In the first glimpse in weeks at a mostly whole Nets team, their two superstars and plenty of bodies were not enough.
Though the Nets’ bench was long, they were too short and too sloppy.
The Nets had no answers for Joel Embiid and had far too many giveaways in Kevin Durant’s first game in two weeks, and the Nets looked more rusty than rested in a 110-102 loss to the 76ers on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Durant returned after missing four games, LaMarcus Aldridge rejoined the Nets, who had 16 healthy players (with Kyrie Irving looming for road games), but they did not have a big body or the firepower from deep.
Embiid, a frequent trash-talker, and Durant were given technicals late in the fourth and the two teams met at midcourt upon the conclusion of a game that had gotten chippy.
The Nets (23-10) turned the ball over 17 times — compared with 76ers’ seven giveaways — in dropping their second game in the past eight. Shooting just 7-for-27 from 3-point range did not help.
Durant and Harden scored 33 points apiece, but it was Embiid’s star power that shone brightest.
The 7-footer drilled shots from deep (3-for-5) and backed down whatever non-superstar the Nets threw at him underneath en route to his 34 points.
Embiid was not alone — Tyrese Maxey added 25 points and Seth Curry poured in 17, many in a big fourth quarter — but those Philadelphia contributions were overshadowed by the Sixers’ big man.
In one memorable third-quarter breakaway, Harden thought he had a clear path until Embiid’s long arm swatted a layup. But on the next two possessions, Durant swished in 3s, giving the Nets a 78-71 edge.
The Nets could not gain enough separation in the third quarter to feel comfortable. Harden and Durant combined for 22 points in the quarter and built a seven-point lead. When Embiid hit the floor hard after battling for position with Blake Griffin and had to come out midway through the period, it looked to be the Nets’ chance — but Maxey knocked down a few 3s and Philadelphia was up 84-82 at the end of the quarter.
Embiid scored 16 of his points in the first quarter, including nailing his first two from beyond the arc. He helped push a 76ers team that is still without Ben Simmons into a lead of as many as nine in the second quarter.
The Nets used a 9-2 run to tie the game at 47-all in the second, climbing out of the early ditch they had dug for themselves. Nic Claxton was an early leader and the first Net to reach double-digits, on just seven shots. The big man has scored at least 10 points in four of his past five games and has emerged as a big piece, due to better health and Harden throwing him lobs.
The Nets’ early problems were sloppiness (14 first-half turnovers, primarily on errant passes) and Embiid, who was a force. Though the Nets were mostly whole, Philadelphia (three first-half giveaways) had the more cohesive unit.
The Nets opened with Claxton on Embiid, while Aldridge and Griffin were subbed onto the 7-footer, too. In the closing minutes of the first quarter, a fast-breaking Embiid used a fake to his left to create separation from Durant, then got hip-checked as he glided in for an and-one. It did not matter who was on him; damage was being done.
“Nothing,” small forward Bruce Brown said before the game, when asked how a team can limit Embiid. “He’s just a great player. You can’t really stop any of the great players in this league. They’re going to get their numbers regardless of what you do. Really just try to make it tough on him, each shot he gets.”
The Nets started Claxton and Aldridge together for the first time this season, next to Harden, Durant and Patty Mills.
The early returns for the 13th different starting unit were not strong, as they fell into a quick 10-2 hole, Harden and Durant combining to go 0-for-4 early.
But the star were not going to be held scoreless, and the Nets held a 23-22 lead just five minutes later.