MIAMI — The Nets won a game Sunday night, but may have lost something bigger.
Kevin Durant, smack in the middle of a season that was putting him in MVP contention, limped off the court in the third quarter of the Nets’ 102-101 win over the Miami Heat and did not return.
Durant appeared to have injured his right knee with a little more than a minute left in the third quarter. Jimmy Butler went to the basket and had his shot blocked by Ben Simmons. Butler fell to the court and then rolled into the side of Durant’s knee, knocking Durant to the court.
Durant sat on the court for a about a minute and Kyrie Irving left the bench to check on him. Durant then got up and tried to rejoin his teammates on the floor. After about 30 seconds, he was pulled from the game and sent to the locker room. Minutes later, the team announced that he would not return.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said he talked briefly to Durant after the game and that he will have an MRI on Monday when the team gets back to Brooklyn.
“You never want to see him go down like that. Or any player for that matter,” Vaughn said. “Pretty hard collision. I don’t want to speculate. I’ll knock on some wood and see what happens tomorrow.”
Durant’s teammates managed to squeeze out a victory without him, winning for the 18th time in their last 20 games.
Royce O’Neale made the winning basket with three seconds left when he put back Kyrie Irving’s missed three-pointer.
“I was in the right place in the right time and got the basket,” O’Neale said.
Irving said he has no regrets about attempting game-winning shot.
“I was grateful Royce got the rebound because that shot could have definitely gone either which way. I was trying to go for a kill shot to put us up two and give us a chance to go back in the huddle and have the pressure on them. The ball bounced to Royce, thank God, we got this win and we have to come out of here and talk about how great of a game we did play.”
On the Heat’s last possession, Butler drove to the basket and missed a driving layup.
There appeared to be contact by O’Neale, but no foul was called.
The Nets initially seemed in shock after seeing Durant walk off to the locker room. They went from leading the Heat by two points when Durant went down to trailing at 90-81 with 9:24 left in the game.
“It doesn’t feel good emotionally, to be honest with you,” Irving said of seeing Durant on the floor grabbing his knee. “It was definitely going to be easy for me to kind of let my emotions show, but just had a choice to make, and things like that.
“With K we know what we’re up against with him not being in lineup. We can say it every single day, but we don’t have time for any excuses. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and stay mature about it, like I said.”
Irving finished with 29 points; Durant had 17 points. Nic Claxton added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets (27-13).
Butler led Miami (21-20) with 26 points and Tyler Herro scored 24.
Durant did not speak to the media after the game. Irving said that he spoke with Durant before he left the locker room.
“He’s in good spirits as we all are.” Irving said. “The strength of our team is us picking each other up and just being ready for whatever is thrown at us.”
The Nets have not done well without Durant in the past. When he was out with an injury to his left knee last season, the team went 5-16.
“It hurt to see,” O’Neale said. “A guy like that goes down? Hopefully, he’s good after tonight.”