Nets overcome Heat, 102-101, at the buzzer amid worries over Kevin Durant’s knee

A night that was about basketball — and good basketball — for nearly three quarters suddenly focused on one thing in the waning moments of the quarter: Kevin Durant’s health.

After Ben Simmons blocked Jimmy Butler’s driving attempt to the hoop with just over a minute left until the final period of play, Butler stumbled and landed on Durant, making incidental — but significant — contact with his knee. Durant, holding his right knee, stayed on the floor, missing one of his shoes. Teammates surrounded him on the floor to make sure he was alright, and Kyrie Irving hopped off the bench to look after his friend. It’s a scary moment whenever the face of the Brooklyn Nets franchise — and maybe the best player in the NBA — goes down, after all. Notably, no member of the Nets’ medical team went to check in on the star immediately.

Durant got up after re-tying his green sneaker and popped up off the ground, seemingly not needing much if any attention. He resumed playing for two more possessions but would soon signal to the Nets bench that he needed to be removed from the game. Jacque Vaughn called for timeout and KD headed for the locker room, a slight limp visible.

He was ruled out by the Nets just a few minutes into the fourth, with less than 10 minutes elapsing of real time.

Postgame, Vaughn said that Durant will be evaluated on Monday and there will most likely be an MRI. Vaughn said he did not ask KD about his injury or its severity but told reporters that Durant was in the locker room to greet his teammates as they returned from the court. Kyrie Irving added that Durant was in “good spirits” in the locker room “as we all are,” but the MRI results will likely tell the story and we won’t have those results until Monday, likely late in the day.

With the remaining Nets looking at least momentarily stunned, the Heat quickly went on to build their largest lead of the evening after KD’s departure with a 10-2 run, including eight consecutive points from the sharpshooting Tyler Herro.

The Nets stared down a 9-point deficit on the road with just as many minutes remaining and without their banner star for the first time all season. Two at-rim finishes from Nic Claxton forced Miami to burn a timeout, and Brooklyn continued to use their momentum to mount a run of their own, outscoring Miami 13-4 to even the score at 94-94 with under five minutes remaining.

Irving credited the Nets’ mini-comeback to staying poised.

“There were a few turnovers down the stretch where they had shots that could have gone either way, but in an NBA basketball game at the highest level, you have to stay poised. I thought we did a great job of that. Taking our time possession by possession, knowing that mistakes are going to happen. A shot is going to miss and we just have to make up a miss.”

“You never want to see [Durant] go down like that, or any player for that matter,” Vaughn added. “But you’ve got to give our group credit for sticking with it, I think we were down eight or nine [points] to finish the game, and or stay together? Pretty impressive.”

And all of a sudden, things changed again. Irving and Seth Curry exchanged buckets with Tyler Herro until a pair of Jimmy Butler dunks put the Heat in front with a little over 70 seconds on the clock.

The next (and final) points of the evening would be a game-winning tip-in from Royce O’Neale after a deep 3-pointer from Kyrie Irving rimmed out with nine seconds remaining…

And in case you forgot, O’Neale did something similar at the beginning of the Nets winning streak back on November 18 vs. the Blazers, also on the road…

“You just count on him to do the right thing and be in the right place,” Vaughn noted postgame. “I think he’s just earned the trust of his teammates and the confidence of his teammates.”

Both Vaughn and Kyrie were on the same page with his deep shot attempt early in the clock, with the coach saying, “I definitely wanted to just put it in his hands and let him play, didn’t want another double team, which is what they were doing at the end of the game. And I figured he could get a shot off. “Definitely wanted the basketball in his hands and did not call a timeout.”

Kyrie concurred. “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 Nets needed 3.2 seconds of defense to escape the poorly-named FTX Arena with a win, and did so after O’Neale rotated to the basket to vertically challenge Butler at the rim. The entire arena was silent for a second, waiting for a whistle but the sound never came, and then Brooklyn’s bench burst into celebration. Across the floor, owner Joe Tsai was seated court-side and was high-fiving fans while cheering on with celebratory expletives.

Although O’Neale’s game-winning put-back will roll on the highlight tapes tomorrow, his contest against Butler was every bit as impactful. “That was big,” Nic Claxton — a defensive star in his own right — said in the locker room. “Royce, he was there. Low man helped without fouling.”

In addition to Irving’s 29 and Durant’s 17, Claxton finished with a double-double — 13 points and 11 boards to go with three blocks. Curry had 14, continuing his recent hot streak, and TJ Warren finished with 10.

The Nets now have three days of rest, travel, and practice before facing the first-seeded Boston Celtics on Thursday. Durant will most likely not be in the lineup as the Nets attempt to tie their rivals from Beantown for the best record in the NBA.

Irving offered insight into how this Nets team will take shape during Durant’s absence, no matter its length: “It’s pretty clear that KD and I are predominantly most of the offense, but we have incredible shooters and incredible talented basketball players around us … I think one of the greatest qualities of our team is the bench and the way we support each other despite who is in the lineup. And now, it’s time to exemplify that until we figure out the timeline of K[evin] and when he can be available again.

The Nets will not have practice on Monday, but will probably hold one or two on Tuesday and Wednesday. Fans can expect an update on Durant’s MRI on Monday afternoon/evening, if things go according to plan. Expect either a tweet from an NBA newsbreaker or a press release entitled “medical update” from the team.

Milestone Watch

  • The Nets’ win at Miami was the team’s 18th win in their last 20 games, representing the best 20-game stretch at any point in any season in franchise history. The Nets are also 20-4 since Kyrie Irving returned from his suspension.
  • With his first basket, Kevin Durant moved past Dominique Wilkins into 14th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. KD is now at 26,685 points. Next up: Oscar Robertson at 26,710 points.

With some good health (fingers crossed), Durant could make it to the top 10 by April 9, the final day of the regular season.

  • Nic Claxton (three blocks) has blocked at least three shots in six straight games, the longest streak of three-block games for a Net since Shawn Bradley in March 1996 (11 straight). Claxton’s streak ties Anthony Davis for the longest streak for any player this season.
  • Kyrie Irving’s 24 first half points were his high for a first half this season.

As Sponge Bob might say…

What’s next?

The Nets head back home to Brooklyn to play the East-leading Boston Celtics on Thursday at 7:30 pm EST. TNT has the game.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Hot Hot Hoops, our Heat sister site.

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