The Brooklyn Nets had every reason to lose on Tuesday night in Phoenix, and they wouldn’t let it happen.
Playing without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving; playing on the second night of a back-to-back; trailing by 24 points in the first half. It’s a bit of a list.
“On many nights in this scenario,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash, “teams in the NBA fade away and it’s over.”
The Nets shook it all off, closing the game on a 12-0 run to sprint past the Suns for their fourth straight win, 128-124.
“It's the true definition of a team,” said James Harden. “Coming in two men down, it's next man up. Tonight was the perfect example of that. We got down 20-something at halftime and we didn't give up, we didn't quit. We kept fighting and cut the deficit down and kept fighting and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game and things went our way.”
Brooklyn trailed by 21 at halftime, making it the largest halftime deficit overcome in the franchise’s NBA history, dating back to the 1976-77 season. They were down 12 going into the fourth quarter, and still trailed by eight with under three minutes to go.
“I thought our energy, our toughness, not allowing the game to get away was really important and it gave us a chance to take the momentum so to speak where now they're trying to hang on and we're trying to —we have nothing to lose, but to fight back,” said Nash. “Sometimes that's such a typical position to play in front when you're just trying to protect a lead, so we took advantage, we made some shots, we made it difficult on them. I thought everyone contributed, outstanding individual defense at the end, and also, James made some big shots.”
They had cut the deficit to two with 6:30 to play, outscoring the Suns 18-6 to start the fourth quarter. But after Chris Paul scored 11 straight Phoenix points, the Nets were back down 124-116.
The Suns never scored again.
Jeff Green hit a 3-pointer, and Harden’s drive made it a one-possession game again. Whistled for a foul on the defensive end, the Nets won the challenge, won the jump ball, and Green’s drive made it a one-point game.
Finally, Harden pulled up for a deep, straight-on 3-pointer that put the Nets in the lead for the first time all night, 126-124 with 29.8 seconds to play.
When he tacked on two free throws with 11.3 seconds left, Harden finished with 38 points and 11 assists in another double-double performance, shooting 14-for-22 overall and grabbing seven rebounds.
Joe Harris had 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, hitting 4-of-9 3-pointers. Green had 18 points and eight rebounds and Tyler Johnson had 17 points, making 5-of-8 3-pointers. Landry Shamet added 13 points.
Even without Durant and Irving, the Nets shot 57.3 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range, with an offensive efficiency of 132.0 for the game, their fourth highest of the season.
Offense was never the problem in this game for Brooklyn. But the Nets gave up 75 first-half points while allowing the Suns to shoot 64.4 percent over those first 24 minutes. They reversed that in a big way after halftime, limiting Phoenix to 44.2-percent shooting in the second half.
After the Suns scored 42 points in the second quarter, they scored just 49 in all of the second half. And they didn’t get anything at all in the final 2:48.
“We were cleaner on all of our principles, we also made some shots,” said Nash. “We did tweak a couple things. We gave (DeAndre Jordan) a look at switching, you know, and the guys just fixed our switches in a much more elite way. In the first half, we were a step slow, a step late, we weren't quite as connected. Third quarter, we saw I thought a big change in that, and I think that was just making the game nothing easy. We took away all the sloppy stuff and made them earn it, and I think that was really the difference in the story of the game.”
Brooklyn was down 11 after the first quarter, but got rolling in the second quarter in shooting 61.9 percent for the period. But trading baskets for a stretch was the best they could do, and even that didn’t hold up as Phoenix stretched its lead to 24 points before taking a 75-54 lead at halftime.
The Nets started to find their footing defensively in the third quarter. Trailing 87-67, they scored seven straight to cut the Suns’ lead to 13. That was the start of a 19-7 run — the last eight points coming from Harden — that brought Brooklyn within 94-86 with two minutes to go in the quarter before Phoenix took a 100-88 lead into the fourth quarter.
“That's what happened in the third quarter,” said Harden. “We made shots, but we guarded. We understood what they were doing in that first half. We were much better. First quarter they had 33. Second quarter they had 42, you know. So, we couldn't get a stop. It felt like every shot that they shot was going in. So, we made some adjustments at halftime: being more physical, switching, running zone, do a little bit of everything. So, we found something that worked and we stuck with it and that's when our confidence got involved.”
An 8-0 run in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter cut the Phoenix lead in half as Harris nailed a 3-pointer, then came up with a steal that led to two free throws. A Shamet 3-pointer made it a 106-101 game, and with the Suns up 108-101, Shamet drove to the rim for a finish and Johnson hit a 3-pointer to make it 108-106 with 6:38 to play.
“That one was fun,” said Johnson. “Everybody came in, was geeked up, because we know how hard it was to put aside what happened in that first half and just to have the mental fortitude to bounce back. Coming off a back-to-back, sometimes you go down early and it’s easy just to be like, well we’ll just throw this one away, we’ll get right back for the Lakers. But we came out firing in that third quarter, and when you put that much passion into the game, it feels so much more rewarding when you’re done.”