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Rest of Nets keep team afloat in Kevin Durant’s bench minutes for win over Jazz

On one possession in the Nets’ 114-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday, veteran guard Patty Mills flared up from the corner, received a hand-off from Blake Griffin, shed his defender by denying Griffin’s screen, then stepped back for an open three.

On another possession in the same quarter, veteran guard Goran Dragic called his own number, posting up the much smaller Mike Conley Jr. for a turnaround fadeaway in the low post.

And just two possessions before Kevin Durant checked back into the game after his usual break at the start of the second quarter, Nets rookie scorer Cam Thomas knifed through the teeth of the Utah defense and scored on a floater over Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

These baskets are a microcosm of an area the Nets need to improve on given the lack of roster consistency in a championship-chasing season: How is Brooklyn going to win the minutes Kevin Durant is off the floor?

“We just kept it moving,” said Griffin after just his third game in the month of March. “When you have the luxury of having a guy like Kevin on the team, sometimes guys around can get stagnant and sometimes you’re kind of just like watching him go to work. And when he comes out of the game we have to rely on our offense.”

Those minutes, when Durant watches idly and helplessly from the sidelines, are vital. They are the minutes the Nets are most susceptible to being on the losing side of a scoring run, even more so with Kyrie Irving unavailable in home games, with Joe Harris (ankle surgery) out for the season, with LaMarcus Aldridge battling a hip injury and with no return timeline in sight for Ben Simmons, who suddenly has a herniated disk and has yet to fully participate in team practice.

“The biggest downside of all that is just the amount of burden it puts on the rest of the guys,” said head coach Steve Nash. “How many more minutes they have to play, how much more responsibility they have to assume, so it takes its toll. That’s the hard part. But as far as in-game that night, we do the best we can.”

The challenges mounted for the Nets early into Monday night: They ruled starting center Andre Drummond out shortly before the game due to a non-COVID related illness and watched Seth Curry sprain his ailing left ankle early into the second quarter.

Which is why those Durant-less minutes matter so much, and why it was so vital to the Nets’ success on Monday night that they survived the Jazz in his limited minutes off the floor.

The Nets actually outscored the Jazz, 13-12, while Durant rested the first six minutes of the second quarter, thanks in large part to contributions from Mills and Griffin. Griffin turned in one of his best games of a season he’s largely been glued to the bench: nine points, four rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes of play. Mills scored 13 points, and Nic Claxton played the starting center role beautifully, even connecting on a poster dunk over Rudy Gobert to punctuate his night.

“We just got stops and got out in transition,” said Bruce Brown, who finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists on the night. “Patty got hot, hit big-time shots for us.

“We just got stops, got out in transition and got easy ones.”

Durant also rested the first four-plus minutes of the fourth quarter. The Nets tied the Jazz in scoring during that time, 10-10.

“It’s just amazing. Every player loves that, when you’re on the bench and your guys are turning up like that,” the Nets superstar scorer said. “Just happy that we got guys on this team that stay ready and want to go out there and destroy opponents. If we get up 10 or 12, we’re looking for Patty to try and shoot a three to take it up a notch, so I appreciate them.”

That type of scoring is needed, as the Nets face seven of their final 10 regular season games without Irving, who is ineligible to play in New York City due to his decision not to get vaccinated in a city with a vaccine mandate. It’s also needed given the unpredictable injuries the Nets continue to find across the roster: There’s no telling how much time Curry will miss with his sprained ankle.

Thankfully for the Nets, Durant is the superhero. He scored 37 points, often toying with Jazz defenders, jawing with their players on the bench and responding to the trash talk with buckets few humans on the planet can stop. It’s a luxury the Nets bought for $198 million: Durant is the most unstoppable scorer in all of basketball, and when coupled with Irving, and — if the day ever comes — with Simmons, the Nets project to be a deadly playoff team.

For them to capitalize on that, however, they’ll need to solidify their playoff standing by winning as many games as they can in the latter stretch of the season. That means more scoring in the minutes Durant is off the floor, more big games from players like Bruce Brown and Dragic.

And of course, more good luck: The Nets can score more with Durant on the bench if their injured players finally stay healthy for an extended period of time.


Source: Berkshire mont

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