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Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant combine for 78 points but not enough to recover, 132-120

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Brooklyn Nets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

A day that started with the news the Brooklyn Nets and their fans were patiently waiting for; a change in the private sector vaccine mandate ended with a dominant superstar duo performance and a road loss.

Brooklyn clawed themselves out of an 18-point hole but a disastrous fourth quarter — one filled with lackluster defense and cold offense — ultimately sealed the Nets' fate. Brooklyn got outscored 29-16 in the final frame and the Nets were beaten by the Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies, 132-120, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 38-35 on the season and two and a half games behind the Cavaliers with nine to play.

“I thought we ran out of gas. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. I thought the first half was the game,” said Steve Nash after the 132-120 loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday night. “The stats speak for themselves. We knew what they were going to do and those three things were fast breaks (27 points), second-chance points (33), and points off turnovers (27). That’s 90 points in those three areas that we came into the game trying to address.”

It was evident from the first quarter that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving needed to deliver a superstar dup performance to lift the Nets past the physical Grizzlies. The 7-11 duo combined for 78 of the team’s 120 points. Kyrie Irving scored 43 points (15-of-17 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range) to go with two boards, eight assists, a steal, a block, and three turnovers in a team-high 44 minutes. His 43-point birthday performance set a new franchise record for most points scored on a player’s birthday beating the 41 points Allen Crabbe scored four years ago.

Durant had another near-triple-double effort, delivering 35 points (12-of-28 shooting overall and 1-of-7 shooting from behind the arc) to pair with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, two blocks but also a team-high five turnovers in 40 minutes.

Other than Durant and Irving, there wasn’t much offense to light a spark. Andre Drummond tallied 15 points, five rebounds, one assist, and a steal in 28 minutes. Bruce Brown had a solid defensive performance, swatting four shots to go with 13 points, seven boards, and one assist in 37 minutes.

While it’s rare for Durant and Irving to combine for 70+ points in a losing effort, differentials in fast break points, rebounding, second-chance opportunities, and fast break points served as the difference-makers for the Griz. While Memphis did shoot an electric 47-of-101 (46.5 percent) from the field and 19-of-38 (50.0 percent) from three, the team thoroughly beat up Brooklyn in those three key categories: rebounding (46-39), fast break points (27-14), second-chance points (33), and total shots (101-87) — categories the Nets head coach and his players know the Grizzlies formulate their play around and prepared for.

The Nets started Irving, Brown, Durant, Edwards, and Drummond against the Grizzlies. There was plenty of action in the opening minutes of the first. Although Brooklyn fell behind by six, a 7-0 run boosted by a pair of 3-pointers by Irving shifted some momentum. At the 6:27 mark, the Nets trailed the Grizzlies, 14-13.

A key to the game was keeping Memphis off the offensive glass and didn’t raise much of a problem in the opening period. The Nets held a 16-12 rebounding margin after one but it was the six Brooklyn turnovers (13 points for Memphis) that was the difference-maker in the first. After one, the Grizzlies held a 40-32 lead. Durant and Irving combined for 21 points in the period.

Memphis did what they do best starting the second: push the pace and get quality transition shots. The Grizzlies poured in triples in the opening minutes of the period getting up to 50 points with 9:13 left in the quarter. The Grizzlies’ hot shooting continued throughout the second off all kinds of different looks.

The superstar duo for Brooklyn manned the heavy offensive load, combining for 41 of the team’s 62 points at the break but didn’t get much help from the supporting cast or from the bench. Like the first, it was turnovers (eight turnovers turned into 17 Memphis points) and lackluster defense that was the difference-maker. Memphis also pounded out a 36-7 bench scoring advantage. By halftime, the Grizzlies led, 76-62.

Brooklyn Nets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The comeback for Brooklyn was heading in a positive direction early in the quarter. And it was led by the 7-11 duo. The Nets forged an 11-2 run to trim the deficit down to six in the opening minutes of the third.

“I thought physicality,” said Nash on the difference-maker in the third quarter run. “I thought we were more physical. We got the ball off the rebound, ran, and we were able to get to our spots earlier, their space earlier. In the first half, we didn’t do a good job of that. Jogging down the floor instead of running and getting them out there.”

Brooklyn couldn’t quite get over the hump until Irving began to heat up. The guard nailed a four-point play in the right corner to cut the Grizzlies lead to only three points, and after a pair of free throws by Durant at the 2:37 mark, Brooklyn had their first lead since it was 15-14. Brooklyn, led by Durant and Irving (66 points combined) held a 104-103 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The Nets outscored the Grizzlies, 42-27, in the third and shot 16-of-21 from the field.

The Grizzlies opened the final period with a 9-6 burst to take momentum and the lead back (112-109). The Nets’ offense went cold and their defense shifted back to what it looked like in the first half: allowing open looks from all areas and coughing up careless turnovers. The poor stretch of play on both ends put Brooklyn back into a 14-point hole — a hole the Nets couldn’t claw out of this time.

“It is a new group. I think we’re still learning each other. I think if anything, it’s a great learning experience for us. This is the way they play. They’re excellent at it. They’re bigger and stronger than us in every position so it is a challenge to match their physicality. It’s an opportunity for us to see what the playoffs are going to look like,” Nash said. “How we are going to have to compete.”

The Film Room

As Steve Nash mentioned above, the Nets fell short in multiple key categories across the board — points of turnovers, transition looks, and offensive rebounds. That, combined with Memphis’ hellacious three-point shooting — 50% on 38 looks from deep — pretty much sealed Brooklyn’s fate. The Grizz just outworked Brooklyn all night, plain and simple, and the possession below early in the fourth was emblematic of just how badly Memphis wanted this game.

Of course, there was some tactical gamesmanship from Memphis’ side of things to take advantage of Brooklyn’s schematics. In situations in which Brooklyn’s switching defense provided the Grizz with a possible mismatch, instead of attacking that matchup in isolation, Memphis looked to pull in a secondary defender thereby opening up the best possible shot on the floor. Memphis found the perfect middle ground between heliocentricism and a democratic balance within their offense.

Below is a great example. Desmond Bane is presented with a very advantageous switch, Andre Drummond on an island, and he hits the Brooklyn big with a pump-fake to get him airborne. Instead of rising up from the midrange jumper, Bane waits until Bruce Brown helps over before kicking to Jaren Jackson Jr. A great, great shot with the clock expiring.

Memphis was beyond clinical about attacking Brooklyn’s switching scheme, which felt occasionally disjointed (especially in the second half) and led to open threes. Here, Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane intertwine for a dribble handoff. Bane then reverses his course to set up a side pick-and-roll with Clarke rolling down the sideline. This pulls in the help from Kyrie Irving who “tags” Clarke’s roll, leaving Irving’s man, the blazing hot De’Anthony Melton, open from three. Patty Mills fails to realize that a switch is needed as Nic Claxton now has Bane and Irving is defending Clarke, and it’s yet another open look from deep for the machine-like Grizz.

Brooklyn’s offense absolutely hummed against Memphis with an offensive rating of 118.8 points per 100 possessions. Its defense, however, allowed 130.7 points per possessions (96th percentile), which is obviously unacceptable. Sure, the Nets can lean on their league-leading offense to keep them in big games, but they can’t also shoot themselves in the foot on the other end.

Milestone Watch

Kyrie Irving has scored 175 points in his last four games:

  • 43 points - tonight at Memphis
  • 60 points - 3/15 at Orlando
  • 22 points - 3/10 at Philadelphia
  • 50 points - 3/8 at Charlotte

That’s 43.8 points over four games, a Nets franchise record.

Despite the loss, the Nets offense continued its recent success. Brooklyn has scored 100+ points through three quarters in five of their last eight games. Brooklyn scored 100+ points through three quarters only three times in the first 65 games of the season.

The game was the fourth this year where a Nets duo had scored 30+ points in the same game...

  • KD & Irving - tonight at Memphis
  • KD & Harden - 12/30 vs. Philadelphia
  • Harden & Mills - 12/25 at L.A. Lakers
  • KD & Mills - 12/14 vs. Toronto

Playing it safe. No comment on mandate change

With all the controversy and fits and starts about the mandate being lifted, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Steve Nash also declined comment until things are made official. Mayor Eric Adams is scheduled to make an “economic and health-related announcement” Thursday morning at Citi Field.

Irving said post-game he wouldn’t deal in “hypotheticals” and declined to answer questions about the mandate until the official announcement.

Durant similarly wouldn’t comment, but noted “We are hoping to get some good news.”

“We all know we want Kyrie, we need Kyrie,” Nash said but declined to say anything further.

Boomer Bomb

Although many across the media discussed the possibility of the Mayor’s office pulling or changing the private sector mandate, it wasn’t any of them with the scoop. It was WFAN’s Boomer Esiason on Tuesday...

As Roberts tweeted on Wednesday after the news broke, “It wasn’t Politico… it wasn’t Shams… it was Boomer Esiason who nailed this story before anyone else. Great job Booms!”

No word on Simmons

With all the good news about Kyrie Irving, is there any on Ben Simmons whose back troubles have kept him out of action since the blockbuster trade on February 10 that sent James Harden to Philadelphia.

In comments before the game, Steve Nash basically said there’s nothing new on Ben Simmons back issue, but he also said this...

As a reminder, the Nets regular season ends on April 10, with the play-in tournament beginning two days later. The post-season opens on April 16 assuming the Nets make it. That gives the Nets medical and performance teams three weeks to get Simmons game-ready for a playoff run.

What’s next

Golden State Warriors v Miami Heat Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets will return to action on Saturday, March 26 when the team travels to South Beach to play the Miami Heat. The game is slated to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET. Then, it’s Sunday vs. the Hornets and Irving’s first game at Barclays Center since May 22 in the Nets first round series vs. the Celtics.

For a different perspective on Wednesday night’s game, check out Grizzly Bear Blues — our sister site covering the Memphis Grizzlies.