Basketball: Raptors down Nets as Durant Covid-19 saga takes centrestage

The Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant tries to run towards the basket past the Toronto Raptors defence on Feb 5, 2021.
The Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant tries to run towards the basket past the Toronto Raptors defence on Feb 5, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - Pascal Siakam scored a season-high 33 points Friday night (Feb 5) and the visiting Toronto Raptors posted a 123-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, who saw star Kevin Durant exit due to health and safety protocols for Covid-19.

Kyle Lowry added a season-high 30 points for the Raptors.

Siakam added 11 rebounds and six assists while shooting 12 of 23 from the floor as the Raptors won for the eighth time in 12 games. His layup with 35.8 seconds remaining gave the Raptors a 121-113 lead and essentially sealed the game.

Lowry made 12 of 18 shots and tied a season best with six three-pointers. His final two three-pointers started Toronto's game-ending 15-7 run over the last 3:45.

While Siakam and Lowry's big nights helped the Raptors in a game they led most of the way, the big story was Durant being held out of the starting lineup and ultimately getting pulled.

Kevin Durant, who was forced to come off the bench for the first time in his NBA career on Friday, was pulled from the Brooklyn Nets contest in the third quarter because of Covid-19 protocols, according to officials.

The strange turn of events started with Durant being ruled out of the starting lineup moments before the beginning of the game because someone he came into contact with earlier Friday had an inconclusive test for the coronavirus.

Durant then checked into the game halfway through the first quarter and remained until being removed with nine minutes left in the third quarter of a tight contest by a Nets official.

A visibly frustrated Durant threw his water bottle as he headed down the tunnel to the Brooklyn dressing room.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Durant was removed from the game and contact tracing is underway to determine if he was in fact a close contact of the positive individual,” a league spokesman said in a statement.

While the game was still going on Durant took to his cell phone in the bowels of Barclays Centre arena and tweeted “Free me”.

The league said Durant had tested negative three times in the last 24 hours, including twice on Friday. But because Durant had been in contact with someone who originally had an inconclusive test result he was held out of the start of the game.

Durant then entered the contest and played 19 minutes before the league learned the other individual had tested positive for the virus.

“Someone he interacted with this afternoon subsequently had an inconclusive test result return shortly before the game,” the spokesman said. “Under the league’s health and safety protocols, we do not require a player to be quarantined until a close contact has confirmed a positive test.

“During the game a positive test result was returned for the person.” The drama took place while officials were reviewing a play that could have seen Durant slapped with his fifth foul in just 19 minutes of playing time. But Durant won the video review and the foul call was overturned.

Durant was sitting on the bench waiting for the officials to review the play when he was pulled from the game for good.

Nets coach Steve Nash said losing Durant was just another twist in a bizarre back-and-forth season.

“It is tough to lose Durant twice in one night,” said the Canadian. “But we got to be adaptable. It is the kind of season it is going to be.” Durant finished with eight points and is not expected to travel with the team for their next game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Nets forward James Harden said the game should not have been played.

“It is frustrating,” Harden said. “I don’t understand. He couldn’t play and then he came back on the court. The game should have been postponed. He was around all of us.”

Joe Harris led the Nets with 19 points and James Harden added 17. Kyrie Irving and Jeff Green added 15 each for Brooklyn, who shot 48.8 percent.

Toronto scored 17 fast-break points, 24 points in the paint and shot 50.0 percent to get a 34-23 lead after the opening quarter. The Raptors expanded their advantage to 44-27 when DeAndre' Bembry stole the ball from Harden and coasted in for a dunk less than two minutes into the second quarter.

Brooklyn made 12 of its final 16 shots of the first half and outscored Toronto 36-23 to get within 67-63 by halftime. A 3-pointer by Harris gave the Nets their first lead at 68-67 with 9:45 left in the third and less than a minute later, the Nets announced Durant was out for the rest of the game.

After Brooklyn held a six-point lead with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the third, Toronto held a 92-90 lead into the fourth on Siakam's fadeaway right before the buzzer.