Nets edge Knicks to continue roll
Durant continues to sit, but Brooklyn remains red-hot
The Brooklyn Nets have come out of the All-Star break the same way they went into it: without Kevin Durant and with more than enough to compensate.
Kyrie Irving fired up the crowd of 1,637 at Barclays Center with a game-high 34 points and James Harden posted his 10th triple-double as the Nets won for the 13th time in their last 14 games with a 117-112 triumph over the visiting New York Knicks on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
“When the fans are (there for) motivation it definitely adds a little bit more of an emotional atmosphere, and as players we naturally feel it,” said Irving, who went a blistering 13-of-18 from the floor, including 4-for-6 from 3-pont range.
Missing Durant for a 12th consecutive game due to a hamstring strain that will likely keep the two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player out for at least another week or two, the Nets (27-13) opened up an 18-point second-half lead against their rivals from across the East River.
But New York (20-20), buoyed by Julius Randle’s 33 points, cut the deficit to 115-112 with 10.6 seconds left to play.
“You’re playing NBA players, they have nothing to lose when they’re down 12, 18 points, and you have everything to lose,” noted Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“So that’s how this goes sometimes and we got the win which is the most important thing. But you tip your hat to the Knicks. They played hard, and made it difficult for us, and in the end we got the win.”
Randle actually had a chance to tie the contest moments later, but was called for a traveling violation after Irving tied him up on an attempted blocked shot with 3.2 ticks remaining.
“I was just frustrated,” Randle said after arguing vehemently with officials that he should have either maintained possession or a jump ball should have been called.
“Obviously we fought so hard to come back and try to win the game, so I was just frustrated and that was pretty much it.”
Brooklyn, even without arguably its best player, has blossomed into a legitimate title contender since a humbling 122-111 loss at league-worst Detroit on Feb. 9.
Though they’ve been missing Durant since Feb. 13, the Nets have lost just once in nearly five weeks, a 115-98 setback in Dallas on Feb. 27.
“Ultimately, our skills and our talents are pretty high,” said Harden, who finished with 21 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds.
“If we do the small things, which we’ve been doing, we can’t lose sight of that and we’ve got to continue that,” he added. “Like I said, it’s going to be pretty tough to beat us because we’re showing how physical we are and we’re making shots. It’s like, what can you do?”
Opponents may be equally miffed when Durant does make his return.
Averaging a team-best 29 points per game, the 7-footer has only participated in 19 of Brooklyn’s first 40 games, though the Nets have risen to within one-half game of Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia (27-12) during his ongoing absence.
“I’m just excited and happy to continue this journey with these guys,” said Harden, who received his Eastern Conference Player of the Month award from Nash, the conference’s reigning Coach of the Month, prior to Monday’s game.
“We’re playing some pretty good basketball right now.”
The Nets hope to continue that trend Wednesday night in Indiana, where they’ll kick off a two-game road trip against the Pacers before visiting Orlando on Friday night.
NOTHING BUT NET: Veteran forward Jeff Green was a big contributor to Monday’s victory, scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go with six rebounds and two blocked shots. “He was getting it on the short roll, he made a couple of nice floaters, made some 3s tonight, I think, two 3s, he was just smart in his rolls,” Nash said of Green. “James found him. James made some beautiful passes to him for layups, dunks, and then the short rolls, a few threes, you add it all up and he had a really efficient shooting night and also was our primary defender on Randle.” … After their brief trip, the Nets will return to Barclays Sunday to host the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m.
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