Every team has a worst-case scenario. In the blink of an eye, the Nets are staring worst-case in the face.
Superstar forward and MVP candidate Kevin Durant asked off the court and did not return after sustaining a right knee injury at the end of the third quarter of Brooklyn’s 102-101 win to the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on Sunday.
Nets wing Royce O’Neale won the game on a tip in basket when Kyrie Irving missed a 30-foot jumper on Brooklyn’s final offensive possession.
But while the Nets won the game, the war hangs in jeopardy.
Durant’s injury occurred with about 40 seconds left in the third quarter, when Heat star Jimmy Butler drove to the rim and got blocked by Ben Simmons on a layup attempt. Butler landed and fell backwards directly into Durant’s knee, which bent awkwardly on the play.
It was the second instance Durant injured his right knee in the loss to Miami. He bumped knees with Heat point guard Kyle Lowry on a drive to the rim earlier in the game and grimaced while grabbing his knee before playing through the pain.
Durant will presumably undergo an MRI to determine the severity of his injury when the team returns home to Brooklyn on Monday before three off days leading into Thursday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics.
Durant exited the game with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field. He passed Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins for 14th place on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list with his first basket of the night.
Durant’s injury, of course, is a devastating blow to the Nets, who won 17 of their last 19 games entering Friday’s matchup against the Miami Heat in large part due to an influx of healthy bodies for a team that has been plagued by injury for seasons. His injury is also devastating because it happened on a carbon copy of the play that cost him about a month and a half of action last season.
A week short of the date Durant got hurt last season, in a Jan. 15 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, former Net Bruce Brown fell in a freak accident directly into Durant’s left knee. The knee bent inward and Durant suffered a Grade 2 sprain in his left MCL.
The Nets proceeded to lose 11 in a row — succumbing to the vaccine mandates that kept Kyrie Irving off the Barclays Center floors plus the trade request that sent James Harden to Philadelphia.
That, however, was under Steve Nash. The Nets have found a revelation in Jacque Vaughn.
Now, we find out exactly what kind to coach the Nets have in Vaughn, who won Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in December after winning 12 of 13 games to close out 2022. Twenty-one of the Nets’ 23 next games come against potential playoff opponents.
Even without Durant, the Nets held Miami to just 11 points in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter. They’ll need to do it again — and again — because the competition only stiffens from here with the Boston Celtics coming to town on Thursday for a game Durant very well may miss.