Undermanned in New Orleans, the Brooklyn Nets got the full range of contributions from all that they did have available in a 134-129 win over the Pelicans on Tuesday night.
Seven Nets scored in double figures, four had at least six rebounds, and three had at least six assists as all nine players available to play did so.
“When (Kyrie Irving) was out of the game I thought we played very well and it’s so important,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “When you’re going into a game with nine men, you’re down a couple superstars, you definitely have guys that are playing with more responsibility and more minutes and if they don’t play well you can find yourself in a big hole, but tonight they played really well. Like I’ve said all year, really proud of the way the guys have responded to adversity this year. Fought and had that connectivity to win games that maybe people didn’t think you could win. Really proud of the way the guys played from start to finish.
Irving scored 12 of Brooklyn’s final 16 points over the last three minutes while finishing with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting with eight assists. He got into the lane for multiple finishes, then closed the game out with four free throws in the final 11 seconds.
“They were very difficult shots Ky made down the stretch tonight as well,” said Nash. “So, we talked it over and sometimes that's just what you ask of your superstar players. We debate about it all the time: should we get him into some things, should we try to help him? But the reality is there's times when you can overthink it, when a guy like that can just go and get a bucket. So making the defense guard him, making them space knowing that you have other shooters on the floor sometimes is all you need. But we still want to think it over, learn, grow. But I thought tonight they executed, made shots; but also at the end of the game with the fouling and making free throws we did a nice job. So it was another good experience for the guys.”
Joe Harris had 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting and Landry Shamet had 18 points and eight assists.
Blake Griffin had 16 points, eight rebounds, and three assists and Jeff Green had 15 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.
Bruce Brown had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds — plus four steals — and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had 10 points. The Nets shot 55.1 percent overall and had 30 assists.
New Orleans jumped out with a 16-0 run in the first quarter to take a 21-8 lead. Brooklyn answered with an 11-2 run capped by Green’s thunderous transition dunk to bring the Nets within 23-19, and Griffin’s 3-pointer cut the New Orleans lead to 29-26 going into the second quarter.
Brooklyn trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter but came back from 48-39 down to tie the game in the final minute of the half. A Harris 3-pointer launched a 15-6 Brooklyn run. With the Nets within 54-48, Shamet finished a drive and Brown made two free throws and then threw down a transition dunk to even the game at 54. After five straight New Orleans points, Brown’s 3-pointer had the Nets within 59-57 at halftime.
“I think we started slow as much because it was so new — new lineup, new combination — and then found it there after five minutes or so and looked much better,” said Nash.
The Nets broke out into a double-digit lead by making seven of their first nine shots of the second half. Irving’s 3-pointer gave Brooklyn its first lead since the opening minutes at 66-65. Harris followed with a 3 of his own and Shamet turned a transition layup off a Harris steal into a three-point play. Another Harris 3-pointer gave the Nets 12 straight points, a 16-2 run, and a 75-65 lead with 7:30 to go in the third quarter.
Brooklyn was still up by double figures with an 87-76 lead before the Pelicans outscored them 16-6 to close the quarter and cut the Nets’ lead to 93-92 going into the fourth quarter.
After Naji Marshall gave New Orleans a brief lead with a 3-pointer to open the quarter, the Nets answered from deep with two 3-pointers from Luwawu-Cabarrot and one from Shamet, with Luwawu-Cabarrot’s second 3-pointer giving Brooklyn a 104-98 lead.
With New Orleans back within 106-105, Shamet hit a 3-pointer, and after Zion Williamson scored for New Orleans, Irving hit a 3-pointer and Luwawu-Cabarrot made two free throws for a 114-107 lead with 5:42 to play.
Leading 114-113, the Nets reeled off six straight points on two Harris layups and Irving’s pull-up jumper. The Pelicans were back within two points with a minute to go before Irving penetrated and hit a turnaround jumper in the lane for a 126-122 lead. Another Irving excursion to the rim had the Nets up 128-123 with 26.2 seconds remaining.
After Kira Lewis made a 3-pointer for New Orleans, Harris made 1-of-2 free throws for a 129-126 lead with 12.4 seconds to go. Brandon Ingram’s two free throws after the Nets fouled deliberately leading by three cut the lead to one point with 11.4 seconds remaining. Irving’s two free throws put the Nets back up by three with 10.5 seconds left. Again, the Nets sent Ingram to the line, and this time he missed the second to leave the Nets up by two as Brown grabbed the rebound and made 1-of-2 free throws for a three-point lead with 4.8 seconds to go. Two more Irving free throws with 1.9 seconds left sealed the win.
“We needed everything tonight from everyone,” said Irving. “We obviously started off the game, with 7:17 on the clock it was 21-8. We had to battle our way back. But I feel like we found something good in the second half in terms of guarding Zion and also (Brandon Ingram). Obviously, they had some high scoring numbers, but we wanted those other guys to beat us, so I’m glad that it ended in our favor.”