Nets feel Durant’s absence in loss to Cavaliers

Brooklyn Nets Cleveland Cavaliers
Jan 17, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) loses the ball as he drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers center Evan Mobley (4) during the first half at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was the 65 points the Nets gave up in the first half or the cold streak they went on down the stretch late in the game, Kevin Durant’s absence was felt in Monday’s 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss was just the Nets fifth on the road and dropped them to 27-16 on the year.

Kyrie Irving and James Harden did all that they could to hold down the fort in Brooklyn’s first game since Durant suffered a sprained MCL in Saturday’s win. Irving finished with a game-high 27 points, along with 9 assists and 7 rebounds, while Harden had 22 points on the night.

The Nets let a four-point fourth-quarter lead slip away by allowing the Cavaliers to go on an 8-0 run to take a 101-97 lead with 5:12 left in the game. Brooklyn managed to claw back with six free throws from James and a layup fromDay’Ron Sharpe to tie the game at 105 a few minutes later.

[READ: Nash, Nets not ‘crying about’ injury to Kevin Durant]

However, the Nets cooled down fast and struggled to get their shots to drop as Cleveland outscored them 8-2 from that point. The Nets missed five straight baskets down the stretch, and a pass attempt that missed the mark from Harden to Irving led to the Isaac Okoro dunk that sealed the game.

“At the end, we didn’t convert,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “We had a few easy opportunities to convert, we didn’t convert. We let (Evan) Mobley get behind us for a layup. Those are small margins in a game, but for me giving up 65 points in the first half. We had a lot of defensive errors we weren’t happy with. That’s the game. … We have to be more consistent, we have to be more solid and we have to put together two halfs of defense.”

Already down a star, Harden appeared to get banged up in the third quarter after he took a knee to his left quad. Harden limped off the court, but remained in the game.

Nash told reporters he thought Harden was OK and Harden himself said he should be good.

Despite the Nets taking an early lead in the game, it was Cleveland that took found themselves ahead as the first half progressed. The Cavaliers pulled within by the end of the first quarter and Kevin Love’s jumper at the start of the second put them ahead 33-31.

Cleveland would put 35 points on the board in the second and Brooklyn would spend the rest of the period trying to keep pace.

“Giving them 65 points in that first half is just way too much,” Harden said. “Second half we were a lot better, but we just have to better the first half of the game and I think it’s a different outcome.”

While the Nets were aware of the situation with Durant, they weren’t using it as an excuse on Monday.

“We can’t focus on that. We had more than enough opportunities to win this game,” Harden said. “It’s on us. Defensively we were more engaged and more locked in that second half. We had plenty of opportunities, but like I said giving up 65 points we still had plenty of opportunities down the stretch to win the game. I know individually I’ve got to be a lot better, and I will be.”