There is no doubt the Nets are facing a COVID-induced crisis while minus seven players who have tested positive for the virus. But who could have guessed the hardship would reveal the depth of young talent in their organization?
Since losing seven veterans, including superstar James Harden, to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Kevin Durant has led the Nets to victories over the Raptors and the 76ers thanks to major contributions from rookies Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards, David Duke Jr. and Day’Ron Sharpe along with third-year veteran Nic Claxton. That quintet combined to produce 46 points and 22 rebounds in the Nets’ 114-105 win over the Sixers Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Next up is a back-to-back challenge against the Magic on Saturday night and the Nuggets on Sunday night at Barclays Center.
"I think the spirit’s been outstanding," Nets coach Steve Nash said of a roster that numbered nine healthy bodies against Philadelphia. "The guys are playing for one another, trying to play the right way, sticking with it . . . Really, the resilience, the spirit and the hell outside of basketball mixed in there as well."
Nash’s last comment was referring to the turmoil society in general faces as a result of the effects of the global pandemic. It’s a case of the real world intruding upon the world of fun and games. But to their credit, the Nets’ youngest players have stepped up and delivered almost shockingly well in the face of adversity.
Asked what stands out most to him about their play, Nash said, "For me, it’s the toughness. They’ve played hard, they’ve been physical, they’ve not been afraid . . . Watching them kind of accept that challenge and go for it physically and mentally has been outstanding."
Claxton, in particular, had one of the best games of his young career against the 76ers. He’s known for his defense, but he delivered a 17-point effort and shot 8-for-9.
"If teams want to continue to guard KD like that, I’m going to continue to make plays for myself and my team," Claxton said of all the defensive attention the 76ers focused on Durant, creating openings for his teammates. "It’s just all of us having a feel for the game and going out there and playing and letting the game come to me and not forcing anything."
No one appreciated the young guys’ effort more than Durant, who was roundly praised by Claxton and veteran Blake Griffin for the leadership he has provided at such a difficult time. Durant downplayed his vocal role and said even Duke and Claxton spoke up to him about how they wanted him to run a couple of plays, and he appreciated it.
"These guys have been dreaming about playing in this league their whole lives, so to get an opportunity like this with so many starters out, you get an opportunity to just showcase your game and not put too much pressure on yourself while you’re out there," Durant said.
"It’s a good position for them, and I’m excited they get this opportunity. They’re feeling the weight of each game but also coming in relaxed and free. That’s a good balance to have."