Kyrie Irving missed the Nets’ 122-109 win Thursday night over the 76ers, with what the team listed as personal reasons. Shortly before tipoff, Nets coach Steve Nash said he had no clue what those reasons were.
Nor did he know afterward, amid reports Irving was upset over Wednesday’s events in Washington and another report, from The Heavy, cited a source close to Irving saying the point guard’s reasoning for not playing was “I just didn’t want to play.”
While Nash admitted after the game that he still hadn’t communicated directly with Irving, he did say he wouldn’t characterize the situation that way.
“I haven’t spoke to him yet,” Nash said. “I can’t really comment because I haven’t spoke to him, and it’s personal reasons. So it has to come from Kyrie. But I don’t believe that to be the case.”
The Nets already were without Kevin Durant due to contact tracing quarantine, though he might return Sunday. But Nash didn’t find out he had lost his other All-Star until 30 minutes before his pregame press conference.
“I don’t know. I sent him a message. I just found out. So I just sent him a message in the last half hour and haven’t heard back yet,” Nash said. “Obviously thinking about him and hope all is well and, yeah, it’s a private matter.”
Asked whether — privacy issues aside — he knew why Irving needed the personal time, Nash said he didn’t.
“I don’t. I haven’t spoke to him yet. I’ve messaged him,” Nash said. “When I found out I came in here and basically talked to you guys, so I don’t have an update on him.”
Irving did communicate with somebody in the organization before the game, and explained his circumstances. He also texted his teammates beforehand, letting them know he was fine.
“He texted us before the game, but that’s a personal issue for him. We support him. He’s our brother,” said sixth man Caris LeVert, who stepped into the lineup in Irving’s absence and had 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. “We went out there, and we competed without him. So, like I said, it was a personal issue for him.”
Irving wasn’t expected to join the Nets for their flight Thursday night to Memphis in preparation for Friday’s game against the Grizzlies.
Bay Area TV station KRON4 reported that Irving sat out due to Wednesday’s events in Washington, where supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Irving played just 20 games in his Brooklyn debut last season after his campaign was cut short by shoulder surgery. Irving also left the Garden last Jan. 26 after learning of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death and didn’t play that night against the Knicks.
This time, Irving not only was enjoying a hot start to the season, but also was coming off an impressive outing in leading the Nets to a 130-96 rout of the Jazz on Tuesday. Although the Nets followed that up with a convincing win over the Eastern Conference leading Sixers, Irving’s absence does come at an inopportune time.
Yes, if Durant keeps testing negative for COVID-19, he could return to face the Thunder on Sunday, earlier than initially expected.
But Irving came into Thursday sixth in the league in scoring (27.1) and fourth in plus-minus (+94), trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the 76ers’ duo of Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.
The loss of Irving — even if temporary — compounds the Nets’ backcourt woes. They already are missing not only Durant but also Tyler Johnson (quarantine) and starting guard Spencer Dinwiddie (right ACL surgery). With Nic Claxton (right knee tendinopathy) and Reggie Perry (left groin soreness) also injured, the Nets had just 11 players Thursday.
They’ll be missing Irving on Friday as well, and it remains to be seen if they get Durant back over the weekend
“I think Kevin’s situation is that if he continues to test negative he can play Sunday,” Nash said. “That’s all I have on that. But hopefully, can’t wait for Sunday to come.”