Nets come back from down 25 to beat Wizards in the aftermath Kyrie Irving’s trade request
NEW YORK — What was supposed to be a blowout victory for the Washington Wizards became a come-from-behind win for the Nets on Saturday.
The Nets entered Saturday embroiled in yet another Kyrie Irving controversy, this time the star guard getting fed up and requesting a trade over the lack of a fully-guaranteed contract extension during a breakout stretch in Brooklyn.
The Nets were already without Kevin Durant (MCL sprain), Ben Simmons (left knee soreness) and T.J. Warren (left shin contusion) before Irving reported “right calf soreness” Saturday morning — code for “no contract, no play.”
He skipped the team’s walkthrough ahead of tipoff and was nowhere to be found at Barclays Center as his teammates looked to bounce back from a 43-point loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday.
For three quarters, the Nets were headed in the same direction: The Wizards were the aggressor on the glass and at the rim and built a 23-point lead in the first half.
This team, however, has been here before. They defeated the Indiana Pacers in a game every rotation player sat for load management. When Durant went down the MCL sprain in a Jan. 8 matchup against the Miami Heat, they rallied back to secure the victory in the fourth quarter.
Resolve is part of this Brooklyn team’s DNA. That much has been the constant in a season with twists and turns at every juncture. Head coach Jacque Vaughn said he told his team to focus on the task at hand and not to worry about Irving, whose introduction on the Jumbotron fans booed pregame.
It’s the first time Irving, a New Jersey native, has received a cold welcome from his hometown fans since signing in Brooklyn in 2019.
“I think you have responsibility as a basketball player like I do as a coach,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said pregame. “I show up, I do my job every single day. That’s what I signed up for. And that’s my expectations for one through 17.”
Irving’s future in Brooklyn remains uncertain. The Los Angeles Clippers are the latest team to enter the trade sweepstakes, with ESPN reporting they have joined the Lakers, Mavericks and Suns in pursuit of acquiring the All-Star guard.
Vaughn said pregame he hoped Irving’s trade request would give the rest of his team a lift. That lift came in the third quarter.
Second-year guard Cam Thomas scored a career-high 44 points and missed only seven shots on the night. Reserve guard Edmond Sumner scored 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting starting in place of Irving, and Patty Mills scored 13 points off the bench, including a pair of back-to-back 3s in the third quarter to cut Washington’s once 23-point lead down to single digits.
The Nets trailed, 73-55, entering halftime but were only down seven by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth, Brooklyn ratcheted up its defensive effort, and the Wizards seemed lost after star forward Kyle Kuzma left the game with an ankle injury after 11 minutes of play. Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis also fouled out after 33 minutes. He scored 38 points before leaving the game. The Wizards were also without Bradley Beal (left foot soreness).
The question now becomes whether or not the Nets can sustain this energy — and their championship hopes — with Irving on the outs once again in Brooklyn. Next up on the schedule: the same Los Angeles Clippers in the conversation to trade for Irving, who come to town to play the Nets on Monday.