Brooklyn Nets teammates Kyrie Irving (L) and Kevin Durant were eliminated from the playoffs with a four-game sweep by the Boston Celtics. Photo by Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE
April 26 (UPI) -- Kyrie Irving said an emotionally "heavy" season, the distraction of his prior absence from home games and James Harden's departure through a trade were among the issues that led to the Brooklyn Nets' early playoff exit.
The No. 2 seed Boston Celtics completed a four-game sweep of the No. 7 Nets with a 116-112 win Monday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Irving totaled 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
"We could throw out all the things that happened this season. It was just heavy, emotionally," Irving told reporters.
Nets star Kevin Durant totaled 39 points in the loss. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum totaled 29 points in the win. The Celtics led by as many as 15 points and never trailed. They outscored the Nets 44-32 in the paint and 18-16 off turnovers.
The Celtics outscored the Nets 90-78 through three quarters. The Nets cut the deficit to one point with 1:28 remaining, but couldn't complete the rally.
Irving missed the majority of the Nets' home games this season because he wasn't vaccinated and was not allowed to participate due to COVID-19 regulations in New York.
"I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn't able to play," Irving said. "We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. I think it became a distraction at times. And as you see we just had some drastic changes."
Durant also missed six weeks of the season due to an MCL injury. The Nets traded Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in February. Guard Ben Simmons, who came to Brooklyn in the deal, did not play this season due to back issues.
"We lost a franchise player [Harden] and we got a franchise player back [in Simmons]," Irving said. "But we didn't get a chance to see him on the floor.
"There was no pressure for [Simmons] to step on the floor with us either. Ben's good. We have Ben, we have his back. He's going to be good for next year. But now we just turn the page and look forward to what we're building as a franchise and really get tougher."
Durant and Irving both endorsed coach Steve Nash to return next season for the Nets. They also said they plan to play together again in 2022-23.
"He's had to deal with so much stuff as a head coach, first-time coach: trades, injuries, COVID," Durant said. "it's just a lot of stuff he had to deal with. I'm proud of how he focused and his passion for us. We all continue to keep developing over the summer and see what happens."
The Celtics will face the No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks or No. 6 Chicago Bulls in the second round of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bucks lead that series 3-1.
''A lot of stuff that may factor into why we lose, but they were just a better team,'' Durant said of the Celtics.