Kyrie Irving missed his fourth straight game for "personal reasons" when the Nets overcame an 18-point third-quarter deficit to pull out a stirring 122-116 comeback win over the Nuggets Tuesday night at Barclays Center. But news of what could be a prolonged Irving absence because he might have run afoul of the league’s health and safety protocols for COVID-19 took precedence.
An NBA source confirmed to Newsday on Tuesday afternoon that the league is investigating the situation, and Nets general manager Sean Marks later issued a statement acknowledging the organization also is involved. ESPN was first to report the investigation after video surfaced of a maskless Irving attending a large family birthday party for his sister Asia and for his father.
"We are aware of a video on social media featuring Kyrie Irving at a family gathering," Marks said in his statement. "We are reviewing the circumstances with both Kyrie and the NBA in order to determine compliance with health and safety protocols.
"Kyrie remains away from the team due to personal reasons. A date of his return has yet to be finalized. In the meantime, we will continue to stay focused on our organizational goals.
"Kyrie will have the opportunity to address his absence when he is ready to do so."
Amid reports that some in the organization are upset with Irving, Nash was asked if he could update the level of communication with Irving and whether it has been direct or through intermediaries. "There’s been communication, but I think that’s all in-house," Nash said. "We keep that to ourselves and we try to figure out our home front privately."
Depending on the outcome of the league investigation, Irving might face costly disciplinary measures. According to an ESPN report, Irving might see a proportional game reduction of 1/81.6 of his salary amounting to $410,000 per game. He would forfeit that money for every game lost because of a mandated isolation. At the very least, he is expected to miss a game against the Knicks Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden and a home game against the Magic on Saturday.
Coming off a loss in which they surrendered 72 second-half points to the Thunder on Sunday, the Nets trailed the Nuggets 70-54 at halftime after allowing them to shoot 56.8% overall and 58.8% from three-point range (10 of 17). In a surprise move, Nash started little-used Bruce Brown at point guard ahead of Caris LeVert, but LeVert got the bulk of first-half minutes and scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half.
Kevin Durant took over in the second half to lead the Nets (6-6) with 34 points nine rebounds and 13 assists. Nikola Jokic (23 points), Will Barton (22 points) and Jamal Murray (20 points) led the Nuggets (5-6).
"It was a great win," Nash said. "We needed it for our soul. A lot’s been thrown at us…They got a victory, and they deserved it for sticking with it and sticking together."
The key to the Nets’ comeback was an epic 29-4 run in the third quarter that included 11 points from Durant and a trio of threes by Joe Harris (15 points) to give them a 90-83 lead. The Nuggets came back to grab a 109-107 lead with 4:02 left to play.
But Brown and Durant each had six points in the Nets’ closing 13-5 run to pull out an emotional victory.
"It was definitely needed, especially after a bad loss last game and especially starting off bad," Durant said. "Guys have pride, and they want to come out and compete. Everybody came with it tonight, especially in that second half. We slowed down, stopped thinking so much and covered for each other, and we were able to get a good win."