INDIANAPOLIS – First, Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn had to convince All-Star forward Kevin Durant to stay home Saturday night.
Then he tried to explain why the Nets opted to rest their top seven scorers against Indiana. In the end, it didn't matter as they rallied to beat the Pacers 136-133.
But for Vaughn, it came down to a simple calculation. With two games in two nights, most of those players fighting through injuries and only one game between Sunday and Friday, Vaughn felt it was the best thing to do for his players and the franchise.
“When you have two or three guys, rotational guys out, it puts a strain and a stress on two or three more guys and then we're really not in a position of taking care of the team in total," he said. “We think, how does it affect everyone else so we can get to a place where, next week we're looking at ourselves in the mirror with pretty good health mentally and physically.”
As it turned out, Cam Thomas, Patty Mills and others took advantage of their chance. Thomas scored a career-high 33 points on 13-of-20 shooting, while Mills added 24 points, six rebounds and six assists, looking like he turned back the clock to his San Antonio days.
While it worked out this time for Vaughn, league officials have discouraged the roster management practice, especially for nationally televised games and road games because they want ticket-buying fans to see the players they want to watch.
That didn't happen Saturday when Vaughn kept Durant and Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, Nic Claxton, Seth Curry and T.J. Warren all out. None of the starters from a 120-116 victory Friday night over Atlanta played and Durant didn’t even make the trip — at Vaughn’s urging. Durant ranks among league leaders in minutes played.
In Brooklyn's case, seven players including Durant, Irving and Simmons are either injured or rehabbing from injuries. O'Neale missed the game for personal reasons and is not expected to play Monday at Washington, either.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle understood.
“What's happening tonight, this is part of playing, this is a very extreme case,” he said. “In coaching when you're managing a team as an executive, minutes accumulate, aches and pains this time of year, you're thinking big picture and a day at the right time can really help a player over the next two weeks type of thing.”
With only nine players dressed and none of the usual names to energize Brooklyn on the court, Vaughn threw a curve ball by mixing up his lineups, even using a zone defense and it caught the Pacers off-guard. Carlisle acknowledged it was one of the few times this season Indiana didn't play solid basketball for 48 minutes.
The reason was obvious to Vaughn.
“We wanted to be the aggressor and the zone allowed us to do that,” he said.
And now Vaughn believes his team got some short-term gain and long-term help, which he hopes fans also recognize.
“I hope that fan knows Kevin really wanted to play, he understands that he (Durant) wants to win every game but it's a decision that for us, as an organization, just had to do," Vaughn said. “I would say to that fan I'm looking out for Kevin Durant's future and really apologize that this is the game he (the fan) chose."
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