BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Kevin Durant was out. Then he was in. Then he was out, the bad news delivered by Canadian and Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash.
On a night both bizarre and entertaining, the Toronto Raptors beat Nash's star-studded Nets 123-117 after Durant was ushered out of the game by a COVID-19 scare.
"Saw a little bit of everything tonight, right?" Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Pascal Siakam had a season-high 33 points plus 11 rebounds for the Raptors (10-12) who led by 17 points early before holding on to win their third straight. Kyle Lowry added 30 points, while Norman Powell added 18 points, and Chris Boucher chipped in with 17.
But Durant's confusing coming and going was the story of the night. In his first game against the Raptors since rupturing his Achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA finals, Durant arrived eight minutes late after contact tracing -- the first time in his 867-game NBA career he's entered as a reserve -- and then asked to leave in the third quarter.
Nash admitted the Durant uncertainty was a distraction.
"I probably didn't handle it great, just trying to juggle all those balls and different information, what does it mean," said the Nets' rookie head coach. "I probably got a little distracted about thinking what it means long-term for our team."
Nash said he doesn't believe Durant will travel with the team to Philadelphia.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said in a statement that someone whom Durant interacted with in the afternoon had an inconclusive test result return shortly before the game. Then during the game, a positive result was returned for that person in question, and so Durant was removed "out of an abundance of caution."
The night shone a spotlight on the uncertainty of the NBA amid the global pandemic.
"It's just the situation we all have to deal with right now, right?" Lowry said. "We don't know this, that, and the other. And I'm sure (Durant) was doing everything to stay as safe as possible. But, we couldn't necessarily worry about that stuff. Hopefully nothin' is nothin', and we just move forward."
COVID-19 has been a hot-button topic in the league this week with the news an all-star game will be held in Atlanta.
"That's the biggest thing right now, is safety. We all want to do our jobs, and we all want to provide for our families, and also have people working back in the arenas and doing their jobs, security people, and concession stands," said Lowry, sporting a bandage under his right eye after taking an elbow from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. "(But) every day, there's a new rule, or a new something that we can't control. All we can do right now is continue to try to be as careful as possible . . . just continue to be adaptable and be adjustable."
Joe Harris had 19 points to top the Nets (14-10), while James Harden had 17, and Kyrie Irving and Jeff Green finished with 15 apiece.
The Raptors pounced on the Nets' early lackluster defence to build a 17-point advantage by early in the second quarter.
Durant's return helped the Nets bounce back. Their first lead of the night came on a Harris three-pointer a couple of minutes into the third quarter. The Raptors clutched a 92-90 lead to start the fourth.
The Nets went ahead by four points in a tight fourth quarter before back-to-back three-pointers from Lowry had the Raptors up by four points with 3:11 to play. Two nights after scoring a franchise-high 54 points, Fred VanVleet's only made three on Friday came with 1:46 to play and put Toronto up by six points.
Siakam connected on a layup on Toronto's next possession, and it was all but game over.
"He played well," Nurse said of Siakam. "I thought he really showed some good composure and patience and got to some spots, made some good reads when he needed to, and then he finally got a few bounces."
Durant, meanwhile, had posted "Free me" on his Twitter page before the game was even over.
The league's No. 2 scorer, who had eight points on Friday, had already missed three games this season related to the health and safety protocols. He tested positive for the virus in March while he was recovering from his Achilles surgery.
The game was the first meeting between the two teams since the Raptors dispatched the Nets in four games in the first round of the playoffs in last summer's NBA bubble. But just four players on the rebuilt Nets roster -- Chris Chiozza, Tyler Johnson, Harris and Luwawu-Cabarrot -- remain from that playoff roster.
The Raptors got off to a hot start, putting 11 points on the Nets on a VanVleet finger roll late in the first quarter. The Raptors capitalized on Brooklyn's sloppiness -- Toronto scored 11 points off Nets turnovers -- and led 34-23 to start the second.
DeAndre Bembry put a punctuation mark on a Raptors 7-0 run that had Toronto up by 17 points early in the second. But the Nets found their form and sliced the Raptors' advantage to 67-63 at halftime.
The Raptors continue their six-game road trip on Saturday at Atlanta.
-- With files from The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.
The Canadian Press