It was troublesome to disregard the Kyrie Irving-size elephant not within the room because the Nets opened the season by getting pummeled, 127-104, by the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday evening.
It was just one recreation, however the Nets missed Irving of their beginning lineup. They missed him on offense. They missed him as they struggled to work out rotations that saved one star on the ground always as they tried in useless to maintain tempo with the Bucks.
And the Nets seemingly will proceed to overlook him for the foreseeable future. They’ve barred him from games and practices over his refusal to simply accept a coronavirus vaccine, and he has not indicated publicly that he’s planning to vary his thoughts. That place has rendered Irving ineligible to play dwelling video games in Brooklyn, main the Nets to quickly bar him from taking part in in any respect and forcing Coach Steve Nash and the group’s different stars, Kevin Durant and James Harden, to re-envision a plan on the fly.
After one evening, at the least, Durant was preaching persistence.
“It’s one recreation out of 82 of them,” he mentioned after gathering 32 factors and 11 rebounds. “Each group feels that means.”
The Bucks performed like a group acquainted with each other, beginning principally the identical gamers who shaped the core of the lineup that led the franchise to a championship final season. Three of Milwaukee’s greatest gamers — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — are of their fourth 12 months of beginning collectively. The Nets, in the meantime, started with a lineup of gamers who’re nonetheless getting acquainted, and almost everybody who acquired important minutes off the bench was a brand new addition this season.
“They’ve bought some continuity that numerous groups don’t have,” Durant mentioned knowingly of the Bucks.
The lineup the Nets anticipated to expire was speculated to characteristic a murderers’ row on offense, a wealth of choices who would enable Nash extra flexibility to handle the minutes of Durant and Harden. As a substitute, with Irving absent, the Nets saved one in every of both Durant or Harden on the ground always on Tuesday to generate offense.
The Nets solely sporadically appeared fluid, one thing that certainly would have been helped with the talents of an distinctive level guard and shooter like Irving.
With out him, the mantra from the Nets afterward was that the loss to the Bucks was one recreation of many, and that cohesion will come. The Nets should construct chemistry virtually from scratch, whereas Milwaukee’s mission is to keep up the already developed core.
“We all know what degree we’ve bought to get to,” mentioned Harden, who completed with 20 factors, 8 rebounds and eight assists. “We’ll get to that degree. It’s Recreation 1 of a brand new season.”
He added: “Actually, we’re enthusiastic about this season. This may need made us much more excited simply because we all know that there’s a degree that we’ve bought to get to that we’re not even shut.”
One recreation or not: Final season, the Nets didn’t lose by 20 factors or extra until Game 45.
“One factor that disillusioned me greater than something have been free balls and hustle performs — they appeared to win all of them,” Nash mentioned of the Bucks. “As we’re looking for ourselves and discover totally different rotations and discover that cohesion, we’ve bought to make it extra uncomfortable for folks.”
There was one constructive for the Nets on Tuesday: Patty Mills, who got here off the bench and made seven 3-pointers. Mills, 33, joined the Nets in free company from the San Antonio Spurs and has been a reserve for most of his 13-year career. He’s nowhere close to as expert as Irving, however confirmed on Tuesday that he had may decide up a number of the playmaking if wanted.
“We’re going to wish that from Patty,” Durant mentioned. “We talked the opposite day about him being aggressive. To be a scorer. To be a playmaker. Tonight was no totally different. He got here out and gave us nice vitality to begin.”
The purpose for the Nets is to be so good that the basketball world can cease specializing in Irving’s vaccination standing. On Tuesday, although, Irving remained a big level of debate.
Earlier than the sport, Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, was requested on TNT what message he would ship to Irving.
“I’d inform him to be vaccinated, firstly for himself and his household,” Silver mentioned. “Subsequent for his teammates and his group and likewise for the league that I do know he cares a lot about.
“I perceive that it’s not simply Kyrie. There are folks on this nation who disagree with the notion of getting vaccinated, however at the least from all the pieces that I perceive, science is firmly on the aspect of getting vaccinated.”
It’s seemingly — given the Nets’ expertise — that Tuesday evening’s efficiency will find yourself being a blip on the radar. In any case, in 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers lost by double digits on opening night to their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, and ended up successful the championship with a roster of principally new gamers.
But when it’s greater than a blip, that is the fact for the Nets: Irving’s absence will hold over the group. If there are extra video games like Tuesday forward, they might want to fill that Irving-size gap at level guard.