NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Durant, short-handed Nets run out of options in Game 7 loss

By Sports Desk June 20, 2021

Kevin Durant turned in the most productive Game 7 performance in NBA playoffs history, but it was not enough to get the Brooklyn Nets through against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Brooklyn's 115-111 overtime loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals decider saw the exhausted Nets give everything they had before the visitors prevailed in the end. 

Durant scored a Game 7-record 48 points but could not do it all as a Brooklyn team missing the injured Kyrie Irving did not have enough weapons in the end. 

 "We've got to give credit to the Milwaukee Bucks," Durant told reporters. "They're a great, great team who've got a good chance to win a championship.

"The story should be about them and how well they played this series -- how well they played all year."

Though Milwaukee ultimately prevailed, few have performed better than Durant on the big stage. 

With little in the way of a supporting cast, he played all 53 minutes in defeat after carrying the hobbled Nets through the series as Irving missed the decider and James Harden played the entire game though he has not been fully healthy for some time. 

"I can't even speak about how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor and how much we missed James to start the series," Durant said.

"I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two and how much they care about us and how much they put their bodies on the line to help us out as a team.

"Kyrie had a gruesome ankle injury and he was thinking about when can he play next -- that shows that he cares about us so much.

"James, playing on one leg, came out there and gave it his all. ... There's nothing but respect and love for those two guys; we missed them out there. But we still had a chance to win."

The second-seeded Nets ultimately came up short, as head coach Steve Nash ran out of options to help ease the load on Durant. 

"We didn't have a lot of buttons to push at the end in this series," Nash said. "But we had a chance to win, so that's all you can ask for."

Now the Nets are left to look forward rather than back, as they can only hope they will be at full strength this time next year. 

"We want to win every game we play, we want to win a championship, just like every team," said Durant. 

"So the last game of the season, you lose ... but the beauty of our profession is, we get up and keep going.

"Everybody on this team works extremely hard, they care about the game, so we get ready for next year."

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    New York City has a mandate in place, which states NBA players must have had a jab to protect against coronavirus.

    Irving stated this week he is neither pro nor anti-vaccination and has respect for both sides of the argument, but as yet he has not had at least one shot, which is the minimum required for him to play home games at the Barclays Center and in fixtures at Madison Square Garden where the New York Knicks play.

    The Nets decided Irving will have no involvement with the team until he complies with the rules, but Durant – who joined alongside his team-mate as a free agent in 2019 – is optimistic a resolution will be found.

    Speaking after the Nets completed their pre-season duties with a 107-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant said: "I definitely want Kyrie to be around.

    "I wish none of this stuff would happen, but this is the situation that we are in. Kyrie made his decision on what he wanted to do and he chose to do what he wanted to do, and the team did the same.

    "It's on me to just focus on me, and do my job, and let those two parties handle that situation. I want our whole team together, and I want us to be at full strength, but sometimes it don't work out that way. But I am still positive that things will work out the best for both parties."

    Durant is not upset over Irving's decision, though he acknowledged the situation is not ideal for a star-studded Nets team with championship aspirations.

    "We still get to do [what] we love to do every day. This is not the ideal situation coming into the season but some of this, it's out of our control," he added.

    "So, what we can do is come in and focus on our jobs every single day. What is being mad going to do?

    "We are not going to change his mind, know what I'm saying? We'll let him figure out what he needs to do and the team figure out what they need to do.

    "I can't be too mad at somebody making a decision for themselves.

    "Who am I to get upset at that? Just focus on what we got in this locker room. When [Irving] is ready, I am sure he will talk to [team owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks] and they'll figure it out and they'll tell us. Until then we are going to keep grinding."

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    Williamson, who had said last month he hoped to play in the Pelicans' opening game, has been cleared to start running and do individual on-court work.

    Griffin clarified Williamson had not suffered a setback and no timeline had been set on the 21-year-old joining in more training activities.

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    Irving has not been vaccinated and is therefore ineligible to play in home games with the championship-chasing Nets due to New York City mandates.

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    "Seeing the way this is dividing our world up, being vaccinated or unvaccinated. It's sad to see. It's creating a lot of division.

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    Irving stressed that he had no ill feeling towards the Nets nor his team-mates, explaining that his decision was in the interests of him and his family.

    "I'm not going to sit here to give you information or wisdom beyond my years, I'm here just to stay real and true to me," he said. "It's my life, I get to do whatever I want with this, I get one body.

    "You're telling me what to do with my body. It has nothing to do with the organisation. I'm going to put that out there, it has nothing to do with the Nets or my team-mates. This has everything to do with what's going in our world, I'm being grouped in with something's that's bigger than a game of basketball."

    He added: "It's not being anti-vax. It's not about being one side or the other. It's about what feels good to me. I'm feeling uncertain about a lot of things and that's OK. If I'm going to be demonised for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that's just what it is.

    "I know the consequences of the decision I make with my life. I'm not here to sugarcoat any of that. It's crazy times that we're in… I haven't hurt anybody. I haven't committed a crime. I'm not out here acting dumb or stupid. I'm out here looking after my family and kids.

    "If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. Do what's best for you. I continue to pray for all those out there who have lost people to the pandemic to COVID."

    Irving said he had not anticipated that he would be mandated to be vaccinated ahead of the new NBA season which starts for the Nets against defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

    "What would you do, if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you'd have exemptions or you wouldn't be forced to have to get the vaccine," he said.

    "This wasn't an issue before the season started. This wasn't something that I foresaw coming and I could prepare for it and I could strategise on what would be best for me and my family. I came into this season thinking I was going to be able to play ball."

    In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Bucks. 

    Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

    It has been reported Irving, who will not be paid for missed home games, will not be offered a contract extension by the Nets.

    Irving added: "You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to just give up my job? You think I want to sit at home and not go after the things with my team-mates that I've been able to grow with and learn with?"

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