The Brooklyn Nets keep finding ways. Playing shorthanded and getting contributions from deep the roster. Pulling out one game after another down the stretch.
This time, opening up a three-game road trip without Kyrie Irving and Landry Shamet, with Kevin Durant still working his way back from a hamstring strain, the Nets went into Portland and gutted out a 116-112 win over the Trail Blazers.
With its 16th win in the last 18 games dating back to Feb. 10 — including a 6-1 mark since the All-Star break — Brooklyn improved to 30-14.
To get the latest win, the Nets used their 22nd different starting lineup of the season while sliding Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot back into the rotation and seeing Blake Griffin play just his second game as a Net.
“I think it’s time, growth, familiarity,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We have a common experience and we have a bunch of guys that are willing to come in and fight for the group and play together and play the right way and play selfless basketball. Proud of all the guys that have stepped into bigger roles while guys are out. We’ve formed a great cohesion I think and tonight it really came down to just fighting and wanting it. They’re a tough team to guard. We told them we’ve just got to stick with it and keep fighting and good things happen.”
This one started as a shootout and turned into a war of attrition down the stretch. The Nets gave up another big first quarter in trailing 41-37 after the first 12 minutes, but the Blazers never scored more than 25 points in a quarter after that and were limited to 21 points on 7-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarter.
Portland is second in the league in 3-point attempts and drives a huge part of its offense from their deep shooting. Against the Nets on Tuesday night, 14 of Damian Lillard’s 17 field goal attempts came on threes. But the Nets limited the Blazers to 34.5 percent shooting on 3-pointers, with Lillard and CJ McCollum combining to shoot 7-of-26 on 3-pointers. Lillard, the league’s second-leading scorer coming into the game averaging 30.3 points, finished with 22.
“They were comfortable, they were getting to their spots and they were shooting a lot of threes,” said James Harden. “(Robert) Covington, our team meeting and our film session, our coaches did an unbelievable job of preparing us and we talked about how Dame and CJ and their team gets up a lot of 3s. One of the top-10 3-point shooting teams and we can't allow it to happen. And they were doing that in the first quarter. Getting everything they wanted. Reject screens, coming off we weren't up, they were getting to the basket, they got whatever they wanted. And we basically just talked about it and went out there and corrected it. And it showed. Every single quarter we got better. Twenty-five in the second, 25 in the third, 21 in the fourth. That's just signs of growth, signs of us listening, going out there and executing the game plan.”
The Nets took a 92-91 lead into the fourth quarter, and after Gary Trent Jr. opened with two free throws, they ran off eight straight points. Joe Harris made two free throws, Griffin scored in the post, and then Nic Claxton put back a rebound and finished in transition, beating the crowd down the floor to convert Tyler Johnson’s long pass.
That put Brooklyn up 100-93, having outscored the Blazers 16-5 at that point going back to their closing run in the third quarter. While Portland cut it to a single-possession game, trailing 112-109 with three minutes remaining and then getting within two on a free throw with 7.8 seconds left, the Nets never gave up the lead.
“We’re getting more familiar with situations at the end of games,” said Nash. “Most importantly we got the stops that gave us separation. That group that was in there when James was out was great. Took it up, I can’t remember what it was, seven, eight-point lead, and then James came in and we got the stops more so than the baskets. We were able to get stops and rebounds when it counted and then we were able to take care of the situations down the stretch. Always difficult when a team need to get a steal of deny the ball inbounds and some of those scenarios can be tricky and we took care of it tonight.”
Harden led the Nets with 25 points, and his 17 assists were his Nets high in his 30 games with the team since being acquired in mid-January.
Jeff Green was next with 20 points and Harris scored 17. Claxton had his second straight 16-point game and added nine rebounds, while DeAndre Jordan had 10 boards. Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 11.
The Nets shot 58.1 percent and the Blazers launched 29 3-pointers in a high-scoring, hot-shooting first half that started off with the two teams combining for 78 first-quarter points.
Brooklyn made 7-of-13 3-pointers in the first half, and an early hot streak featured threes from Harris, Luwawu-Cabarrot, and then a pair from Green as the Nets closed to within 26-24 after trailing by five early on. Harden’s free throws knotted the game at 30 before a 9-2 Portland run gave the Blazers the biggest lead of the tight first half. Another Luwawu-Cabarrot 3-pointer and two Harden free throws brought Brooklyn within 41-37 after the first quarter.
With the Blazers up 43-37, the Nets scored seven straight, with a Harris basket in the lane putting the Nets up 44-43. They mostly traded baskets with the Blazers for the rest of the half, the exception an 8-0 run that Portland back up 60-54 before the Nets closed back within 66-65 at halftime.
Portland led 88-84 late in the third quarter before Claxton scored six points in the 8-2 Brooklyn run that closed the quarter and put the Nets up 92-91 going into the fourth quarter.
“I think just over the course of today’s game we showed a level of resilience that good teams show,” said Harris. “For us to give up 41 points in the first quarter and then we kind of steadily take it down each quarter following, that’s huge. At the beginning of the game, it was looking like we were going to get ourselves into a little bit of a shootout, and we talked about tightening up stuff defensively and we did that. I think that played a large part in why we were able to win.”