No Kyrie Irving, but Nets rally from 23 down to edge Wizards
Playing without Kyrie Irving — who amplified his recent trade request by declining to play with “calf soreness” on Saturday night — the Nets, behind Cam Thomas’ career-high 44 points, rallied from a 23-point first-quarter deficit to beat the Washington Wizards, 125-123, at Barclays Center.
“[Irving] reported to us some calf soreness,” coach Jacque Vaughn said before the game. “So he’ll be out tonight.” Irving did not attend the game and Vaughn said it was an excused absence.
The Nets started the game with 10 available players and ended it with eight after Seth Curry (left adductor tightness) and Markieff Morris (sore left knee) exited the game and were declared out for the duration early in the second half.
“I hope [the Irving situation] lifts the group up,” Vaughn said, “and that they can pull together and show some resolve together.”
That happened in the second half as the Nets (32-20) completed a stirring comeback. They took their first lead of the game at 112-110 on Thomas’ three-pointer with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter. They took the lead for good when Washington’s Daniel Gafford was called for goaltending on a shot by Thomas with 12.2 seconds left.
Thomas was fouled on the play and hit the free throw. Washington’s Monte Morris then missed two free throws and Thomas controlled the rebound after a scrum to seal the victory.
“It’s good,” said Thomas, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter. “Just to show how hard I’ve been working to be ready for this moment . . . It just feels good to be ready and have the opportunity.”
“Didn’t get off to the start we wanted to, but we responded,” Vaughn said. “Talked about at halftime that it was more than the physical piece to this game that we were missing. It was the mental piece to this game. Definitely a shift in mentality and we got rewarded.”
The Nets rallied behind Edmond Sumner, who started in Irving’s place and scored 14 of his career-high 29 points in the third quarter. The Nets trailed by 21 in the third period but cut their deficit to seven heading into the fourth.
Nic Claxton added 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Nets.
Former Knick Kristaps Porzingis scored 38 points for the Wizards (24-28) before fouling out with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter. Porzingis scored 16 of his points as the Wizards took a 44-21 lead late in the first quarter and added 13 in the fourth.
Vaughn was asked before the game if he thinks Irving is letting his teammates down.
“I think you have a responsibility as a basketball player, like I do as a coach,” he said. “I show up and do my job every single day. That’s what I signed up for. And that’s my expectations for [players] one through 17.”
Irving asked the Nets for a trade Friday, according to multiple reports. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. Irving reportedly is frustrated that the Nets have thus far refused to give him an extension on his contract, which expires after this season.
Irving, 30, who opted into the final year of a deal that pays him $36.9 million, has been seeking a max four-year, $198.5 million extension. If he is traded, he is eligible to sign a two-year, $78.6 million extension with his new team.
Vaughn said Irving — who was not on the injury report the Nets released Friday — did not participate in Saturday’s pregame walk-through.
On Wednesday, the Nets lost by 43 points to the Celtics in Boston, with Irving scoring 20 points in what could have been his final game in a Nets uniform.
Vaughn said he spoke with Irving on Friday, but not about the trade request.
“I didn’t ask those questions,” Vaughn said. “There’s a business side of this thing and there’s a human side to this thing. I elected to touch on the human side, check on him as an individual. I’ll leave the business side to Sean and that group.”
Vaughn was referring to Nets general manager Sean Marks, who will have to decide whether to grant Irving’s wish to be dealt.
The Lakers, Suns and Mavericks have been reported as possible trade destinations for Irving. He would rejoin former Cleveland teammate LeBron James if he went to the Lakers.
But would any team looking to deal for Irving also be willing to sign him to a contract extension, given the drama he creates wherever he plays? Would he want to go to a new team to finish out the season without an extension and then become a free agent?
Irving is averaging 27.1 points, 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds and was voted an NBA All-Star Game starter. He requested a trade three months after the Nets suspended him for eight games for linking to an antisemitic film on his social media accounts.
Vaughn said Friday he “touched bases with every single player.” Asked what he told them, he said: “So I said to them, ‘We’re not going to make this weird. We’re here to play. We’re here to do a job. Show up and do your job.’ I said, ‘You’ve done this first step of this thing. We’re here, we’re showing up, and let’s do the work to get a win tonight,’ and that’s what I’m going to continue to try to focus them on. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Notes & quotes: Ben Simmons (left knee soreness) missed his fourth straight game, as did T.J. Warren (left shin contusion).