PORTLAND, Ore. — Before the Nets tipped off Monday, Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups proclaimed Kyrie Irving the most skilled point guard he has ever seen, and moments later Steve Nash agreed.
But Billups also warned that having a part-time player would be tough, as having Irving playing only on the road was going to be difficult to manage.
Monday was an example of why, with the Nets blowing a lead and falling 114-108 before 16,379 at the Moda Center.
“Yeah, that’s a tough one. I think unless you’re in that situation you don’t really, really take the time to know what you would do. Obviously, you want every player to be all-in,” Billups said of how he’d handle a situation like Irving’s.
Of course, there haven’t been any situations like this, a seven-time All-Star not able to play home games because he refuses to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“These are obviously an unprecedented situation. You have to respect any decision that anybody makes for themselves or for their family,” Billups said. “So it’s really important to know that everything is not just your job and not just basketball.”
Kevin Durant poured in a game-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Irving added 22 and eight rebounds. But the Nets have now lost five of their past seven, the last on the tail end of a nasty cross-country back-to-back set.
Still unvaccinated and unable to play in New York, Irving made his long-awaited season debut last week in a win at Indiana. But he couldn’t pull off an encore Monday.
“Kyrie is a wizard, man. He’s must-see TV. I personally think that — as somebody who played the position — I think Kyrie is the most skilled player to ever play that position,” Billups said. “Just straight skill, nothing else. Just straight skill, he’s the best I’ve ever seen at the position skill-wise. So obviously it gives you a ton when he’s playing.”
Day’Ron Sharpe had 14 points to relieve the foul-prone Nic Claxton (two points, one rebound in 13 minutes). But the Blazers shredded the Nets’ defense with three 20-point scorers, led by Anfernee Simons (23 points).
Irving gave the Nets their biggest lead of the night, hitting a 14-foot pullup for a 70-63 edge with 7:53 in the third quarter.
He followed with a 15-footer to make it 74-68 with 5:55 left in the quarter. But the Nets watched Portland get hot from the perimeter and close the period on a 19-7 run.
After the Nets went behind on a Robert Covington basket, Cam Thomas (21 points) drilled a 3-pointer to give them a brief 79-77 edge. The operative word being brief.
They couldn’t hold the lead, giving up a 10-2 run, closing out a 32-point third quarter for Portland. The Nets allowed the Blazers to hit 8 of 15 from deep in the period, and went into the fourth trailing 87-81.
Irving appeared to hurt his left hand in the waning minutes of the first half, briefly leaving the court and having it looked at, flexing it when he returned.
With 5:54 left to play in the game, Irving had the Nets and their entire fan base holding their collective breath when he went down on the court for a few moments following a collision with Nassir Little. The Blazers’ wing dove for a ball he had little chance to reach, taking out Irving’s ankle.
Irving was down for some time before getting up and walking gingerly to the bench. After being looked at by training personnel, Irving eventually returned to the game following a long talk with the refs about the collision before play resumed.
Make that, after the loss resumed.