In their first game without Kevin Durant for at least two weeks, the Brooklyn Nets struggled to find offense, especially down the stretch against the Boston Celtics.
After producing one of their lowest-scoring games of the season, the Nets play their second game without Durant when they host the improving Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.
Brooklyn is dealing with a knee injury to Durant for the second straight season. Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of a sprained left knee that cost him 21 games and saw the Nets lose 15 times.
In their first game since Durant sprained his left knee in a collision with Jimmy Butler a week ago in Miami, the Nets were held to 16 points in the fourth quarter and could not keep pace with the NBA’s best team in a 109-98 loss Thursday night.
The Nets were held under 100 points for the sixth time and shot 45.2 percent after shooting at least 50 percent in 11 of their previous 15. Brooklyn also fell to 14-2 in its past 16 games and is hoping to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since Nov. 13-15, when consecutive road losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings dropped its record to 6-9.
The Nets are also hoping for a more efficient showing from Kyrie Irving. Irving led Brooklyn with 24 points but also shot 9-of-24, including a 3-of-10 showing in the fourth quarter.
“Each and every one of us,” Irving said of replacing Durant’s 29.7 points per game. “Every single day. It’s just gonna be a collective effort.”
T.J. Warren added 20 off the bench after being considered a possible replacement for Durant in the starting lineup. Joe Harris added 18 while Ben Simmons finished with 13 assists while also going scoreless and acknowledging he needs to be more aggressive.
“I know I need to get to the rim,” Simmons said. “I know I need to get buckets. That’s also going to help my teammates to get them going.”
Oklahoma City’s performances are trending upwards of late and it is seeking its third three-game winning streak. Since enduring consecutive two-point losses to Memphis and Minnesota Dec. 16-17 to cap a five-game losing streak, the Thunder are 9-5 over their past 14 contests.
Oklahoma City’s recent surge includes scoring 150 points in a 33-point rout of the Celtics Jan. 3 and Thursday’s 133-114 victory in Philadelphia. After halting a six-game road skid Thursday, the Thunder withstood a shaky third quarter before pulling away for a 124-110 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
Oklahoma City held an 18-point lead early in the second half and then shot 58 percent and scored 33 points in the final quarter after its lead was trimmed to one.
“Twelve months ago, if a team goes on a run like that, maybe we crumble a little bit more; maybe guys go into their shells,” Oklahoma City guard Josh Giddey said. “Tonight guys stood up and were ready for the challenge.”
Giddey helped Oklahoma City down the stretch with 11 of his 25 points in the fourth while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 21 after getting 37 in Philadelphia.
Oklahoma City also is seeking its sixth straight win in Brooklyn as its only road loss to the Nets since 2015-16 occurred in Mexico City in December 2017.In its 130-109 victory over Brooklyn on Jan. 13, 2022, Gilgeous-Alexander collected 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
–Field Level Media