Defense had been raising questions for the Brooklyn Nets, particularly after Tuesday night’s loss in Detroit, but they returned to Barclays Center for the second half of a back-to-back and delivered all the answers in a 104-94 win over the Indiana Pacers that halted a three-game losing streak.
“They gave us everything we asked for, things that I’ve been talking to you guys about last night and today; effort, fight, connectivity, and what I’ve been telling them, you can’t be having fun the way we were playing,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “So tonight there was a lot of smiles, lot of joy, lot of passion for their teammates and their job, so just that is something to build on. So I was proud of them for bringing it. We asked for it and they delivered, and that’s a great sign.”
It was a lockdown from the start in a dominant first half that essentially had the Nets putting the game away by the break.
Brooklyn jumped out to a quick 10-point lead as the Pacers missed 10 of their first 12 shots. By halftime, the Nets had limited Indiana to 11-of-34 shooting (25.6) and just 30 points, with the aggression translating to the board work, where they doubled up the Pacers with a 32-16 rebounding advantage. They also doubled up the Pacers on the scoreboard, leading 62-30 going into halftime.
“It was communication,” said DeAndre Jordan. “Everybody’s connected, we were on a string. A lot of nights -- well, not a lot of nights. Some nights, three guys are on the same page, four guys are on the same page, but in order for us to be a great team on both ends of the floor, especially defensively, everybody has to be connected. And I feel like tonight we put that together for as close to 48 minutes as I’ve seen in a while from us.”
Central to it all was Jordan, who came up a minute shy of his longest stint of the season with a 36-minute night. It was evident from the start that the Nets were going to rely heavily on Jordan to combat Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, as he played nearly all of the first quarter before getting a break.
Sabonis ended up shooting 7-of-20 for the night, while Jordan put up a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, plus three blocks.
“If I’m honest, it was an emotional night last night,” said Nash. “DJ and I got upset at each other for a minute. I know DJ got upset a few times during the game, so I’m proud of him because he bounced back with an incredible attitude, effort, performance tonight. Last night was tough on all of us and for him to come back and be a veteran leader and presence, that type of effort and energy in extended minutes against an All-Star center was outstanding.”
Kyrie Irving led Brooklyn with 35 points and eight assists, making 17-of-17 free throws. James Harden posted a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Joe Harris had 17 points. Brooklyn made 31-of-35 free throws, and the final defensive numbers showed Indiana shooting just 39.1 percent for the game.
Brooklyn was up 32-25 in the early going of the second quarter before outscoring the Pacers 30-5 over the final 8:17 of the first half to take control of the game. A Harris 3-pointer got the Nets started on a 15-0 run, quickly followed by six straight points from Irving, whose lob to Jordan put Brooklyn up 47-25.
They weren’t done there. Jordan caught two more lobs for dunks, Harden hit on a 3-pointer, and Irving drained four straight free throws to put Brooklyn up by 32 at the break. It was the biggest halftime lead in the nine seasons since the team moved to Brooklyn, and the second-fewest points allowed in a first half in that same span.
Harden and Jordan had their double-doubles locked up by halftime, with Irving scoring 16 first-half points and Harden 13. Brooklyn got 26 of his free throw attempts in the first half alone, making 22.
Indiana opened up the second half by making six of its first 11 3-pointers, and the last of those makes was actually the start of a 13-0 run that brought the Pacers within 76-62 with just over a minute to go in the quarter. Drives to the rim by Tyler Johnson and Harden — twice — pushed the Brooklyn lead back to 20 points, with an 82-62 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
The Pacers trimmed the Brooklyn lead to 14 points midway through the fourth quarter, but 11 straight Brooklyn points from Irving kept the Nets in control.
“It is something to build on,” said Nash. “It’s something that gave us a glimpse of into what we’re capable of when our approach is right, when we’re connected, and when we fight. You can still lose games, but you can sleep at night when you give it that effort and energy and you know that you’re gonna get better even if you lose. That was the key thing, we got better tonight. We delivered with the energy and fight, and that’s something to build on.”