MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Kyrie Irving news won the day. But the Nets lost the night, 132-120 to the Grizzlies before a sellout crowd of 17,794 at FedExForum.
Hours after news broke that Irving will soon be allowed to start playing home games at Barclays Center, he poured in 43 points while Kevin Durant added 35 with 11 rebounds and eight assists. But it still wasn’t enough to overcome their shoddy defense against the Grizzlies.
The Nets led 107-105 on an Irving bucket, but allowed an 18-2 run to lose control and the game.
Brooklyn (38-35) is stuck in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and mired in the play-in tournament. The Nets fell 2 ½ games behind seventh-place Toronto, and 3 ½ behind Cleveland for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot.
The Grizzlies were without Ja Morant, the electrifying All-Star guard missing a second straight game with a sore right knee. But Memphis improved to 15-2 without their franchise player, winning with physicality, athleticism and attitude. All of which were on display, along with 23 points from Desmond Bane.
The Nets had won six of their last seven, the only hiccup being last Wednesday’s two-point heartbreaker after blowing a 14-point cushion against Dallas. This time they dug a huge hole and tried to climb out of it, falling just short.
Trailing 37-32 after Durant’s free throw with 31.3 seconds left in the first quarter, they fell behind by 10 on Brandon Clarke’s tip-in early in the second.
A 3-pointer by Bane left the Nets down 50-36 with 9:15 remaining in the half, and the deficit swelled to 18 midway through the second quarter.
The Nets trailed 63-45 after a Dillon Brooks driving floater, getting pushed around physically.
It was 76-62 at the break before the Nets started climbing back into it.
Brooklyn outscored the Grizzlies 42-27 in the third quarter. Durant (14) and Irving (11) combined for 25 points in the period, with Irving finding Bruce Brown for a layup to put the Nets ahead 104-103 with 2.4 seconds remaining.
An Irving 3-pointer 31 seconds into the fourth quarter put the Nets ahead 107-105. But it was the last lead they would have.
A Clarke tip-in knotted it, and Bane found De’Anthony Melton (team-high tying 23) for a 3-pointer that untied it.
Bane’s back-to-back 3-pointers put Memphis ahead 123-109 with 5:20 to play, and the Nets never challenged after that.