After missing the previous three games, Kevin Durant was released from COVID-19 quarantine and rushed back to join the Nets against the Thunder on Sunday night at Barclays Center. But Kyrie Irving remained out for personal reasons for a third straight game, and the Nets offered no timeline for his eventual return.
"Ky is still on personal leave," coach Steve Nash said to the media before the Nets’ 129-116 loss. "All the communication between Ky and the organization, I’m going to keep private, and I’m sure you’ll hear from him at some point . . . I’m not going to go into any of the talks with Ky. That’s just a private matter."
In contrast to the Irving situation, Nash made it clear he was glad to get Durant back in the fold against his former team, but backup guard Tyler Johnson remained in quarantine at least until the Nets face the Nuggets at home on Tuesday.
Durant had been in quarantine because of exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. "Kevin is excited," Nash said. "He was devastated to have to sit out. We all know he loves the game and loves to hoop. So he’s excited to be back, and obviously, I’m one happy coach to have him back."
Durant was a powerful presence with 36 points and 11 rebounds, but the Nets sorely missed Irving as they blew a 15-point second-quarter lead and permitted a 33-point turnaround at one point on their way to a dismal loss.
It was the second straight loss for the Nets (5-6), who got 21 points from Caris LeVert and 15 points and 10 rebounds from Jarrett Allen.
Shea Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder (5-4) with 31 points. Queens native Hamidou Diallo added 25 points off the bench and Al Horford had 22.
The Thunder shot 54.4% overall and 38.5% from three-point range, outscored the Nets 66-56 in the paint and totaled 72 second-half points.
The Nets led by 15 points early in the second quarter and then broke down defensively. "In the second quarter, it was turnovers," Nash said. "We were kicking the ball all over the gym. Up 15, lack of focus, it gets them right back in the game. Then 66 points in the paint tonight, 72 points in the second half. It’s just pride. No matter what defense you’re in, you got to sit down and guard someone, and we didn’t guard tonight.
"You can have a hard time guarding someone, but I didn’t sense the pride. I didn’t sense the competitive fire in the second half. I thought it was a lack of respect. We’ve just got to learn from this and get better."
Durant picked up where he left off as he and LeVert each had 10 points in the first quarter to help the Nets take a 41-29 lead. Taurean Prince’s three-pointer to open the second quarter gave the Nets their largest lead at 15 points.
But the Thunder responded with a 22-7 run to tie the score at 51 with 3:51 left in the half. In the last part of that span, the Nets missed eight straight shots and committed five turnovers.
Then everything went south for the Nets in a third quarter in which the Thunder outscored them 37-18.
Despite the loss, Durant was thrilled to be back in the lineup.
"I wouldn’t say it was a struggle," he said of his quarantine. "I definitely would have loved to be out there with my teammates, but COVID just put us under these circumstances and a lot of guys around the league are under protocol. I wasn’t too upset about it. I’m glad I’m back playing, though."
When last season was halted in March because of the pandemic, Durant was one of four Nets who tested positive for the coronavirus.
"I didn’t feel like I was going to get COVID again," he said. "I knew that I had it before and have antibodies and didn’t come in contact with too many people. I felt confident I’d have negative tests. I was able to work out with weights and a treadmill to keep me in shape."
Asked if he could shed light on Irving’s situation, Durant said, "I wouldn’t speak for Kyrie. I’ll let him do that for himself. I’m sure you guys will see him soon after he comes back. We support him 100% and pray for the best."