One more time, the Brooklyn Nets pulled out a win on Monday when attrition would have suggested otherwise. Still without Kevin Durant for one more game — he’s listed as probable to return on Wednesday against New Orleans — the Nets lost Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet in Sunday’s game against Chicago.
Then, James Harden exited four minutes into Monday night’s game after missing the two previous games due to hamstring tightness. And while Kyrie Irving delivered a superlative 40-point performance, the resilience of the Brooklyn roster was a major factor in the 114-112 win, giving the Nets 21 wins in their last 25 games.
“It’s a group effort. The players have to buy into their roles,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “The stay ready group is important. I mean, look at tonight, (Chris) Chiozza got in and contributed, Alize (Johnson) was outstanding, (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) played extended minutes, guys that have been in the stay ready group recently. I’m proud of the amount of guys that contributed. We have a positive attitude in our locker room, a winning mentality, and regardless of who’s out there or not, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to find a way to come together and win. You can’t win every night, but you try to figure it out and solve problems every night and the guys were terrific tonight again at finding a way.”
They’ve seen this show before. Through one circumstance or another, 15 of the 17 players currently on the roster have had extended stretches with a regular rotation role this season.
This time it was a comeback from a 14-point second-quarter deficit. The Nets were still down by 10 at halftime, but they wiped out their 11-point third-quarter deficit with a 14-2 run to close the quarter. After Jeff Green scored six straight Brooklyn points, Johnson took a defensive rebound end-to-end for a layup, and Luwawu-Cabarrot came up with a steal and two free throws for an 89-88 lead. Even in a fourth quarter that got dicey at times, the Nets never trailed again.
“I think some guys came off the bench and brought a lot of energy,” said Joe Harris. “Alize came in, brought a lot of energy. (Chiozza), TLC, basically everybody off that second unit came in and gave us a huge boost.”
Luwawu-Cabarrot played the entire fourth quarter and finished with nine points, three assists, and three rebounds. Chiozza had gotten some fourth quarter minutes in Sunday’s loss to Chicago as the Nets looked to fill some lead guard minutes while giving Irving a breather. When Harden exited on Monday, Nash turned back to the high-motor point on the two-way contract, and he gave the Nets 12 minutes, including six minutes at the end of the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, right in the middle of a stretch where the Nets outscored the Knicks 27-8.
Johnson was on the floor for all of those Chiozza minutes and more, playing half the fourth quarter.
“I think we had them penciled in as possible depending on how the game went,” said Nash. “Frankly, probably Alize had more of a chance to play if James was still in the game, but when James went down, we needed Cheez to handle the ball and pressure the defense. We spoke about that possibility before the game regardless of if James got hurt just because of the way the game went and without Tyler as a ballhandler. So he filled in there, but Alize we were definitely looking for minutes for him tonight in a shorter rotation. His versatility could help us, and he was great.”
Johnson made his presence felt early scoring eight points in the first five minutes of the second quarter, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Currently on his second 10-day contract, Johnson had made a big Nets debut with 23 points and 15 rebounds in 33 minutes on another shorthanded night in Utah on March 24. He had played sparingly since then, but delivered another high-energy performance when the Nets needed it.
“From the moment that he got here, that’s how he’s been,” said Harris. “Even in his practice sessions, he doesn’t back down from anybody, is ultra aggressive on both ends of the court, and I’m glad that he got an opportunity tonight.”
It’s the kind of attitude that brought home another Brooklyn win.
“It took guts, it took hustle, it took a lot of fight, and it also took a lot of guys who normally aren’t in that position to step up and play and play well,” said Nash. “I’m proud of the group, and it was an excellent win all things considered. These are the wins that you kind of remember because so many guys contributed and it was a game that we were totally different rotations once again and we figured it out. We really won the game with mentality and effort.”