The Brooklyn Nets capped a chaotic day off the court on Tuesday with a fitting nightcap on it.
Hours after the dismissal of head coach Steve Nash amid reports that a man suspended for conduct violations would replace him, the Nets blew a late double-digit lead in a 108-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
They did so as Kyrie Irving — embroiled in the latest controversy of his own making — failed to score a bucket until the fourth quarter. He finished with four points. It was a stunning yet not-unexpected effort from the embattled Nets star. The chaos surrounding Irving and the Nets appeared to finally creep into his game.
Irving can’t be counted on to make good decisions off the court. He can’t be counted on to show up on it. But when he’s actually there, he can almost always be counted on to produce. A career 23.1 points-per-game scorer, he entered Tuesday averaging 30.1 ppg this season. On Tuesday, he shot 2 for 12 from the field.
We won’t hear about the root of Irving’s struggles from the source. After he sparked a verbal sparring match with ESPN’s Nick Friedell over his promotion of an antisemitic movie, the Nets hid Irving from media on Tuesday for a second straight day in an effort to “let him simmer down.”
Those are Sean Marks’ words. Here they are, straight from the general manager’s mouth as he explained earlier Tuesday why the Nets were shielding Irving from reporters.
“He did not do media last night, he’s not gonna do media tonight,” Marks said Tuesday afternoon. … “We don’t want to cause more fuss right now with more interaction with people. Let’s let him simmer down and, I guess, let’s let cooler minds prevail.”
When Irving speaks next is unclear. But the state of Nets basketball is not. A Brooklyn franchise with its sights site on competing for multiple championship fell to 2-6 on Tuesday as the on-court product continued to mirror the tumult away from the arena.
The Nets appeared on track to providing a temporary salve while opening up a 58-52 halftime lead on Tuesday. Irving was scoreless, but Kevin Durant carried the weight en route to a 32-point effort. They extended their halftime edge to 68-56 early in the third quarter and looked on their way to a much-needed win.
But the Bulls hung close through the third and pressed on the gas in the fourth with a 17-2 run. They outscored the Nets, 31-19 in the game’s final stanza as Zach LaVine torched a hapless defense that’s been incapable of stopping almost anyone through eight games. The Bulls All-Star outscored the Nets by himself with 20 fourth-quarter points in a 29-point effort.
Ben Simmons, who was acquired in part to improve Brooklyn’s defense, watched from the bench for a second straight game with what the Nets have described as knee soreness. Not much indicates that he would have been much help regardless. He’s been an offensive liability while averaging 6.2 points on 5.7 field-goal attempts per games with the Nets. Meanwhile Brooklyn’s defense entered Tuesday ranked 29th out of 30 teams in defensive rating through seven games — six of which Simmons played.
If Udoka is indeed the next Nets coach, he’s in for a tough gig.