In superstar duel, Kevin Durant and Nets come up short in loss to Celtics

Brooklyn Nets Boston Celtics
Kevin Durant defends Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum during the first half at TD Garden.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The ABC cameras caught Kevin Durant’s face as Jayson Tatum hit a pair of free throws with 12.1 seconds left in the game. The Nets superstar appeared to be shaking his head in frustration as the Nets were on their way to their fourth straight loss and fell further behind in the standings with only 17 games left to play.

Despite a performance that lived up to the national TV billing between Durant and Tatum, the Nets fell 126-120 to kick off a three-game road trip. Their latest loss puts the Nets in at a somewhat critical point in their season with the Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn all neck and neck in the eighth, nine and 10 spots in the East.

The Nets are also below .500 with their record dropping to 32-33 and their once-dominant road record now sits at 19-15.

“Concerned and worried, it’s easy to do that,” Durant said when asked about the current situation with the Nets. “It’s easy to be concerned. It’s easy to be concerned and pissed off and mad. It’s easy to do that. We could point fingers and blame our season on other things, but let’s just go play. We got another game. We got 17 more let’s just seen what happens. We just take it a day at a time. I’m confident in this group.”

Sunday’s matinee was a battle between two stars as Durant and Tatum went head-to-head with the national spotlight glaring down on them. The two delivered with Tatum scoring a game-high 54 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field and 8-of-15 shooting from three-point range.

Durant for his part scored 37 points on 12-of-21 shooting in his second game back from an MCL sprain and surpassed the 25,000 point mark in his career in the course of the afternoon. Durant is now the 23rd player in NBA history to surpass the milestone and he did it in the seventh-fewest games in 922  in league history.

“I told him in the locker room, ‘25,000 points you’re a savant,'” Kyrie Irving said about Durant’s milestone. “He will forever be remembered as a legend in our game and he’s been doing it since he was 19. There’s a level of admiration that I have for my best friend right there and he just does it in ways that makes it look easy. And even when he takes six weeks off it looks like he hasn’t missed any time. That level of work ethic that he puts in it shows why he’s as great as he is.”

Irving finished the game with 19 points and Bruce Brown kicked in 16 on 6-of-10 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge had 14 points off the bench.

Brooklyn and Boston played a competitive game through the 48-minute affair and the Nets had led through the first three quarters of the game. However, the back and forth nature of the contest eventually gave way to Tatum and the Celtics capturing the lead down the stretch and never handing it back to the Nets.

The Celtics went up 110-102 with 5:50 left to play after a driving layup from Tatum, but the Nets clawed back with a 9-0 run and capped it off with a three from Seth Curry to put them up 111-110 with 3:29 left.

Boston answered right back with Tatum leading the charge and never allowing the Nets another chance to close the gap.

“I mean we fouled him a lot,” Bruce Brown said about Tatum’s high scoring on Sunday. “He had easy shots in transition. Walkup threes I think in the third quarter. He was getting downhill kind of doing whatever he wanted, so we just have to learn from this.”

To add insult to injury, the Nets also lost Cam Thomas to an injury that occurs in the first half of the game. He did not return with what the team described as a back contusion and Nets Head coach Steve Nash did not have an update on Thomas after the game.