#Joe Harris’ NBA bubble exit could be final blow for scrappy Nets

#Joe Harris’ NBA bubble exit could be final blow for scrappy Nets

August 21, 2020 | 8:34am

Might as well start the Nets’ coaching search.

Down 2-0 to the defending-champion Raptors, interim coach Jacque Vaughn announced Joe Harris will miss Games 3 and 4 of the first-round series due to a “personal matter.’’

His teammates later called it a family emergency. Harris’ mother had undergone cancer treatments earlier in the season. Sources did not rule out a return if the series is extended.

“We’re losing a guy who was putting in a lot of work and playing really well for us,’’ guard Tyler Johnson said, with Game 3 on tap Friday at 1:30 p.m. “It’s not just going to be me stepping up. It’s a lot of guys who have to step up to fill the void.’’

These bubble Nets plan to go down fighting. Their grit enabled them to take the Raptors to the final possession of Game 2, with Garrett Temple bobbling a handoff from Harris in the closing moments, down three. The turnover officially went to Harris, but it was Temple’s gaffe. The Nets committed 17 turnovers — five in the final period.

“A big loss for us,’’ Vaughn said of Harris’ departure. “But an opportunity for us to respond as a group and figure this puzzle out and have someone else step up. I look forward to see us stay competitive and put ourselves in position to win a game.”

The Harris-less Nets are simply overmatched. Normally this 7-vs.-2 series would have a momentum shift going back to Brooklyn. But it’s all Disney World all the time.

Harris, their top priority in free agency, has been a dagger scorer in Orlando, averaging 20 points on 62 percent shooting in the seeding games. Harris may have even played his final game for Brooklyn.

Temple said the key is “not rocket science,’’ that the club must play less carelessly, and reduce its unforced turnovers. The Raptors raced to a 33-point lead in the first half of Game 1 before the Nets responded in Game 2 by leading most of the way. They improved their transition defense and limited Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointers.

“They’re going to play us a little differently,’’ Temple said. “That’s one guy they couldn’t leave open. With their swarming defense, we’re going to have to find more outlets to open it up. We have to defend and rebound the ball because we’ll be even smaller.’’

Even Harris’ solid play couldn’t get the already decimated Nets over the hump. The 3-point sniper scored 14 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Wednesday’s 104-99 loss.

The Nets again won’t have injured Jamal Crawford (hamstring), whose signing turned into a complete bust. In order to stay in the game, Caris LeVert and Johnson will need monster performances, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has to take his surprising 3-point marksmanship to another level. And that probably won’t be enough.

“You can’t make certain mistakes against these guys,’’ Johnson said. “It’s not the lack of effort. It’s the details. A couple of times we were up 10, 5. The more experienced teams take the five-point lead and push it to eight and keep it there. We had some breakdowns. More than anything, it’s the details. This team has been playing hard.”

The Raptors may have just absorbed the Nets’ best punch in Game 2 when Brooklyn jumped to a 26-12 lead and still had the advantage in the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in basketball and our job we forget there’s a lot more to us as people,’’ Johnson said. “For Joe, it’s a no-brainer. He has to take care of his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family right now. It’s bigger than basketball. We support his decision to leave.’’

If the Nets get swept, Vaughn’s chances of returning would seem slim.

Nets owner Joe Tsai wants a marquee coaching search that should include Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and maybe even Gregg Popovich.

The Nets were scrappy-solid in the bubble despite not having Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Spencer Dinwiddie, among others. On paper, the Nets should be Eastern Conference title threats next season and Tsai won’t balk at paying top dollar.

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