It was a familiar storyline that did the Nets in as a 16 point lead in the second quarter evaporated and Miami took control of the game in the third. Brooklyn’s offense dried up as they shot just 28.7% in the third quarter and were outscored 28-17.
It wasn’t exactly the way that the team had planned for Durant’s much-anticipated return to the court, especially with Miami playing without Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and P. J. Tucker. Thursday marked Durant’s first game since Jan. 15 when he suffered an MCL sprain that kept him out of Brooklyn’s last 21 games.
“Overall this is a game we should win and we told our guys that after the game,” acting head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We should be disappointed. We should have won this game.”
Durant quickly found his form putting up 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting in 35 minutes against the Heat. He added 4 assists and 4 rebounds in what became Brooklyn’s third consecutive loss.
The Nets superstar said he felt great after the win.
“I’m only going to get better, more comfortable out there,” Durant said. “Take more of a (workload) out there too when I get more games under my belt. I felt solid.”
Durant teamed with Bruce Brown to pull the Nets within two late in the game, which included four points for Durant and six for Brown as the Nets made it a 109-107 game with 2:23 left in the game. Miami didn’t let the Nets get any closer after that, with Bam Adebayo making a critical bank shot to put the Heat up four and then Tyler Herro knocking down both free throws with 23.5 left in the game.
However, it was the zone that the Heat used in the second half that seemed to throw the Nets for a loop on Thursday night. Brooklyn struggled to adjust and Miami took full advantage.
“Spo tricked us with that zone,” Goran Dragic said. “They really play well in zone. We kind of lost the pace of the game, especially our triggers were too late. We were getting into offense around 15 seconds and then when you make one pass, two passes you’re playing versus shot clock and you put pressure on yourself. They did an amazing job. Tomorrow is probably going to be a good teaching day because we have to be prepared if some other teams are playing zone against us and we have to figure out those things.
“How to get better shots.”
Durant led the team in scoring, but Bruce Brown set a new season-high with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Patty Mills appeared to break his scoring drought with a 14 point performance and 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range.
Mills had been averaging just 3.3 points over the previous four games.
The loss pushed the Nets further back from their goal of escaping a spot in the play-in tournament now with just 18 games left on the calendar. Brooklyn now trails the Toronto Raptors by 3.5 games and is only 1 game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for ninth in the East.
Thus making the upcoming swing through Boston, Charlotte and Philadelphia all the more important. Especially with Kyrie Irving eligible again with the team on the road, Durant said his goals for the team go beyond winning and losing.
“Just to focus on the details every day,” Durant said. “Obviously winning basketball games and wanting to win, I don’t even got to say that. That’s always a part of goals. But getting championship habits in practice, shootaround and transferring them into the game is the most important part.”
Brooklyn came out of the game with some extra jump in the first quarter. Dragic hit a quick three and then Brown scored on a driving layup.
Durant’s first basket of the quarter came at the 8:15 mark when he knocked down a pullup jumper to give the Nets a 9-7 lead.
He extended the lead to five when he made a turnaround shot from 17-feet away and moments later made it 19-8 when he hit a fadeaway jumper off a feed from Dragic.
Patty Mills hit a pair of threes to break a shooting slump that he had been going through since the all-star break to give the Nets their largest lead of the quarter.
The Nets took their largest lead of the half after Brown made a 27-foot three to put Brooklyn up 16 with 4:38 left in the second quarter. The Heat began to chip away at the Nets’ lead, cutting it to seven after a turnaround hook shot from Bam Adebayo with 2:44 on the clock.
Caleb Martin cut the lead to seven again with a stepback three with 2.5 left in the half.