Tim Legler. It’s the highest he’s ever been on the list. Next up is Jason Kapono. So far, this season, he’s shooting 49.4 percent from deep. In his last four games, he’s shot 21-of-37 or 56.8 percent.

Harris is also closing in on Drazen Petrovic for the All-Time Nets leadership. As a Net, Petrovic shot 43.737 percent while Harris has shot 43.721. Both played for other teams —Petrovic for Portland, Harris for Cleveland— before joining the Nets.

Also, on Friday, Harris made the 700th 3-pointer of his career.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action Saturday when the team travels south to Philadelphia to take on the Philadelphia 76ers as part of their fifth back-to-back of the first half of the regular season. The game is set to tip-off at 8:00 PM ET and will be broadcasted on YES Network.

For a different perspective, head on over to Raptors HQ, our Raptors sister site on SB Nation.