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Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant carry Nets home over Hawks in 145-141 victory

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

There are many words to describe Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but let’s settle on two after the Nets 145-141 Wednesday night. Those two words are “Nets” —as in yes, they play for our favorite team— and “electrifying” — as in this is the way they play.

Yes, it was yet another close one but with KD (16) and Ky (17) pouring in 33 of the Nets last 43 points, it was the most dramatic game of the five the Nets have played. The 145 point total was the second most ever for a Nets team in a regular game.

With the win, the Nets are 3-2 and the Hawks who came into the game undefeated are 3-1.

It was a high scoring shootout in Brooklyn and a challenging test for the Nets defense, one that left rookie head coach Steve Nash telling the post-game “I definitely need a beer.”

It started out slowly and not great. After losing to the Hornets and Grizzlies, both winless when they took the floor against the Nets, Nash’s charges needed a win to avoid a losing record.

After both teams finished the first half shooting 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) from deep in the first half, it got even more electric in the second half. From a series of three’s raining from 25+ feet out to not too much defense, it was a wide open game. In fact, Wednesday’s game marked just the third time both the Nets and their opponent scored 100+ points through three quarters.

As the shootout simmered, Irving heated up first and when the Nets needed it most in the fourth quarter - finishing with 17 of his 25 points in the final 12 minutes of play. Irving also tallied six assists and two rebounds in 34 minutes of play.

“In the case of Kai, he was just having an off night till the fourth,” Nash said following the win. “He finally got his rhythm and I think that gave him juice. We tried to put him in situations that he can thrive with an open floor, space it out for him, attack the big, and he was obviously wonderful in the fourth quarter.”

Durant, who entered the game averaging 28.0 points in his career against Atlanta (which also ranks fourth all-time) was just two assists shy of a triple-double. He finished with a game-high 33 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes of play. Sixteen of his points game late. He did not miss in the fourth and often brought the ball up.

“I thought Kevin had a solid game all around,” Nash said. “Almost a triple-double. He made some big plays in the fourth quarter but I think he was pretty strong all night.”

The game came down to the final seconds. Following a strong rebound by Jarrett Allen, who finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench, the Nets capitalized off a confused Hawks team, leading to a driving slam by Durant with 15.6 remaining - putting the Nets up by five. Atlanta answered with a big corner three by De’Andre Hunter but Durant sealed the deal — hitting four free throws.

It wasn’t quite a two man show. In addition to Allen’s big game, Joe Harris thrived in the shootout, scoring a season-high 23 points on 6-of-8 shooting from three and 8-of-11 overall in 31 minutes of play. At least one of the three’s came from 25 feet away. Harris, coming off his four-year, $72 million contract, has been increasingly aggressive.

Outside of the Nets high-minute players, Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince closed out their early-season shooting slumps.

Prince had himself a pleasant revenge game, finishing with 12 points on a perfect shoot night of 5-of-5 overall and 2-of-2 from deep. Prince didn’t view the game as a revenge game but admitted the Hawks trading him gave him an edge.

“I’ll never forget the trade,” Prince said following the win. “At the end of the day, I still love all of those guys. They were just a part of the process and I thank them just for the opportunity to help change my life”

As for Shamet, he mirrored Prince’s shooting same shooing numbers with 2-of-2 from deep and 5-of-5 overall, tallying 14 points in 17 minutes. Post-game, Shamet pointedly didn’t want to talk about his early-season shooting struggles. Instead, he wanted his work to speak for itself.

“I try not to put too much weight on shooting the ball,” Shamet said. “I try to simplify and not try to talk about it. Let my work prevail. I don’t like to talk about it.”

Nets finished the win with a season-high seven players in double-figures - four of whom came off the bench (Prince, Allen, Shamet and Caris LeVert, who finished with 10 points, eight assists and four rebounds.)

Even as the Nets' offense flowed, their defense was not sharp. As Durant said post-game, “We can’t give up 140 points.”

Brooklyn struggled to find answers for Trae Young, John Collins and Atlanta’s offense as a whole. From slipping screens to defending the arc to a number of Hawk players crashing the boards, the Nets had their hands full throughout the game.

Following the game, Nash said the team needs to get a lot better on the defensive end.

“We definitely got tested tonight,” Nash said. “We came into the game number one defensively and I think that went out the window. Our defense, you can say, held up or didn’t hold up in the end but the reality is that it was a new look for us, a new challenge, and we got to get a lot better at that end of the floor.”

As for Collins, who along with Young finished with a team-high 30 points, also grabbed 10 rebounds. He dominated down low against the Nets bigs while spreading the floor and hitting two three-pointers in the loss.

A STAGGERING update on KD and Kyrie

With Spencer Dinwiddie’s partial ACL tear in his right knee, there’s been much discussion about the Internets about how best to supplement his production in empty minutes. Should Caris LeVert join the starters? If so, who replaces him in the bench rotation? Should the Nets hit the phones and look for a Dinwiddie replacement? Is that... TYLER JOHNSON’S MUSIC I’M HEARING?!?! OR CHRIS CHIOZZA’S?!?!? Apparently not. Neither played.

But as things tend to go with analyzing this lovely sport, the obvious answer may be sitting under our noses, blowing back-and-forth with the air from our confused, choppy breaths as we desperately seek out a solution.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who per John Schuhmann had only played apart from one another for 22 total seconds in three games, could be the pair of dominos to fall that reinvigorates the rotation––staggered apart, of course, as they tumble.

“I think it’s ideal if they don’t play every minute together,” said Nash pre-game. “Maybe spreading it out––especially with Spencer (out)––makes a lot of sense. Ideally, we get to a place where we can stagger minutes, give different looks, be a little more versatile, and mix-and-match a little bit more.”

Nash did, of course, stagger his stars ever-so-slightly toward the end of this ball-game against the Hawks, running Kevin Durant on the floor for the first 3:30 of the fourth quarter, and then Irving on his own from the 8:30 to the 6:30 mark of the fourth. It makes sense; giving Caris LeVert additional support in the form of two superstar scorers certainly isn’t the worst thing for the 26-year-old breakout stud.

Replacing Spencer Dinwiddie a work in progress

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot got the start in place of the injured Spencer Dinwiddie Wednesday night but after scoring 32 points the last two games, TLC shot only 1-of-5 and finished with three points. But Steve Nash (so far) likes the idea of starting the Frenchman and keeping Caris LeVert in the Sixth Man role.

“You’ve got Ky and Kevin, two ball-handlers, playmakers. To have Caris out there it becomes a little bit redundant that you don’t get the best out of everyone,” Nash said. “With TLC, he plays well without the ball and he’s very steady defensively. He’s largely in the right spot, sticks to the game plan is very reliable so he can fit in that starting lineup, no problem. … He spaces the floor; and then Caris gets an opportunity to handle the ball with the second unit.”

The Film Room

Well if that wasn’t the fastest game any of us have ever seen!

This Wednesday night meetup was many things: A defensive slugfest was not one of them. Trae Young attacked Joe Harris in the pick-and-roll; Joey returned the favor by raining buckets over “Ice Trae’s” head after the Hawks attempted to “hide” their superstar on Brooklyn’s sharpshooter. John Collins feasted inside. Kevin Durant launched midrange pull-ups. It was, in a word, bewildering. And neck-breaking. And honestly tough to keep up with.

Before we get into the play below, let me first tip my hat to Lloyd Pierce. Not only is Atlanta’s head coach an absolute hero off the floor, but he also seems to know his way around drawing up a lovely ATO. As Rajon Rondo, a 14-year veteran and total connoisseur in lob passing, takes the ball up the floor, Bogdan Bogdanovic––one of Atlanta’s many marksmen––sets a truly nifty back-screen. Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, for fear of Bogdanovic’s shooting, converge on the same player, and John Collins obliges at the opportunity to slam home a big-boy jam in Brooklyn’s basket. Wear Brooklyn at? More like, “Where’s Brooklyn’s communication at?” (I’ll see myself out now.)

Post-game, Durant commented on the Nets defensive issues.

“I felt like we helped too much sometimes,” said Durant in an answer to a NetsDaily question. “We emphasize a lot of making sure we stop the ball-handler and helping your guys out. But there are also some times where we could stay at home and let guys play one-on-one defense, and let them play two-on-two defense in the pick-and-roll. I think a few times, we might’ve been in too much on the help and give up the three. They hit some threes that put them up one, put them up two to make it a dogfight. It’s just about each possession, knowing when to help; when to stay home. I think that balance will be good for us going forward.”

Kevin Durant. A basketball savant. A play-by-play guru.

“You could tell we struggled,” Allen added. “There were times we got the matchup wrong or we didn’t call the right switch. But just staying in the game, staying focused, not letting it get to us, it’s a long game. There was a lot of offense in the game, almost 150 points out there. It’s just keeping your mind right and trying not to overthink things.”

If you don’t mind (I’m sure you don’t), how about we take a little look-see at the other end of the court, hmm?

For starters, Atlanta needs to get used to this: Opposing ball-handlers picking John Collins out of a lineup for the mismatch and isolation. Though he’s made slight progressions on that end of the floor, he’s still a bit of a tweener defensively; not tall enough to adequately contest shots like a center, but not quick enough to stay with smaller players.

In a semi-transition possession, Brooklyn runs what’s known as “double drag,” with Kevin Durant and Jarrett Allen screening the same perpendicular direction in transition. (You’ll see Boston run this action quite a bit for Kemba Walker.)

What this leads to is that fruitful mismatch with “The Baptist” (a top-3 NBA nickname, in my humble opinion), as he’s forced to switch onto Irving after Cam Reddish gets nailed with a Jarrett Allen screen. Kyrie knows exactly what to do from here: a jitterbugging, anti-gravity sidestep into the dagger three.

Here’s another view of the master at work...

The win was the Nets fifth straight against the Hawks and they’ve now won nine of the last 10 games against Atlanta. Friday, they’ll go for six straight and 10 of the last 11.

Joe Harris joins the 600+ club

Not only did Joe Harris, once again, extend the Nets franchise record for games with at least one made three-pointer but he made history. The streak is now 65 games with

Harris has joined an exclusive club - becoming the fourth Net in franchise history to make 600+ threes, joining Jason Kidd (813), Kerry Kittles (687), and Vince Carter (638). As Sarah Kustok said during the game, Harris is likely to move into the No. 2 slot before season’s end.

Surprisingly, Harris holds the second-longest active streak in the NBA with Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings holding a 70 straight game streak.

Allen bench best

Since starters were first tracked in 1970-71, Allen has the second most rebounds off the bench in the first five games of a season:

Jayson Williams - Nets - 61 -1995-96

Jarrett Allen - 60 - Nets - 2020-21

Jerome Williams - 55 - Pistons - 1999-00

Post-game, DeAndre Jordan rewarded his back-up and protege’ but jumping on his back. All 265 pounds.

Injury Update: Nic Claxton still ‘weeks away’ from practicing

Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, Steve Nash said Nic Claxton is ‘weeks away’ from practicing but is progressing steadily.

“I think he is improving for sure but I still think he is weeks away,” Nash said. “He is steadily improving. I know he is doing more now but I don’t think he is close to practicing per se. I would say weeks away.”

After experiencing discomfort during workouts during training camp, Claxton was diagnosed with right knee tendinopathy on December 6. Since then, Claxton has gone through rehabilitation and a strengthening program.

This is not the first time the Nets 21-year-old has faced a tough injury. Outside of his recent injury, Claxton missed the end of the 2019-20 season due to arthroscopic shoulder repair surgery. He did not join the team in the “bubble” due to the injury.

What’s next

The Nets will open the new year with a chance to get another win against the Hawks on Jan .1.

We can expect another shootout as the game tips off at 7:30 PM on YES Network.

For a different perspective, head on over to Peachtree Hoops, our Hawks sister site on SB Nation.