Top Takeaways from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nets vs. Trae Young, Hawks

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2022

Top Takeaways from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nets vs. Trae Young, Hawks

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    The Brooklyn Nets got a tremendous outing from star forward Kevin Durant on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to overcome Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks.

    Durant dropped 55 points and got plenty of help from teammate Kyrie Irving (31 points and six assists). However, the Hawks played better team ball and managed to ride a second-quarter surge to victory.

    The Hawks outscored the Nets 37-20 in the second frame and did just enough in the second half to ride out the win. Brooklyn outscored Atlanta after the break, but it was too little, too late for Durant and Co. Early foul trouble and inefficiency at the foul line cost Brooklyn in a big way.

    This isn't to suggest that Atlanta didn't earn the win. Led by Young (36 points, 10 assists), the Hawks shredded the Brooklyn defense for most of the night. Young took over late, scoring nine points in the final minute, and the Hawks spoiled Durant's career night.

    Atlanta moves into the No. 8 seed in the East, while Brooklyn drops to No. 10. This was a pivotal game between two play-in teams, and each appears headed in a different direction going into the postseason.

Momentum Could Carry Atlanta Far in the Postseason

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    The Hawks are almost certainly headed to the play-in tournament—they're four games behind the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls with four to play—but they have the potential to go far. Maintaining one of the top two play-in spots will be important, as it will give Atlanta a double-elimination path to the playoffs proper.

    The surging Hawks, though, shouldn't be content with getting past the play-in tournament. They're hitting their stride at precisely the right time and suddenly have the feel of a team that can go far.

    "We're some good basketball right now," Young told reporters.

    Indeed, they are. Atlanta has rattled off five straight victories and has won seven of its last 10. It's been an up-and-down season for the Hawks, but they're putting it together when it matters most. Surviving Durant's onslaught in a playoff atmosphere was huge.

    "I thought we just stayed with it, kept our composure and was able to withstand that run with KD," Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.

    It's huge because it's giving Atlanta a taste of the stakes to come. The Hawks aren't strangers to the postseason, having reached the conference finals last year. However, players cannot simply flip a switch to get into the postseason mindset. The Hawks are there right now, and momentum could aid this battle-tested team significantly when it's win-or-go-home later this month.

Sloppy Basketball Could Cost Brooklyn Big

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    Irving's return to the court on a relatively permanent basis was supposed to lift the Nets ahead of the playoffs. It has to an extent, as Irving and Durant remain one of the league's most formidable offensive duos. However, it hasn't been enough.

    Despite getting plenty of points from Durant and Irving on Saturday, Brooklyn fumbled away a chance for a much-needed win. The Nets have lost two straight and five of their last 10.

    "We're fouling early," Durant told reporters. "We put them in the bonus early every quarter; 37-14 [difference in] free throw makes. And it's not 'cause of the refs, it was because we're reaching and being undisciplined and just playing too aggressive. That's the game."

    The Nets committed 29 fouls and 13 turnovers. That was simply too much to overcome, even with Durant dropping 55.

    Undisciplined basketball will cost teams in the postseason, and right now Brooklyn is looking at the East's final play-in spot. That means the Nets will need two wins to see a true playoff series and will go home with a single loss.

    Brooklyn can make up ground, of course, as it's only one game behind Atlanta for the No. 8 seed. The road isn't particularly daunting either, as the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only playoff-caliber team remaining on the schedule.

    However, there's no margin for error, and the Nets cannot afford to squander nights like the one Durant had by piling on the mistakes.