If there is one thing that Steve Nash has learned during his crazy, unpredictable first year as a head coach, it’s not to get too caught up in the stress of the moment.
Injuries, COVID protocols and personal leaves of absences have meant that Nash’s Nets rarely go with the same starting lineup in consecutive games.
Thursday morning’s surprise was the news that Kyrie Irving was being bothered by a sore groin and would join the injured James Harden on the bench for Thursday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
Fortunately, Kevin Durant, the only available member of the Big 3, was looking more than healthy.
Durant scored a season-high 42 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Nets to a 130-113 win over an injury-hobbled Pacers.
It was easily Durant’s best game since he missed nearly two months with a hamstring injury, giving Nash a lot to smile about as his team heads into the final stretch of the season.
"I have the luxury of coaching Kevin Durant," Nash said after the win. "You stick him in the game and good things happen."
Durant played 36 minutes, adding 10 assists to his big scoring night. In the third quarter, he was nearly perfect scoring 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Brooklyn’s 45 points in the third quarter represents the team’s highest-scoring quarter of the season.
"I love the mental aspect of the game" Durant said. "Just coming into a game and not knowing what a coach is going to throw at me and as the game starts figuring it out, that’s the funnest part for me."
Durant, however, wasn’t the only Net to come up with a big performance as six players scored in double figures. Alize Johnson, a former Pacer who wasn’t in the league a month ago, came off the bench to score 20 points and grab 21 rebounds. Joe Harris, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet all added 14.
"When I was coming off the plane, I was thinking about all the time I spent here," Johnson said. "I didn’t play much when I was here. I wanted to go out and show everyone that I belong here.
Indiana, who was missing a number of key players, was led by former net Caris LeVert’s 36 points.
With nine games remaining, the victory gave the Nets a 1 1/2 game lead over the second-place Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.
Nash trotted out his 34th different starting lineup of the season against the Pacers.
Nash never seems to know what a new day is going to bring. Add to that big-time trades and big-time expectations, and it really has been a year like no other.
"I think I’ve been exposed to so many things that coaches aren’t necessarily exposed to in their first four or five months on the job," Nash said before Thursday night’s game. "When it happens in quick succession, you have to find out what your mindset is, how you are going to approach these things.
"Are you going to create a ton of stress and anxiety or are you going to accept and kind of mobilize the troops. Quickly, I learned there’s not a lot of point in overstressing and creating nerves and anxiety. We just keep rolling and I think that has helped our team."
Notes & quotes: After playing heavy minutes, it is likely that Durant will sit out Friday night’s game against Portland. If Irving is not back from his groin injury, it will mark the fifth time this season that the Nets have fielded a team without a member of the Big 3.