Can Nets' statement win over the 76ers jumpstart a cohesive team?
The dust up between two of the biggest stars in the game lasted all of 10 seconds. But it spoke volumes about how important Thursday night’s game in Philadelphia was to the Nets.
Late in the first quarter of the Nets' 129-100 blowout when the two teams were still in a relatively tight game, Joel Embiid plowed into Durant as he went to the basket, knocking Durant to the court and drawing the foul.
Durant explained after the game that he knew he had to do something right then and there to get his team going. And so, when Embiid began celebrating his move, Durant went right back at him and the referees let the two superstars jaw back and forth as the crowd in Philadelphia went wild.
"He told me, ‘You was on the floor," Durant said. "I was beating my chest and excited because it’s a great atmosphere. You could tell everyone was excited about the game…..Every little play felt like it was something. I felt like at that point I needed to ignite my team even more somehow."
The question is whether this win can ignite the Nets down the home stretch and give them some confidence they can be a contender if they can advance into the playoffs.
Yes, the playoffs do remain an if.
Right now, with 15 games remaining, the Nets are 34-33 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and seem likely to end up in a play-in game. The problem with that, of course, is that Toronto currently occupies the seventh spot. As it currently stands, Kyrie Irving would not be able to play against the Raptors – either in Canada or, if the two teams flipflopped, in New York – because of his unvaccinated status.
If the Nets were to survive the play-in round, they would end up playing either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. The Nets have beaten three of the current top four seeds with big wins over Milwaukee, the Sixers and the Bulls. They are 0-3 against Miami but have yet to play them with both Irving and Durant on the floor.
In many ways it’s been hard for the Nets to form a cohesive group this year because of injuries, vaccination mandates and trade demands have given their lineup the revolving-door treatment. Irving said a victory like the one in Philadelphia can bring the team closer together.
"Yeah, I mean we're battling and when you step foot in an environment like this as a professional as a competitor kind of all the things go out the window that could really distract you in moments like this," he said. "We just wanted to come out, play for one another, we knew that there were going to be high intense fans in the crowd and we just wanted to relish in it. Channel that energy into the right place and like I said before, live with the results."
Coach Steve Nash is hoping the Sixers result will carry over and help the Nets start a run.
"I think it’s great for our confidence," he said. "We’ve had such a rough stretch with injuries and trying to put this thing together and build some cohesion and understanding. It’s nice to have two games in a row where you play well and the ball goes in the basket. It brings everyone together a little bit and puts relief and confidence in what we are trying to do."