Nets star Kyrie Irving was knocked out of Tuesday’s game in Chicago after taking an elbow to the face.
James Harden in — maybe — and Kyrie Irving out.
The Nets’ whole priority as the playoffs beckon is getting healthy. But just as Harden nears a return from his lengthy hamstring injury, Irving got knocked out of Tuesday’s win in Chicago with a facial contusion.
Brooklyn cruised wire-to-wire, drilling the Bulls 115-107 before 3,434 at United Center. But this victory was the very definition of Pyrrhic.
Yes, the Nets (45-24) pulled 1 ½ games ahead of Milwaukee for second place in the Eastern Conference, pending the third-seeded Bucks’ game against the Magic later Tuesday night. But they lost Irving, and with just three games left in the regular season — including a home tilt Wednesday against San Antonio — it remains to be seen when they will get him back.
Kevin Durant had a team-high 21 points and eight assists to lead eight Nets in double-figures. Joe Harris added 17 in a balanced effort, as Brooklyn handed out 32 assists on 42 baskets.
Zach LaVine had a game-high 41. But no other Bull topped 13, with Nikola Vucevic mustering just 12 points on 5 of 18 shooting.
“I think their two bread-and-butter offensive scenarios are pick-and-roll with LaVine and post-up with Vooch, a little bit of Thad Young down there as well,” Nets coach Steve Nash had said beforehand.
“They go big as often as they can so rebounding will be important for us, and as always, we want to really prioritize our own performance and really do well at the things we do, be sharp and play together. As always if we do that, then hopefully regardless of what they do, we put ourselves in a good position to win.”
Vucevic has always been a noted Net-killer, just usually not this way. He’d averaged 26.5 points and 12.3 rebounds in four earlier games against Brooklyn this season, but after the Nets’ defense smothered him in the fifth, Vucevic still left his mark on Irving.
The All-Star point guard took a vicious elbow to the right side of his face shortly after halftime, crumbling to the floor and staying down. Flat on his back for several minutes, Irving covered his face and then started banging on the court in pain. He was eventually helped up and went to the locker room with 10:08 left in the third quarter and the Nets up 68-58.
Irving — who suffered a left-side facial fracture in training camp last season — didn’t return the rest of the night. It’s unclear when he will.
Last training camp, Irving had suffered a concussion and missed time. With just three games left in the regular season, Irving’s status going forward is up in the air.
Irving finished with 13 points, all in the first quarter when he set the tone for this victory.
Brooklyn started this game the way it closed the last one, rallying from 21 points down to win in Denver.
The Nets scored the first eight points — 3-pointers from Joe Harris and Blake Griffin, followed by a Durant pull-up — and never looked back.
When Irving drilled a pull-up 3-pointer to make it 18-7, Bulls coach Billy Donovan had seen enough and called a timeout. It didn’t help.
The Nets had clearly taken note of Denver’s ball movement that had given them early fits. They had a dozen assists on a dozen first-quarter baskets, leading 32-23. They padded that to 53-36 on a Bruce Brown layup in the second, and 93-74 on a Harris pull-up with 1:22 to play in the third.
Brooklyn did see Chicago mount a 13-3 run and its cushion sliced to 105-97 with three minutes remaining. But the Nets held Chicago at arm’s length.
Mike James came off the bench to fill in for Irving, finishing with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Bruce Brown — playing with a mask due to his own broken nose suffered Monday in practice — had 15 points and 10 boards.
Second-year big man Nic Claxton earned his first career double-double with 10 points, 10 boards and two blocks.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Brian Lewis