The Nets can ill-afford to lose many games in their final two weeks of the season, especially against a team right behind them in the East.
However, that’s exactly what transpired on Sunday night at Barclays Center when the Nets fell to the Charlotte Hornets 119-110 and spoiled Kyrie Irving’s first game in Brooklyn since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last June. The Nets had only led the Hornets by a game entering the important contest at Barclays Center.
The Nets closed the gap in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, even taking a brief 106-105 lead after Irving scored six consecutive points with 3:36 remaining. Still, the Hornets regained their form that eliminated a 14 point deficit in the second quarter and quickly responded.
P.J. Washington gave Charlotte back the lead with a driving layup and then Cody Martin hit consecutive three-pointers to put the game out of reach. His corner three with 1:12 left sucked the air out of the arena and Terry Rozier’s shot from beyond the arc was the final dagger in the Nets.
“We didn’t make shots tonight, but you have to find other ways to win the game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Tonight you could look at a number of things. Details, physicality, coverages, different plays when we came out of timeouts. Slippage there. Gave up 37, so the approach to start the second half wasn’t good enough. We gave up 17 offensive rebounds and didn’t box out, so when we’re not making shots we have to find a way to win games.
“I think that’s where we let ourselves down a little bit tonight.”
The loss dropped the Nets down to ninth in the Eastern Conference and was a disappointing end to a weekend in which Brooklyn had a dominating performance the night before against the Miami Heat. Now Brooklyn has put themselves in an even more precarious spot than they had been with just seven games left in the regular season.
The attention going into Sunday’s game had been on Irving, who was playing in his first game at Barclays Center this season. He hasn’t played in Brooklyn since June 7, 2021 due to vaccination mandates that had been in place by the city government.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams amended the private sector mandate that had been preventing Irving from playing home games last Thursday during a press conference at Citi Field in Queens. And Irving was welcomed back with thunderous applause from the sell-out crowd that came out to see his return.
He received the loudest applause during pregame introductions and then waved to the crowd just before the tip-off, which set off another loud cheer from the fans who had been waiting to see Irving play all season.
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But once the game tipped off he struggled to find his game for the better part of the night and finished with 16 points on 6-of-22 shooting. Sunday marked just the second time this season that Irving had played in the second game of a back-to-back.
“I wish we had a day of rest, but playing on a back-to-back a good Charlotte team,” Irving said. “They’ve been playing well lately. We know it was going to be a dog fight. Not the result we wanted, but we can definitely learn from this and grow from this. Just taking the moment now that it’s done and now we can move on, now that everyone can move on. Especially in the locker room, limited distractions, no fear and next game we’ll be better.”
Brooklyn played in Miami the night before in a much better effort.
Kevin Durant, who surpassed Reggie Miller on the NBA all-time scoring list, did all he could try and will the Nets to a win, finishing the night with a team-high 27 points on 9-of-24 shooting. He also had 8 rebounds and 7 assists on the night.
Andre Drummond had an impressive effort of his own with 20 points along with 17 rebounds and Bruce Brown continued to play a big role with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Ass a team Brooklyn shot 44.3% from the field and just 20.6% from beyond the arc.
After starting the game trading baskets, the Nets managed to open up a lead toward the end of the first quarter. A durant pull-up shot followed by five consecutive points from Kessler Edwards with 48.5 seconds left in the opening period gave Brooklyn a 10 point lead.
The Nets maintained their lead to open up the second quarter and eventually extended it to a 14 point advantage off a Seth Curry shot with 5:11 left in the half. Things quickly shifted after that as the Hornets chipped away at the Nets lead and went into the half down by just four.
Just under three minutes into the third, Washington put the Hornets in front as the Nets struggle to shoot and keep Charlotte’s offense at bay. LaMelo Ball gave them their largest lead of the period when he knocked down a step-back three with 2:57 left in the third.