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James Harden breaks out in fourth as Brooklyn sweeps Miami mini-series, 98-85

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NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Stoked by James Harden, the Nets turned up the temperature Monday night in the fourth to defeat the Heat and sweep their mini-series, 98-85. With the win, Brooklyn extended their home winning streak to five games and have now won seven of their last eight at Barclays Center, improving to 11-8 on the season. Miami, missing six, count’ em six, falls to 6-10.

The game remained knotted up through three but Scary Hours finally dawn in the fourth. “The Beard” began to turn it on offensively and the Nets capitalized off-ball movement to burst out on a 15-0 run for nearly four minutes (up to the 54.2 second mark).

“Just being aggressive,” Harden said about his 4Q play. “I wasn’t very aggressive throughout the course of the game. That zone kinda shook us up a bit and wanted to slow us down. They went man a few possessions and I got loose a little bit.

“My teammates give me confidence to shoot the basketball, be aggressive, and that’s it.”

Steve Nash cleared the bench after the run.

The Nets had one of their worst shooting first halves of the season, hitting 30 percent overall and under 12 percent from deep. Despite the shooting struggles, the Nets protected and were careful with the ball, recording only three turnovers in the half.

“We played more games than anyone in the league and guys were tired tonight, couldn’t buy a basket, had a lot of good looks, tired shooting the ball but also tired in that we were stagnant against the zone after a really good performance against it the other night,” Nash said following the win. “Overall, just the fact they hung in there and James [Harden] stepped up and made big shots down the stretch.”

“It was huge for us,” Harden said on the win. “If we didn’t have the best scoring offensively but defensively we just stuck with it and made it difficult for them. They played well that first game and tonight we expected that same thing.

“We wanted to come out here and just be aggressive on both ends of the floor. Offensively we didn't play well but defensively, I thought we were active. We contested shots and made things more difficult for them as a team.”

Kevin Durant, despite having a rocky shooting night, led the Nets recording his sixth double-double of 20 points and a season-high 13 rebounds to go along with five assists in 38 minutes of play. In the win, Durant extended his career-best streak of consecutive 20-point games to start a season to 14. The 20-point streak of 14 games is the second-longest for a Net at any point in any season since Vince Carter (23-game streak) during the 2005-06 season.

James Harden, who mainly facilitated the first three quarters, flipped his offensive switch late. While flipping his offensive switch, Harden attracted more gravity and provided his teammates with great looks in the process. leading the charge in the final six minutes. He finished with 20 points to go along with eight assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes.

“I give James his space offensively. He’s one of the greatest offensive players to ever play the game so I trust him figuring out where he is at with his game and how he can affect the game,” Nash said on Harden’s offensive breakout. “He has so many things - manipulating the defense that he is such a positive for us even if he is not scoring. We know how capable a scorer he is and he got it going, got a little aggressive, got in a little bit of a roll and made some plays, and showed what a tough cover he is.

“We want to get him to the place where he is confident, has the freedom to create, and is balancing scoring and playmaking.”

Kyrie Irving, who showed up to Monday’s game wearing a No. 8 Kobe Bryant jersey, contributed 16 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes.

Nets finished the win shooting 40.0 percent overall and a rough 28.9 percent from deep. Joe Harris went 3-of-8 from deep on his way to a 12-point game. Despite their offense being cold and stagnant up until the final minutes, Brooklyn played well defensively. especially on switching and increasing their level of passion on that end of the floor. On top of their well-played defense, the Nets turned over the ball only nine times. Brooklyn averages 15.2 in that category a game.

And ultimately, in the fourth, the “Big Three” does what it does best; turn it on. As this YES Network graphic shows, the Nets rank 1, 2 and 3 fourth quarter scoring...

As for Miami, Bam Adebayo played well, serving as a Nets killer again. He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in 35 minutes, which included another buzzer-beater to end the third. Steve Nash’s former backup point guard, Goran Dragic, followed with 21 points in 33 minutes of play. The Nets did a great job closing out Duncan Robinson, holding him to 1-of-10 shooting from deep.

Now, let's dive into some film.

The Film Room

I’m drawing blanks with devising a scheme that adequately showcases (or hides, really) DeAndre Jordan. Play him in a deep drop-coverage, and a blossoming jump-shooter like Bam Adebayo will gladly pick his shots from the open midrange.

If he inches up toward the arc to give the Nets the option to switch at screens, Jordan has the recovery speed of a turtle on a three-wheeled skateboard if the opposing big thunders down the middle of the floor on the roll. You see that in the clip below; Jordan shows high (and late) on Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo rolls and receives the pass from the Michigan product, and Joe Harris is forced to rotate over from the corner as the “low man” to stop Adebayo on the roll.

A pass to Goran Dragic in the corner and Brooklyn’s goose is cooked.

So, given that the Nets held––as you can tell by the headline––the HEAT under 90, how exactly did they adjust?

Well, by simply sending Jordan to the pine and running a frontcourt of Durant and Jeff Green for the majority of the fourth quarter. You can bet your behind that this small-ball alignment will be Brooklyn’s playoff adjustment for most of June. Or July. Or whenever the dang postseason starts this year.

(And to his credit, Reggie Perry, rookie warts and all, also saw some time in the second half.)
But look, it wouldn’t be a film study without mentioning the man of the night... Landry Sh––Nah, I’m kiddin’. Let’s grab a look at a key play from Brooklyn’s closer, James Harden, from Monday’s game. I really like this look from Nash in crunchtime; a guard-guard pick-and-pop, in which Kyrie Irving screens and pops into space to draw Harden’s initial defender (KZ Okpala), giving him the matchup with Goran Dragic.

Dragic is, of course, too slow to keep pace with Harden as he barricades toward the rim.

Kevin Durant paid homage to Harden’s late-game heroics post-game.

“Whatever the game presents, you gotta prepare for it,” Durant said. “And I think tonight he came with that scoring effort late in the game, and he also created stuff for us from his penetration. Any given night can be anybody, and tonight James was great for us.”

Kyrie honors Kobe

Before the game, Kyrie Irving entered Barclays Center dressed to honor his late friend Kobe Bryant...

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died a year ago Tuesday in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles along with seven others. Bryant and his daughter had showed up at Barclays Center for a Nets game on December 21 and Irving spoke with them.

Five days after the tragedy, Irving returned to the Brooklyn court and scored 54 points in one of the arena’s most scintillating nights, pointing to the heavens as walked off the floor.

KD, an analogy wizard?

In what was mostly a straightforward presser––some questions about rookie Reggie Perry, talks of breaking the Heat zone, and heaps of praise for James Harden––Kevin Durant just so happened to drop the snappiest bit of wordplay of the season about his brand new teammate, the Bearded isolation warlock himself, James Harden.

“It feels like he just transferred to a new school and he trying to figure out the curriculum. It’s going to take some time to figure out who the teammates are, what the rotations are, and when to be aggressive and when to pass,” said of James Harden’s introduction to Brooklyn with two other stares. “Sometimes the balance between scoring and passing, you gotta figure that out each night. I think tonight was the perfect balance for him.”

Add “budding poet” to Kevin Durant’s long list of talents.

Steve Nash on not playing Tyler Johnson: “We are just so loaded on the perimeter.”

Prior to Monday’s game against the Miami Heat, Steve Nash spoke on Tyler Johnson, who has not seen many minutes at all this season, especially since coming off the league’s health and safety protocols.

To Nash, the reasoning behind Johnson’s lack of minutes simply comes down to the Nets' depth of perimeter players, which is highlighted by Brooklyn’s Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden - who take up a lot of those minutes.

Despite not playing Johnson, Nash has full confidence and trust in his 28-year-old point guard when he does see minutes on the hardwood.

“I have every trust and confidence in Tyler [Johnson] playing but we are just so loaded on the perimeter,” Nash said. “There are so many guys with only so many minutes to go around so that’s a tough one. If for whatever reason, he presented himself and he was to play tonight, I’d have confidence in him. Having said that, there are so many guys that are in front of him sort of speak that didn’t have the COVID situation, which makes it harder, but even before his COVID layoff, we were so deep. Our top three players are perimeter players and have been taking a ton of the minutes there and there’s only so much to go around.”

Johnson has appeared in three games for Brooklyn this season, totaling 24 minutes of play. In those three games, Johnson is posting averages of 1.8 points, 1.4 assists, and 0.4 rebounds. He did not see minutes in Monday’s game.

It is worth noting that the Nets can not trade Johnson unless granted permission by the 28-year-old guard.

Or as Sponge Bob would say...

What’s next

The Nets return to action Wednesday, January 27, when the team travels south to take on the Atlanta Hawks. The game is set to tip-off at 7:30 PM ET and will be broadcast on YES Network. The Nets are one of only six teams that haven’t had a game postponed because of NBA health and safety protocols ... so far.

Brooklyn split their two-game series against Atlanta, winning 145-141 on Dec. 30 and lost 114-96 on Jan. 1.

For a different perspective, check out Hot Hot Hoops, our Heat sister site on SB Nation.