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KD Wills Shorthanded Nets To Improbable OT Victory
In the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham, catcher Crash Davis engineered a rainout for his slumping minor league team so they wouldn’t have to play that day.
Nets superstar Kevin Durant could have easily deployed a basketball version of the Davis maneuver by milking a sore ankle to force the NBA to postpone Tuesday’s home game against Toronto it had no business playing due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases on Brooklyn’s side. The league minimum for any game is eight available bodies and the Nets had previously announced that seven of their 17 rostered players (including two-ways) had tested positive for the coronavirus while Joe Harris is still recovering from ankle surgery and Kyrie Irving is… well, you know.
Had KD bagged Tuesday’s game, Brooklyn would have been allowed to reschedule it, presumably to a time when they were more whole. With James Harden and center LaMarcus Aldridge among the positive testers, Durant had to know he wasn’t going to get a lot of help from a supporting cast that featured four rookies among his seven cohorts.
Nets Head Coach Steve Nash said afterwards that the organization had to debate whether it would be prudent to play their franchise player when he was legitimately designated as “Questionable” on the pregame injury report, especially after Durant logged 41 minutes in his 51-point masterpiece in Brooklyn’s 116-104 win at lowly Detroit on Sunday. The team has a right to protect its franchise player.
But KD is, as they say, a true hooper. “Punting,” as he called it afterwards, was not an option.
Instead, Durant went out on the sore ankle and submitted another performance for the ages with a triple-double of 34 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists over 48 minutes to lead Brooklyn to an improbable 131-129 victory in overtime.
Time and again, Durant is showing Nets fans that nothing is impossible when he’s on the basketball court. This was the proverbial, “Give me KD and three guys off the street” game, since I won’t disrespect guard Patty Mills, who put up 30 points, including the game-tying three-pointer with 13.1 seconds remaining in regulation. The others on the floor during crunch time: center Blake Griffin (bought out last season by Detroit and benched by Nash on November 22 after missing his 22nd consecutive three-point attempt), Kessler Edwards (a rookie second-round pick), and David Duke Jr. (an undrafted rookie free agent). For over nine minutes, Nash configured lineups with all four rookies (Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe plus Edwards and Duke Jr.) together, with either KD or Mills as the pilot. Somehow, Brooklyn played Toronto even at 20-20 during those stretches.
The Raptors’ game plan was to smother Durant with long, athletic bodies, forcing the other guys to beat them. Sounded logical, except Edwards and Duke Jr. each recorded double-doubles and Griffin even supplemented his all-out hustle by knocking down two-of-four three-pointers.
When the Raptors went on a 44-25 blitz in the third quarter, going up by as many as 11 points, and seemed to have the game under control, I felt it was appropriate to prepare for one of those “commendable effort while shorthanded” posts. Moral victories are for suckers, but negativity in the face of such adversity didn’t feel proper. I mean, how could I be upset with Duke Jr’s skittishness when faced with wide open three-point looks—the kid played his heart out and made numerous game-altering plays on defense and on the backboards. Or Edwards falling into the Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot trap of too-late contests that allowed opposing shooters to get off good looks—if not for his nine fourth-quarter points, Brooklyn doesn’t mount a comeback.
And as for KD, who went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter, he deserves all the slack in the world for carrying this team on his back through the Irving situation, Harden’s inconsistencies rehabbing last season’s hamstring issues, and now this COVID-19 mess that warrants league consideration. Even when gassed, he has been showing us all why he’s still the NBA’s best player.
And not because he of course delivered when it mattered most, scoring six straight points after the Nets got down by four in the overtime. More importantly, as Nash said, “Kevin wanted to play, even under these conditions.”
No wonder after the game KD was as animated over this relatively meaningless December regular season win as he had been after Nets playoff victories. The legend tree grew another branch on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.