Despite playing without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets beat the 76ers, 122-109, on Thursday night at Barclays Center. It was a defensive masterpiece by the Nets, who held Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to a combined 31 points.
The 76ers entered the game at 7-1, the best record in the NBA.
Durant was in quarantine for the second straight game after being exposed to someone who has COVID-19, but coach Steve Nash offered no explanation for Irving’s absence beyond the official description of "personal reasons." According to an ESPN report, Irving is not expected to accompany the Nets to Memphis for the second game of a back-to-back set on Friday night.
In Irving’s absence, Caris LeVert stepped into the starting role at point guard and came close to a triple-double with 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. He had 18 points in the first half.
When he was asked about Irving’s absence, LeVert said, "He texted us before the game, but that’s a personal issue for him. We support him. He’s our brother. We went out there and we competed without him."
Indeed, the Nets put their defensive clamps on 76ers stars Embiid and Simmons. Embiid finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds; Simmons had 11 points and shot 4-for-13.
The Nets led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, and Landry Shamet’s three-pointer gave them a 104-87 lead with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter. The 76ers pulled within 11, but a 6-3 surge pushed the Nets’ lead back to 110-96 on LeVert’s layup.
The key down the stretch was the Nets’ ability to keep the defensive wraps on Embiid and Simmons, who totaled 11 points in the fourth quarter.
"I think our game plan early on Joel really worked," LeVert said. "We were doubling down on him, getting the ball out of his hands. I think we limited him to like seven first-half shots. I think that kind of threw his rhythm off, and we were attacking him when we had the ball offensively. We knew they played last night, so we tried to get them up and down and it worked for us."
Embiid hit back-to-back jumpers that cut the Nets’ lead to 117-106, but Jarrett Allen sank a pair of foul shots for a 119-106 lead at the 1:49 mark.
Suddenly the Nets had a two-game winning streak after victories over the Jazz and 76ers.
Joe Harris topped the Nets (5-4) with 28 points off the bench. He shot 11-for-19, including 6-for-9 from three-point range. Allen had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Jeff Green added 14 points and Taurean Prince had 13.
Shake Milton led the 76ers (7-2) with 24 points.
The Nets wore their throwback light blue tie-dyed uniforms that former star Derrick Coleman wore in his rookie of the year season in 1990-91.
"I don’t want to go as far as to say they’re a period piece, but they have a date on them in a sense of style, an era," Nash said. "I think it’s super-fun . . . We do have some classics, and I think it’s cool we’re going to roll these out."
Maybe the weird color scheme threw off the 76ers. Embiid and Simmons were held to a combined 14 points and 4-for-15 shooting in the first half, and the 76ers shot 39.6% overall.
In the third quarter, the Nets put together a 9-0 spurt that began with a pair of threes from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and ended with a three-point play from Prince for an 88-70 lead.
76ers’ Curry tests positive. ESPN reported after the game that 76ers guard Seth Curry returned a positive test for COVID-19 before tipoff. Curry, who did not play, spent the first quarter on the bench before going to an isolation room and then leaving the arena separate from the 76ers. The report said the team planned on staying over in New York and will begin contact tracing Friday morning.
Embiid, who has a 3-month-old-son, told ESPN he plans to self-quarantine from his family until he is certain he didn’t contract the virus. Embiid sat next to Curry during the game.