While he admitted there are no moral victories after the game, Durant seemed to have maintained his sense of humor. Maybe he's just happy to be playing again.
But more on that later.
The Nets failed to beat the Heat despite playing without Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and PJ Tucker. They maintained a 2.5 game lead for the first seed in the Eastern Conference and have taken all three games against the Nets this season.
At one point in this one, the Nets were up 57-41 during the second quarter, as Durant resumed unstoppable mode as if he didn't miss the last 21 games.
The Nets (-148) lead at the half against the Heat(+122) 67-60🔥
Kevin Durant in his FIRST half back from his knee injury:
❌17 Points (o/u 24.5)
❌3 Rebounds (o/u 5.5)
❌2 Assists (o/u 4.5)pic.twitter.com/TFaMYzTAvl
— ClutchPoints Betting (@CPBetting) March 4, 2022
But their 16-point lead quickly evaporated as Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro got it going for the Heat.
Jacque Vaughn, coaching his third straight game in lieu of Steve Nash (health and safety protocols) had to contend with zone defense for the majority of the second half. That proved too much of a challenge for the Nets who only had 40 second half points. The Nets finished with a respectable point total but yeesh, that second half was hard to watch.
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 3, 2022
But the best news for the Nets is that Durant made his return and played without any apparent setback. KD finished with 31 points, four rebounds, and four assists. He shot 10-of-21 from the floor and nine-of-nine from the charity stripe. After the game, Vaughn said KD felt good. Whew. He's back.
Prior to tip-off, Vaughn said the team was cautious with Durant and even implied that the two-time Finals MVP might have even returned to the lineup sooner than he did.
“I think he has a great perspective on the final goal for this team,” Vaughn said. “And so I think we were pretty judicious in how we brought him back as an organization. I think on the floor tonight he’ll feel comfortable being out there and that was the goal.”
Earlier in the day, KD acknowledged the dire straits the team finds itself in.
“We are cutting it close,” said Durant. “There’s only 30 games left in the season. We gotta go out there and figure it out.”
The loss brought the Nets to three games behind the Toronto Raptors for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They hold a one game lead over the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks for the eighth spot.
During a brutal second half, a smattering of boos even rained down from the sellout crowd at Barclays Center. But a 10-0 run in the final three minutes breathed new life into the building. Durant even garnered “MVP!” chants. But the team understands the road ahead is treacherous and full of peril.
“Yeah it's gonna be a work in progress for sure,” Vaughn said. “Getting everyone up to speed, playing together with each other, rotations together, minute adjustments, it's a puzzle that we're gonna have to figure out together and we gotta do it in a timely fashion so great challenge.”
Goran Dragic, who sounds a little bit under the weather here, talks about the "amazing job" his former team #heat did playing zone defense and taking Brooklyn out of their favorite sets. pic.twitter.com/bI0kI8CvQD
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 4, 2022
Nets guard Goran Dragic faced his former team and had nine points and seven dimes in 28 minutes. After the game, he talked about what it's like playing with Durant.
“It's easy, it's easy first of all, he's the total package you have to understand you just have to give him the ball at the right time,” Dragic explained.
After missing the last few weeks and having to watch his team endure an 11-game losing streak, KD still kept his sense of humor.
“I felt great, I'm only gonna get better, more comfortable out there. Take more of a load out there too—pause,” deadpanned Durant.
"I felt great, I'm only gonna get better more comfortable out there. Take more of a load out there too-pause-….
I swear Kevin Durant can keep the straightest face. Get him in late-night comedy. pic.twitter.com/Dlc4DehWHD
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 4, 2022
Apparently, KD sensed a bit of an R-rated double entendre when he said he looks forward to taking on more of a “load” next game. So he hit the “pause” on himself without cracking a smile. It may have gone under the radar in real time because I didn't hear too many reporters laughing. But he got right back on with his game analysis without so much as a grin.
“You gotta give Miami credit for throwing some junk in the game all game and that's what they've been practicing building those habits all year,” Durant, always the perfectionist, said. “So they were able to rely on some different schemes trapping and pressing and playing zone the whole second half. I think that threw us off. There's no moral victories.”
It sure is great to have him back. Hopefully, he'll have some more jokes after a win.