clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

James Harden and Kevin Durant combine for 67 as Nets defeat Pelicans, 120-112

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

It wasn’t easy in the Big Easy.

Brooklyn escaped New Orleans, defeating the Pelicans, 120-112. With the victory, the Nets have won seven of their last eight games and improved to 9-4 on the young season.

Although it’s a win in the record column, it won’t be one the Nets will really soak in. Brooklyn led by as many as 21 points before the Pelicans came all the way back and made it a single-possession game heading into the final minute of play.

“Young teams, they’re going to play hard for 48 (minutes),” said Joe Harris after the game. “Nobody’s going to let down and New Orleans is similar to that where the record is obviously not great, but they play hard the entire time. And I think we just kind of like took our foot off the gas a little bit.”

Blake Griffin — who finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes — extended Brooklyn’s lead to four with a bully-ball layup. Then, James Harden — who had his best game of the young season with a season-high 39 points, 12 assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes — followed it up with a huge straight-on three to extend the lead to seven points. With 29.0 seconds remaining, that was enough to come away with a win.

“He was aggressive all night. I mean he was getting downhill, getting to the free-throw line. 11-for-18 (shooting). Highly, highly efficient,” said Kevin Durant about his superstar teammate. “James did a great job controlling the game.”

If that wasn’t the dagger, Griffin provided another, blocking Jonas Valanciunas at the rim with 5.4 seconds remaining. Durant sealed the deal, hitting one of two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining. `

“[The play] down the stretch was pretty solid. Kevin went to work. We got him the ball in good spots, he made that play for BG [Griffin] and just overall, we executed offensively down the stretch. And our defense picked up in the last couple of minutes,” said Nash on the play in the final minutes.

“A lot of good things tonight in each half. We kind of relented our will and allowed them to get back into it.”

Durant finished the nail-biter with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 from deep, to go with eight assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes. Joe Harris, who got the Nets going with red-hot shooting early, finished the win with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 from three. Both Harden and Harris had season highs.

“That’s obviously the story of the closing minutes. I know James made a couple of plays and Joe and BG made a couple of buckets, but Kevin just being able to get him the ball in his spots; he made baskets and also made a play of BG, got doubled and got James a three. We played through him and he delivered, of course,” said Nash on Durant’s play.

As a team, Brooklyn finished the win shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from deep.

Brooklyn sent out the same starters for the 11th straight game — Harden, Harris, Durant, Brown and Griffin. It was a slow start defensively for Brooklyn despite Griffin drawing a charge on the opening possession of the game, adding to his league lead. New Orleans, who are decidedly not a good shooting team, hit seven of their first 12 shots to take an early 17-13 lead. And then the offense flipped the switch and got rolling, sparked by the hot shooting of Harris.

The Nets did a great job of drawing the defense inside to get Harris, who shot a perfect 5-of-5 from three in the first frame, open looks. Durant scored nine points in all 12 minutes, and Brooklyn closed out the frame on a 15-4 run behind 63.2 percent shooting from the field (highest in an opening period this season) and 70.0 percent from three to conclude the first 12 with a 33-25 advantage.

The Pelicans continued to give the Nets defense trouble in the second. New Orleans trimmed the deficit to four points in the first three minutes of play with both Durant and Harden on the bench. It was a shooting clinic on both sides and both teams struggled to get a string of consistent stops to gain some breathing room.

Although Brooklyn’s offense thrived in the second — 57.1 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from three with 12 points coming off turnovers — the Nets success was solely generated on one side of the floor. Same with New Orleans — 53.3 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from deep. The Nets had a total of three players in double-figures at the break — Durant (13 points), Harris, (20 points) and Harden (17 points) — to put up a flimsy 66-59 lead.

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Nets finally gained separation in the third behind the play of Harden — 12 points in the quarter — and tighter defense. Although Brooklyn forged a game-high 21-point lead midway through the third, the door remained cracked for New Orleans to snap their eight-game losing streak. And it almost happened.

Durant, Harden and Harris continued to keep the Nets afloat offensively (scoring all but 17 points through three quarters for Brooklyn). Still, the Pelicans upped their intensity on the defensive end and their rotations gave the Nets problems in the driving lanes and finding space for open looks. New Orleans managed to close out the third on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 12 (95-83) heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

The 12-point advantage quickly shrunk and the momentum was quickly stripped out. The Nets went small resulting in the Pelicans to gain inside positioning, dominate the offensive boards (six offensive rebounds in four minutes) and capitalize on second-chance opportunities.

The Nets carelessness on the offensive end, coughing up five turnovers in six minutes, helped the Pelicans cut the deficit to one point with 6:26 remaining and take the lead with 5:23 remaining. In the end, Brooklyn pulled through on both ends in the final minutes to escape New Orleans with the win.

Durant — 11-of-17 overall, 3-of-3 from the arc and 3-of-4 from the line— is now at 59/43/83.

Milestone Watch

A couple of moving up notes:

Even though he only scored eight points vs. New Orleans, Blake Griffin moved past two Hall of Famers, Jerry Lucas and Dave DeBusschere, on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With his eight points, Griffin is now at 14,057 points for his career. That’s No. 179 all-time. Lucas and DeBusschere — also part of the NBA’s 50 and 75th anniversary teams — were tied at 14,053.

James Harden’s 12 assists Friday gave him 5,847 for his career, moving him past Avery Johnson into 40th place. Next up is another beloved Nets point guard: Sam Cassell who had 5,939.

The Film Room

It’s time to give Joe Harris his flowers.

Joe didn’t exactly show his best stuff to end last year. The 30-year-old shot just 26.3 percent in the final five games of the second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks as his Brooklyn Nets fell just short in 7 tough games.

He’s come back with a vengeance.

Joe, who led the NBA in 3-point percentage two of the last three seasons, has continued to clip long-range looks at that ridiculous efficiency. He’s up to 46.5 percent on the season after going 6-of-8 against the Pelicans, including a perfect first-half in New Orleans.

Brooklyn went to wide pindown looks for Joe to get him going. While Blake Griffin’s screen isn’t overwhelmingly effective, Joe is on another planet offensively — he sinks the three off the curl with the defender practically breathing in his ear.

Joe will always feast on extra pass opportunities. The key to this possession is James Harden driving into the paint to create the advantage; Harris is the lucky recipient to finish the play.

Harris has rebounded from his playoff struggles by excelling at what he’s already great at — shooting — but also by adding to his repertoire with skills outside of long-range efficiency. Defense has been a feather in his cap and with the new rules, Joe’s been able to play with more physicality than ever, using his bulk as a defender to disrupt plays. He’s been grinding on defense, plain and simple.

Joe’s label has been “more than just a shooter” for quite some time. That moniker may never ring truer than it does right now. If his shot isn’t falling, don’t worry. He can still affect the game in different ways.

Nic Claxton’s return still uncertain, but he’s ‘ramping up.’

Nic Claxton has been laid low by a still undisclosed illness. Described as “non-COVID” and not a serious malady, whatever it is has kept the near 7-footer out for nine straight games and there seems little hope he’ll back this coming week. “This next week is a big question, too,” Nash said.

Claxton’s durability has been a question since the Nets drafted him, with various maladies keeping him on the bench. He’s undergone shoulder surgery and lost time to knee and hamstring injuries as well as a positive COVID test. As Brian Lewis notes Saturday, he’s only played in 51 of the Nets 150 games since being drafted in 2019, 15 of 65 as a rookie in 2019-20 and 32 of 72 last season.

Meanwhile, Jarrett Allen, who the Nets traded in the James Harden deal, is one of the NBA’s most durable centers. He’s missed 23 games in five seasons. He’ll be back Wednesday with the Cavaliers.

DeAndre’ Bembry lines up his three’s

DeAndre’ Bembry, signed as a defensive stalwart during the off-season, has become a serious 3-and-D candidate. Always aggressive on both sides of the ball, Bembry is now a threat from deep. He didn’t take a 3-pointer Friday night in New Orleans, going scoreless in 16 minutes. But so far this season, he’s 7-of-10 which you don’t need a calculator to figure out is 70 percent. In fact, he’s currently shooting 56/70/86 for the season.

What happened? Is this a fluke or indicative of a new found skill? He thinks it’s the latter.

“It’s just more so trying to keep it on line,” Bembry said. “I kind of brought it over to the left a little too much I felt, so try to straighten it up a little bit more and quicken up my release and it is working so far.”

No word on whether Kyle Korver played a role in straightening Bembry out. Whatever works. The St. Joseph’s product came into the season with a 26.8 percent career number from deep.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will finish off their longest road trip of the season against the Thunder on Sunday, November 14. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Friday night’s win, check out The Bird Writes — our sister site covering the Pelicans.