Shorthanded Nets beat Raptors in overtime

Nets forward Kevin Durant controls the ball against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The shorthanded Nets beat the Raptors in overtime on Tuesday night, as the team from Barclays Center overcame seven COVID-related absences to beat Toronto in a high-scoring 131-129 matchup in Brooklyn. 

Along with unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, and injured Joe Harris, seven players — James Harden, Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Bembry, Jevon Carter, and James Johnson — missed the contest after entering the NBA’s “health and safety protocols,” which resulted from potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Still, Kevin Durant’s triple-double, with 34 points, 11 assists, and 13 rebounds helped push Brooklyn to a close victory against the 13-15 Raptors, and sent the first place Nets to an Eastern Conference-best 20-8 record. 

Veteran Patty Mills came up clutch with a huge three pointer with 4:42 left in regulation to go up 117-111, which temporarily gave the Nets some cushion against the explosive team from Canada.

That lead wouldn’t last long, as the Raptors overtook Brooklyn 120-117 with a Gary Trent Jr. three pointer with 1:21 left as the Nets offense went stale during the last few minutes of the game.

Mills, though, answered again with just over 12 seconds to go in the fourth — hitting a three pointer to tie the game, before Raptor’s point guard Fred VanVleet missed a potentially-game winning two pointer at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime. 

“It was an enormous effort for everyone to step up tonight,” said Mills. “It was a satisfying win.” 

Both teams began overtime with lackluster offense, before Durant scored six straight points to put Brooklyn in the driver’s seat. 

Forward Blake Griffin fouled out of the game with 52.7 seconds left in overtime on a highly-controversial call, which Nets coach Steve Nash unsuccessfully challenged, leaving the already underhanded Nets with limited options to finish the game. 

The Raptors began fouling the Nets to preserve time on the clock with under 12 seconds to go, but Brooklyn managed to make enough free throws to keep the team ahead on the scoreboard. 

Raptors forward Scottie Barnes missed a running three-pointer at the buzzer, which would have given the Canadian team a win, but the shot hit the rim and bounced out as the crowd from Barclays Center celebrated the hard-fought victory. 

Durant had previously been listed as “questionable” to play with a slight leg injury Tuesday night, but Nash later told reporters that the future Hall of Famer “really wanted to play,” and ultimately convinced the coaching staff to let him suit up.

“We had to debate it. We had to debate Kevin’s situation. Obviously, we’re talking about franchise player. We don’t want to risk it,” Nash said. “In the end, Kevin really wanted to play.”

Durant, for his part, spoke glowingly of his teammates, highlighting his “pride” in how they overcame the unexpected adversity to pull out a win.

“We could have easily punted this game, but we saw an opportunity to get better,” he said. “Words can’t describe how proud I am to be apart of this group. It was incredible.”

The Nets will remain in Brooklyn for a Thursday night matchup against the 15-13 Philadelphia 76ers, which will ideally give the absent Nets players time to return two negative PCR tests, allowing them to return to on-court action.

Meanwhile, Irving, who has missed every game this season due to New York City’s mandates that everyone inside arenas must be vaccinated, posted a cryptic video lacing up his shoes, potentially teasing a return to the court.