Anti-vaccine protestors demonstrated outside Barclays Center before the Nets’ home opener and called for the city to let Kyrie Irving play. Irving is in violation of the local COVID-19 vaccine mandate and isn’t allowed in the building and has been told to remain apart from the team even on the road unless he is eligible for all games.
Regardless of the politics of Irving’s situation, it was hard to dismiss the impact of his absence as the Nets’ normally formidable offense missed his firepower in a 111-95 loss to the undefeated Hornets Sunday afternoon.
Through three quarters, Mikal Bridges and LaMelo Ball totaled 47 points, but the Hornets only had a one-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. Suddenly, reinforcements arrived in the unlikely form of veteran guard Ish Smith, who scored nine points in a 23-10 run that gave the Hornets a 107-93 lead with 2:43 left. The Nets had three turnovers during that stretch to fuel the Hornets’ run.
Bridges totaled 32 points and nine rebounds to lead the Hornets (3-0), Ball finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Smith had 15 points. Kevin Durant topped the Nets with 38 points, but he got very little help. James Harden was the only other Net in double figures with 15 points, and he went scoreless in the third period. The Nets shot a terrible 25.7% from three-point range (9-for-35).
The Nets were coming off a thrilling comeback victory Friday in Philadelphia in which they finally found some defensive tenacity in the second half against the 76ers, who missed their final nine shots of the game as the Nets closed with a 16-1 run in a five-point win. But the Nets faced a different sort of challenge from a young Hornets team that got off to a 2-0 start.
“They’re a fast, athletic team that wants to push the pace and play in transition,” Nets coach Steve Nash said before the game. “They go to the rim on a lot of pick-and-rolls, and it is happening really fast, which makes your decision-making challenged…So taking care of the ball will be huge for us to try to limit the easy opportunities they create in transition.”
Famous last words. The Nets had three turnovers in their first nine possessions and quickly trailed by 11-4. But unlike their first two road games, they never let the deficit reach double digits. In fact, the nets put together a 13-0 run triggered by two Durant baskets to ta lead of five points that grew to eight early in the second period.
The Hornets fought back with a 10-0 run, including six points from Bridges to tie the game at 41. But another 10-0 run by the Nets, including five points from Aldridge pushed their lead to 53-43, and they settled for a 58-50 halftime advantage. At that point, the Nets were shooting 51.1% and holding the Hornets to 39.5%.
The Nets’ turnover problem reared its head again in the third period as they had two turnovers and shot 2-for-7 during a 14-4 Hornets run to take a 73-72 lead. The teams traded the lead four more times before the quarter ended with the Hornets leading 79-78 heading to the fourth. But that easily represented the fewest points the Nets had allowed through three periods of the first three games.