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Big Three combine for 89 as Nets defeat Hawks in OT, 132-128

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Led by the Brooklyn’s “Big Three,” the Nets escaped Atlanta with an overtime nail-biter, defeating the Hawks, 132-128. With the win, Brooklyn extends their winning streak to three games, winning seven of their last nine, and improves to 12-8 on the season. With the loss, the Hawks fall to 9-9.

Since the four-team trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn, the Nets are 6-2, including 3-1 with Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant on the court. And in KD’s last eight games, the Nets are 7-1.

“We don’t want to take this for granted,” Irving said on the Nets Big Three era. “We know this doesn’t happen often. Very lucky and very grateful to be playing with guys that have this much experience and are all-world players.”

The game came down to the final seconds as James Harden wound down the clock and attempted his signature step back but missed. After the official replay, the Hawks were awarded 0.3 seconds but Bruce Brown slapped the ball away from John Collins, forcing the game to OT tied at 116.

The Nets put it all together in OT. Durant started it off-putting the Nets up six. After a mini-comeback by Atlanta, Harden’s two big free throws iced it. To make it nice, Durant hit one three throw with 2.5 seconds remaining and Brooklyn holds on for the win to start their three-game road trip.

“We just gutted it out,” Steve Nash said following the win. “Just fine margins, made enough baskets, hustle plays, and enough rebounds to just get us over the line. It wasn’t pretty but we found a way and we will take it.”

After a slow start, Brooklyn’s bench finished with 26 points, led by Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, both with 11, but it was the “Big Three” who highlighted the win, combining for 89 points. The trio’s performance marked the second time they’ve all reached the 20+ point mark in the same game.

Harden broke out his scoring arsenal as he finished with a game-high 31 points to go along with eight rebounds and 15 assists in 46 minutes of play. “The Beard” recorded his fourth 20/10 game in seven games since joining the Nets. His 16-point second quarter marked the highest-scoring second period of any Net this season. More startingly, perhaps, is that he became the first Nets point guard to record 30 points and 15 assists in game since Stephon Marbury in 2000. Jason Kidd never achieved that plateau.

“That is who he is,” Irving said on Harden’s performance. “We just want him to come into this group and not think about fitting in and letting him be who he is. We want him to continue to progress and grow.”

As for Nash, Harden gaining better chemistry with his teammates and getting in better shape is the reason for his increase in aggressiveness to score on the offensive end.

“I think he’s getting comfortable with his surroundings but he is definitely getting in better shape,” Nash said on Harden following Wednesday’s win. “He is just going to get better the more comfortable he gets and the better shape he gets in so tonight is an indication he is going to have a huge influence on our team and make other players better.”

Durant put together a quite yet strong performance of 32 points, five rebounds, and two assists in 42 minutes. Durant extended his career-best streak of 20+ points to begin a season to 15. To make things sweeter, KD’s streak is the longest to start a season in Nets history. He only trails Vince Carter in the Nets history books in that streak (23 straight games).

“Obviously he’s played great offensively. I think he is still trying to get comfortable though,” Nash said on Durant. “That is how good he is. He is just a walking bucket. He’s out there on the floor and he can fall into baskets with his talent, skill, length, and athleticism. He looks great, looking great, scoring the ball well, and I still think he’s got layers to go.

“Continue to get more comfortable defensively, rebounding, rounding out his game, and all the things he is able to do outside of scoring and that confidence. For him feeling comfortable playing basketball again after such a long layoff takes time. No matter how good he is, how many points he scores, how many 30-point games he has in a row - I think he’s still feeling himself and that takes time.”

Irving made his Nets throwback jersey debut, piling up 26 points, seven assists, and four rebounds in 42 minutes of play.

Joe Harris, who finished with six points in 39 minutes of play, did not make a three in the game, snapping his Nets franchise record of 79 games straight games with at least one three made. Harris fouled out in overtime and went 0-of-3 from deep.

As a team, Brooklyn finished the win shooting 53.1 percent overall and 34.4 percent from deep. The Nets competed well on the boards, outrebounding the Hawks 37-36. Brooklyn turned over the ball 11 times in the win. The Nets capitalized on their free throws, going 17-of-19.

As for Atlanta, the duo of Trae Young and John Collin’s gave Brooklyn headaches again, combining for 49 points. The Hawks finished the loss shooting 47.9 percent overall and 39.4 percent from deep.

Now, let’s dive into some fine film work.

Film Room

So the Nets went ISO mode. And it looked goooooooood.

Up first: Kyrie Irving, who took full advantage of performing as the solo star amongst the Nets, erm, let’s just say less than stellar bench unit by scoring 3 field goals with the group en route to 14 first-half points. While, yes, technically this is a transition opportunity, blah, blah, blah, but Irving blows by two foolish Atlanta defenders that paw at his dribble. A silly decision! Shoot, this is the guy that coined the phrase, “don’t reach youngblood!” What are we doing here, gentlemen?!?

Do you like stepbacks? I like stepbacks. They’re a performative, balletic style of scoring points in bundles. They’re effective, too. Speaking of that, it’s time for James Harden, who dropped 18 points of his own in the first-half, to do his thing.

Check out “The Beard” as he rocks poor Kevin Huerter to sleep with those low-to-the-ground crossover dribbles before popping into that snappy stepback. Lethal.

And then there was KD. Ooooooh, KD. After giving John Collins props for his screen slipping abilities, Kevin Durant, well, sent the dude slipping with a near-inhumane crossover (and possible push-off, but you didn’t hear that from me). Notice how he elevates into the stepback to regain his balance after the cross. Unflappable.

Maybe the most crucial adjustment of the night was Brooklyn’s decision to attack Trae Young, a smaller guard with an inattentive nature on defense, on nearly every possession in both the fourth-quarter and in overtime. Young was regularly stashed on Brooklyn’s weakest one-on-one player to hide his deficiencies on defense, which for the most part was Joe Harris and Bruce Brown. To counter, Brooklyn involved each of those players in the pick-and-roll to force an advantageous switch of Young onto one of Brooklyn’s creators.

“Trae had it going on offense. He was aggressive,” explained James Harden post-game. “We wanted to get him in some action and make him guard a little bit. Bruce did an unbelievable job being a screener, finishing around the rim, making the right plays.”

For Atlanta, they’ll run into this problem for as long as Young fails to make changes to this weak point in his game. Teams like Brooklyn, meanwhile, will happily oblige until that happens.

More KD milestones

Tuesday’s game marked the 15th straight game that he’s scored 20 or more points, the longest such streak to open a season not only in Nets history but in his personal history. Durant is now averaging 30.5 points a game and as ESPN notes that too is a milestone.

A successful jersey exchange

As the game ended, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stripped off their jerseys Unlike the aborted jersey exchange between Kyrie Irving and Bam Adebayo two games back, KD and Kai were able to avoid NBA security and provide Nos. 7 and 11 to a friendly Atlantan.

Or as Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will remain on the road as the team travels to Oklahoma City to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Dec. 29. The game is set to tip-off at 8:00 PM ET and will be broadcasted on YES Network.

For a different perspective, check out Peachtree Hoops, our sister site on SB Nation covering the Atlanta Hawks.