Nets beat Pacers despite sitting Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, others

ByNick Friedell ESPN logo
Sunday, December 11, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Brooklyn Nets knew the rest of the NBA world didn't think they could win on Saturday night -- but they didn't care.

Playing without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and a slew of other rotation players whom the organization decided to rest on the second night of a back-to-back, they found a way to win anyway, pulling off an impressive 136-133 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

"We came here to get the win," Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game.

Vaughn, like many within the Nets traveling party, was absolutely beaming late Saturday night as the Nets stunned a Pacers team that had already beaten them twice this season. Specifically, Vaughn credited veterans Markieff Morris and Patty Mills with being able to keep the young group focused despite the absences of so many players.

"For [the Pacers] it was a trap game," Morris said. "Because we didn't have nine players and they kind of played down to the level of competition if that's what they want to call it. We just played hard ... my message to the guys was 'Enjoy the moment. ... Enjoy this because you don't get this time when you get seven or eight players out. You can actually go out there and just play with no worries and play extended minutes.'"

Several Nets players took that message to heart, especially second-year guard Cam Thomas,who racked up a career-high 33 points. The Nets also pulled down an impressive 29 offensive rebounds -- the most in the NBA by any team in one game this season.

"I don't think there's much science to it," Mills said. "It was just all about having fun and enjoying, and that was a very enjoyable game to be a part of. Teamwork, team effort, everyone engaged. Everyone feeding off of each other's energy."

Before the win, Vaughn said he felt comfortable about the decision to sit so many players and that the organization is "just being smart with the approach" as the minutes and games pile up early in the season.

"It just made sense with the back-to-back and with our schedule going forward," Vaughn said prior to the game. "... When we took a global look at it, when you have two or three rotation guys out, it puts a strain or stress on two or three more guys. So then we're really not in a position of taking care of the team in total."

When asked what he would say to a fan who had paid money to see Durant play, Vaughn offered a thoughtful response -- and an apology.

"It's a legitimate question," Vaughn said. "That's a conversation I had with Kevin. I hope that fan knows that Kevin really wanted to play. He understands that. He wants to win every game. But it's a decision that for us as an organization, just had to do ...

"I would say to that fan that I'm looking out for Kevin Durant's future. I'm looking out for the organization's future. And really apologize if this was the game you chose. But he's given all that he's had in every game since the beginning of this season."

Vaughn said he made the decision not to have Durant travel so the 34-year-old could take full advantage of the rest time prior to Monday's game in Washington against the Wizards. Durant is averaging 36.8 minutes a game. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was asked if he believed the league should step in and limit the number of players who are able to rest at a certain game.

"There are rules in place," Carlisle said. "I don't know the exact rules. I believe one time a year you're allowed to rest your players on the road if they're not injured. But look, what's happening tonight, this is part of planning. This is a very extreme example of something that's happening tonight. In coaching, and you're managing a team as an executive, minutes accumulate. Aches and pains this time of year, you're thinking big picture.

"A day [off] at the right time can really help a player over the next two weeks type of thing. With Brooklyn, you're talking about KD and Irving, [who] are two of the most talented players in the world."

Nets swingman Yuta Watanabe played Saturday after missing the past couple of weeks because of a right hamstring strain and had 10 points in 21 minutes.

Vaughn noted that whileRoyce O'Nealewill also miss Monday's game for personal reasons, everyone else who sat out is expected to play, including Nic Claxton.

Vaughn does not believe the Nets will get a call from the league office for the decision to sit so many rotation players.

"I think everything that's been reported today has been documented," Vaughn said. "And so we know that Seth [Curry]andJoe [Harris]had offseason ankle [surgeries], there's no argument to that. Nic didn't play last game because he had hamstring tightness, there's no argument to that. Kevin's leading the league in minutes, there's no argument to that. Royce had a personal reason, he's missing the next game, there's no argument to that.

"So it's just a culmination that it's adding up at the same time. But [we] feel totally comfortable as an organization that we put the best product out on the floor as many times as possible and we'll continue to do that. It just so happened tonight it's more than one, two or three people."

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