Nine players, one superstar.
That’s all the Nets had available Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, and, this one night, it was all they needed as they held on for a 134-129 victory.
The Nets had seven players in double figures, but it was Kyrie Irving, their lone healthy superstar, who was unwilling to lose down the stretch. In the final 58 seconds, Irving scored eight points and stripped Zion Williamson on the Pelicans’ last meaningful possession. Irving finished the game with 32 points.
"There were very difficult shots Kyrie made down the stretch tonight," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "We talked it over. Sometimes that is just what you ask of your superstar players….At the end of the day, he made some really difficult shots. You tip your hat to your star player when he makes some shots."
Also coming up big in the win was Joe Harris, who scored 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Landry Shamet added 18 points and eight assists. Jeff Green added 15 points and nine rebounds.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Pelicans, who were led by Williamson’s 33 points.
The win was a much-needed, feel-good moment for the Nets who were coming off a last-second loss in Miami and got some difficult injury news earlier in the day. Less than two hours before tipoff in New Orleans, the team announced that James Harden would be out "indefinitely" after suffering a "setback" in the rehabilitation of his hamstring injury.
"Back to square one," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "He’ll be back when he’s back. That may not be until the playoffs. It may be sooner. I don’t know."
Harden was far from the only player not available Tuesday. Also out were Kevin Durant (left thigh contusion), Tyler Johnson (sore knee), Chris Chiozza (fractured hand), and Nicolas Claxton and Reggie Perry, who were both being held out for COVID health and safety protocols.
Harden, who had been averaging 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game for the Nets, first began suffering from tightness in his hamstring in a game against his former team, the Houston Rockets, on March 31. After missing two games, he returned to play the Knicks on April 5. He played just four minutes before suffering a strain.
Initially, it was thought that Harden could be back in 7-10 days. He appeared to be making progress until Monday. That’s when he apparently suffered an on-court setback. He underwent a MRI and other tests on Tuesday before the team made its announcement.
Nash was hopeful that Durant, who suffered a thigh contusion will be back in the lineup soon.
Before the injury, Harden had been a workhorse for the Nets as they dealt with injuries to other players. Since coming to the team in mid-January, Harden had been averaging 37.3 minutes per game.
After Tuesday night’s game, the Nets have only 14 regular-season games left. Nash is in the difficult position of having to try to keep the team’s playoff positioning while not putting too much pressure on the players who aren’t injured.
"We needed everything tonight from everyone," Irving said. The focus is going to have to be at a different level now that we don’t have some guys in the lineup.The group that we labeled the stay-ready group is just going out there and doing it."
Thanks to an assortment of injuries, medical protocols and personal absences, the Nets' Big 3 of Durant, Harden and Irving have played together just seven times since the Jan. 14 trade for Harden.