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Nets blow 23-point lead, hold on to beat shorthanded Hornets – Boston Herald


The real way to save Kevin Durant’s legs for the end of the season is to end his night early against lesser opponents.

As evidenced by the Nets’ meltdown in their 122-116 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, that’s much easier said than done.

The Nets were on pace to give Durant a half-day. They led by 23 in the second quarter, largely due to Seth Curry’s hot shooting against his hometown team and Kyrie Irving’s aggressive scoring against Terry Rozier, his understudy on the Boston Celtics who now plays a key role in Charlotte.

The Nets blew the Hornets out of the water in the first half. The game was supposed to be over.

And then they took their foot off the gas. They left Durant on the bench far too long, then lost those minutes while he watched from the sidelines. This is the other side of the Durant workload conundrum: Yes he leads the NBA in minutes; yes, he’s 34 years old in his 15th NBA season; yes, he’s four seasons removed from a devastating ruptured Achilles; and yes, the Nets want to make sure he’s healthy and fresh for the playoffs.

But when he doesn’t play, the Nets struggle.

The Hornets turned Brooklyn’s 23-point lead into a one-point game until Durant checked back in midway through the fourth quarter.

“Overall, it was one of those games where we jumped out to a lead,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “They’re a NBA team and a well-coached team that would continue to fight back and we relaxed a little bit and kind of paid for it. Good thing we have some pretty good players to execute at the end of the game, which we did for the most part. I love that piece of it. But we just got to comfortable and started to let them get where they want to, to the rim and to the paint, too many times.”

After scoring 20 through the first three periods, Durant scored nine more down the stretch to secure the victory, giving the Nets its eighth win in their last 11 games.

For the first half of the night, the game plan worked. The Nets went deep into their rotation — and they took care of business against a non-playoff opponent.

Until they took their foot off the gas.

“I mean, they’re pros. Like, I know we got high expectations for us, especially when we’re up, but they’ve got guys that put numbers up on the board in the NBA before on that team, so we’ve got to respect them for that as well,” said Durant. “I know we should have kept the lead, but you’ve still got to respect them as NBA players. But I like our intensity. I like how we came out on the offensive side of the ball and moved the ball pretty much controlled the whole game.”

While the Hornets were without franchise cornerstone LaMelo Ball (ankle) and oft-injured star Gordon Hayward (shoulder), the Nets are coming up on a fully healthy 10-man rotation. Ben Simmons (calf strain) and Yuta Watanabe (hamstring strain) are the only key rotation players who missed Wednesday’s game.

Early on, it was too much for the Hornets to handle. Even without Simmons and Watanabe, the Nets flexed the depth they hope can carry them — both in games Durant sits out and minutes he watches from the bench.

Durant did his damage early. On one possession, he crossed over Charlotte’s Kelly Oubre Jr. and drove to the the rim with his right hand before finishing with an emphatic two-handed stuff.

And on other possessions, he did nothing at all. His teammates picked up where he left off.

Three Nets scored 20 or more, with Curry coming off the bench to hang 20 points on his hometown team. Irving scored a game-high 33 points. Even though all five Hornets’ starters scored in double figures, Charlotte got close to nothing from its bench. Curry outscored the Hornets’ reserves on his own.

Not to mention the atrocious Hornets’ defense let Nets’ players walk to the rim uncontested regularly.

The Nets, though, need to find ways to play first half basketball in the second half. It’s the difference between Durant playing his average of 37 minutes a game and playing 25.

Those minutes will add up at the end of the season. When the playoffs come around, he’ll be on the court a minimum of 40 minutes a night.

“Sizable lead, we took our foot off the gas pedal, but you’ve gotta give them credit,” Irving said. “They definitely came out, hit us in the mouth in the second half. They were playing with a lot of confidence. And for us, it wasn’t so much just about the Charlotte Hornets. It’s about us establishing our defensive principles and again, we had a chance to do that tonight and we gave up the lead. On nights like this, you feel great winning, but how we won, we definitely want to improve on that.”



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