Kyrie Irving still won’t get vaccine; Kevin Durant-less Nets lose

CLEVELAND — The Nets got a look at life without Kevin Durant and it wasn’t pretty. Despite the presence of Kyrie Irving and James Harden, they couldn’t get a stop early or a bucket late, falling to the Cavaliers 114-107 before 18,105 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

With Durant expected to miss at least a month, the Nets will have to figure a way to win without him. A way that doesn’t include Irving getting a COVID-19 vaccine so he can play home games, because he said that’s not happening.

“You can’t ever replace Kevin. It’s impossible. So we face that reality right this second and moving forward on this road trip,” Irving said. “We’ll probably face some more questions with the ups and downs of this, but we just have to be very mature about it as a basketball club and just be ready.”

Kyrie Irving drives past ex-Net Jarrett Allen.
NBAE via Getty Images

One never-ending question is going to be the elephant in the room, Irving’s vaccination status. When asked by The Post if the loss of Durant impacts his stance against getting vaccinated so he could play home games, he reiterated it doesn’t.

“I’m not bringing science into the basketball,” Irving said. “Everyone’s feeling what’s going on in the real world. I’m walking around as an unvaccinated person. I’ve already been separated into another group of community. I’m just saying to everybody, I’m human. I have decisions to make, I have a family to take care of.

“There are things that are just as important to me as being great at the game of basketball or leaving a legacy.”

Irving had 27 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Harden added 22 points, 10 assists and seven boards. But Harden finished minus-18 and got thoroughly outplayed by Darius Garland.

Darius Garland
Darius Garland finished with 22 points and 12 assists – both team-highs.

The Cavs guard had 22 points and 12 assists, while ex-Net Jarrett Allen added 14 points, 10 boards and two blocks.

The Nets (27-16) allowed 65 points in the first half, and after clawing ahead 97-93 with 8:16 to play, they shot just 2 of 13 down the stretch without Durant.

“We can’t focus on it. We had more than enough opportunities to win this game. So it’s on us, man,” Harden said. “We still had plenty of opportunities down the stretch to win. Individually, I got to be a lot better and I will be.”

Harden appeared to take a knee to the left leg with 4:05 left in the third quarter and Brooklyn down 82-75. He limped off, but returned and finished the game.

James Harden loses the ball during the Nets' 114-107 loss to the Cavaliers.
James Harden loses the ball during the Nets’ 114-107 loss to the Cavaliers.

The Nets trailed 85-77 after Brandon Goodwin’s free throw with 2:46 in the third. Irving had seven points and two assists in a 13-2 Nets run to take a 90-87 lead.

Brooklyn still led 97-93 after a LaMarcus Aldridge three-point play with 8:16 to play, but missed 11 of their last 13 shots. After Lauri Markkanen’s 3 snapped a 105-all tie with 3:21 to play, the Nets missed five straight shots, including three layups.

When pressed afterward on his vaccination status — told millions of basketball fans wanted to know — Irving stated that was the problem.

“That’s what I’m saying. You’re bringing my vaccination status into a basketball game, and I live my life, the majority of the time, when I’m away from this,” Irving said. “So when I say I’m not getting vaccinated and I’m making a choice with my life, somehow it gets mixed into, ‘Well, what about the basketball?’ When it’s like, ‘No, bro. We live in a real world.’

“This is great to be able to do this. I’m grateful for the opportunity, I love playing with my teammates, I love playing on the Nets. But I’ve already been away enough time to think about this, to process this, to be able to make my decision, stand strong, understand that people are going to agree and some people are going to disagree.

“The circumstances that are at hand, I’m praying they get changed and we’re able to do things differently. That’s not just for me; that’s for all those that are dealing with being unvaccinated and getting fired from work. … So though I feel your feeling and emotion asking that question, it feels a little disrespectful. I’m not just a basketball player, bro.”

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