Kyrie lifts Nets over Clippers at Barclays
Irving scores 39 points as Brooklyn beats Los Angeles
Just 48 hours removed from squandering a late lead in our nation’s capital, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets had no interest in repeating the nightmarish experience Tuesday night.
“We just needed to respond,” insisted Irving after scoring a season-high 39 points and leading a furious fourth-quarter charge to spark Brooklyn to a scintillating 124-120 victory over the previously red-hot Los Angeles Clippers at a still-fanless Barclays Center.
Irving, who went a blistering 15-of-23 from the field, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range, saved his best for last.
He scored eight consecutive points during a game-changing 13-0 run that put Brooklyn (14-9) ahead to stay, 110-102, with 4:10 remaining.
But the Clippers (16-5), who entered the contest boasting the NBA’s best record, wouldn’t go away.
They cut the Nets’ lead to one on Paul George’s 3-pointer with 24.8 second to go before Irving and Kevin Durant combined to hit four free throws around a layup by veteran forward Jeff Green.
The win helped wash away at least some of the bad taste left over from Sunday’s 149-146 loss in Washington, D.C., where the Wizards erased a five-point deficit in the final eight seconds.
“Finish the games,” Irving said of the Nets’ resolve down the stretch.
“That’s the big thing. That’s the phrase. Finish the games. We’re up by 10, we’re up by eight, we’re up five with a minute to go. Finish the game.”
They did just that en route to their ninth victory in 12 games, moving Brooklyn up to the second spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, just two games behind Philadelphia.
Durant finished with 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting and reigning NBA Player of the Week James Harden added 23 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for Brooklyn, which will host Toronto here on Friday night.
The league’s newly formed three-headed monster has been working with great efficiency since Harden arrived last month.
And Durant believes the Nets are just starting to jell as the season enters its second full month.
“You’ve got guys who can do multiple things on the floor late in the game,” he said.
“Any coach in America wants the ball in their best players’ hands, and I think we’ve got three guys that are unselfish, that know how to play and I think we made the right plays down the stretch, especially Kyrie and James controlling the ball.”
Irving also grabbed five rebounds and blocked a couple of shots for the Nets, who impressed rookie head coach Steve Nash with their commitment to defense against a Clippers squad that had won 16 of its first 21 games.
“It’s got to be that way if we’re serious about this,” Nash noted. “We have the luxury of offensive talent but we have to defend. That’s a really difficult team to defend. They did a great job.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points and George finished with 26 for Los Angeles, which had a three-game winning streak snapped.
“It was a fun matchup,” said George. “Look forward to doing it again.”
The Nets will visit the Clippers on Feb. 21, just one day after meeting LeBron James and NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the same building.
The way Brooklyn is climbing up the East standings combined with the way the Big Three is thriving, the Nets may just get a shot at the best L.A. has to offer come Finals time.
“It’s really obviously a great test for us,” said Nash. “They’re a team that’s playing very well. Their two stars are playing incredibly well.
“So it’s important for us to keep growing every night win or lose. Tonight I said to the guys we got a great win but most importantly we got better. For us that’s the key is bringing that mentality and concentration to grow every single night and in the end will be a good team if we do that.”
Nothing But Net: Following their game against Toronto in Brooklyn on Friday night, the Nets will get to test themselves again when they visit the conference-leading 76ers. Brooklyn beat Philadelphia here, 122-109, on Jan. 7 without Durant, Irving or Harden on the floor that night. Instead, Joe Harris poured in 28 points to lead the Nets past the Sixers. … Harris scored 13 points vs. the Clippers on Tuesday, making him the only Brooklyn player in double figures in scoring outside of the Big Three. … The Nets are 10-4 at Barclays Center this season and also boast an NBA-best 7-2 record against teams with winning records. … Harden has four triple-doubles in his first 10 games with Brooklyn.
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