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Nets lock up 7-seed with huge win over Clippers, 129-120

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

First, it was an upset over the Milwaukee Bucks without Brooklyn’s “Big 3”. Then, the Nets clinched a playoff spot against the Sacramento Kings. What was next? How about a 129-120 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers?

Because that happened on Sunday night.

As a result, Brooklyn will get a dance with the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. They locked up the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with their win over the Clippers ... and the Magic loss to the Celtics earlier Sunday. Brooklyn currently stands at 4-2 in the bubble. Wins in their final two games, vs. the Magic on Tuesday, then the Blazers on Thursday would give them a .500 record for the season at 36-36. Not bad for a team many pundits thought wouldn’t win any games.

Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen were “doubtful” as recently as this morning, then suddenly things changed early Sunday afternoon and they were “available.” For Brooklyn, their “Big 3” is growing up right in front of our eyes ... for the entire world —and New York— to see.

The Nets put together a historical first quarter, but we’ll get to that in a moment. It was a four-point game entering the fourth. Brooklyn led by as many as 21 in the first half, but Kawhi Leonard started the third quarter on an 11-0 run in the span of two minutes, knotting the game up early in the third quarter.

Then came the fourth quarter. LeVert, Harris and Allen were all on the bench and the Nets needed a boost. Tyler Johnson stepped in off the bench and nailed two straight 3-pointers to get things going, bringing the Nets back up by 10. It was a foreshadow of later in the evening.

Johnson kept the Nets afloat until the starters came back in. Los Angeles cut into Brooklyn’s lead following a four-point play from Marcus Morris, but Johnson came down and nailed two at the free throw line, then a dagger 3-pointer to give Brooklyn an 11-point lead with 25.3 seconds remaining.

Johnson scored 13 of his season-high 21 points in the fourth quarter.

The dagger three came off an assist from LeVert, who finished the night with 27 points and a career-high 13 assists. It’s the fourth time in his career that he’s posted a double-double in points and assists. Furthermore, the Nets dished out 32 assists on 47 made field goals, marking four games in which the Nets have dished out 30+ assists since the resumption of the season.

Brooklyn hit their 3-pointers all night long — 20-of-43 to be precise, led by Joe Harris who finished with 25 points on 5-of-8 from three. He’s hit a 3-pointer in 59 straight games. Two more and he’ll tie D’Angelo Russell for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer.

Jarrett Allen showed his growth yet again, finishing with 16 points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots on 7-of-9 shooting. The ‘undersized’ Nets out-rebounded the Clippers by seven, and Allen notched his 29th double double of the season.

The Clippers, meanwhile, played without Paul George, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley, but we aren’t going to discuss injuries. Not here.

So, about that first quarter...

The Nets started the game by hitting 10 of their first 11 shots, taking a 26-10 lead right off the bat. They never let their foot off the gas, finishing out on a 19-5 run, while putting home 45 points to take a 21-point lead entering the second quarter.

They shot 18-of-21 from the field (86 percent). That’s the best any team has shot in any opening period this year. Furthermore, it was the second most points the Nets have ever scored in a first quarter in franchise history, dating back to the year 2000.

Leonard led the way for L.A. with 39 points, while Lou Williams came off the bench and chipped in 18. The Nets have suddenly turned into the cinderella team in the Orlando bubble, while Jacque Vaughn improved to 6-2 as head coach of this team — with wins against the Lakers, Bucks and now the Clippers.

Post-game, the Nets were filled confidence about their chances going forward. Why?

“Just belief in ourselves, belief in the work that we put in,” said LeVert. “We believe we can play with anybody, regardless of what anybody says, regardless.”

“As far as going into Toronto, you know what to expect. Then again, there’s no homecourt advantage. You’re playing a basketball team in the same spot for however many games it takes to advance,” Johnson said. “For us, it’s continue to play our style of basketball. At this point, we understand that, if we do that, we’re capable of beating anybody, and we showed it.”

“We’re confident,” added Garrett Temple, who finished with 19 points and six rebounds. “If we play the right way, if we play like we’ve been playing the last 2 or 3 games, share the ball, get stops, even though they turn people over, if we’re able to take care of it and do what we’ve been doing, we have a chance to win some games.”

It doesn’t get much better than that folks.

BIG LINEUP

The Nets may have a shortage of big men, but their starting lineup the last two games is not small. With Caris LeVert starting at the point, the Nets go 6’7” and 6’6” (Garrett Temple) in the backcourt, 6’6” Joe Harris at small forward, 6’10” Rodions Kurucs at the power forward and 6’11” Jarrett Allen at center.

Four active Nets didn’t get minutes as Jacque Vaughn shortened the rotation: rookies Donta Hall and Jeremiah Martin, veteran Lance Thomas and second year player Dzanan Musa. Jamal Crawford (hamstring) was out.

A NIGHT OF MILESTONES:

The Nets PR staff was busy all night long, tweeting out one season or career or franchise milestone after another. Here’s a sampling...

  • Caris LeVert - 27 points and a career-high 13 assists in 35 minutes
  • Joe Harris - 25 points (career-half-high 23 in the first half) in 27 minutes
  • Tyler Johnson - season-high 21 points (13 in the fourth quarter) in 30 minutes

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  • 55.3 field goal percent (second-highest of the season)
  • 32 assists (fourth time in six games in Orlando with 30+)
  • 20-of-43 (46.5 percent) from 3-point range (fourth time this season with 20+ threes and the second time in Orlando)

———

  • Jarrett Allen (16 points, 16 boards) recorded his team-high 29th double-double of the season, and his third in his last four games. Allen registered 28 double-doubles in his first two seasons combined.

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  • Joe Harris’ 23 points in the first half are the most points he’s scored in any half in his career. Previous high: 22 points in the first half on February 11, 2019 at Toronto.

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  • The Nets shot 85.7 percent (18-of-21) from the field in the first quarter. That’s the highest first-quarter field goal percentage for the Nets since they shot an identical 85.7% (18-of-21) in the opening period on January 16, 2002 vs. Washington with Jason Kidd at the point.

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  • The 45 points Brooklyn scored in the first quarter are the second-most the Nets have scored in a first quarter in franchise history (high: 46 points in the first quarter on Feb. 8, 2000 vs. Boston).

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  • Joe Harris now has 171 3-pointers this season, giving him sole possession of fourth place in franchise history. In third? Harris last season with 183.

DOC ON JACQUE

Rivers praised the work of Jacque Vaughn. He had Vaughn on his roster when he coached Orlando.

“He was one of those players, similar to Ty Lue and Sam (Cassell), that you knew when they retired that they would be coaches,” Rivers said. “So I hope he gets a good shot here.”

Lue, an assistant to Rivers again after leading Cleveland to the 2016 NBA title, could get consideration from the Nets ... as well as perhaps the Pelicans.

GET THE INK READY...

3 years ago today...

And this...

AS SPONGE BOB MIGHT SAY...

For a different perspective, head on over to Clips Nation, our Clippers sister site on SB Nation.

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The Nets face the Magic Tuesday at 1:00 PM ET.