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James Harden delivers late to secure Nets fifth straight win, defeating Raptors, 116-103

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Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The Beard delivered when the Nets needed it most.

The Nets defeated the Raptors, 116-103, Sunday afternoon in Toronto. With the win, Brooklyn improves to 7-3 on the young season while snapping a long 10-game losing streak in Canada. The 7-3 start ties the best 10-game start in team history, matching the starts in 2001 and 2002 when the New Jersey Nets got to the NBA Finals.

Heading into the final three minutes of play nursing an 11-0 lead after another dominant third quarter, James Harden did what was needed. The Nets superstar, who is still trying to gain confidence and play like his usual self, scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth and nailed the 27-foot dagger from deep to seal the deal. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists in 39 minutes of play.

“I thought in the first half, he didn’t give himself enough credit. I thought he had opportunities to attack more. I tried to implore him to go and to be aggressive. In the second half, he was excellent,” said Nash on Harden’s play. “This game, the Atlanta game and games he gets to the paint, he can really cause a lot of problems for the defense.”

Kevin Durant extended his streak of 20+ points to 10 games Sunday afternoon. The league’s leading scorer finished with a game-high 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes of action. It was his first game back in Toronto since tearing his Achillies in the Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

“I didn’t think about that. That this is the scene of the catastrophe sort of speak. Like we said since day one, Kevin has been unbelievable this season: both ends of the floor, rebounding, scoring, facilitating,” said Nash on Durant’s play through 10 games. “I think that’s under a team that is trying to find itself so I think we can either make things a little bit easier for him at times. That’ll take time as we keep saying. That doesn’t detract seemingly ever from how elite he is, how efficient he is and how well-rounded he is.”

Brooklyn had a total of six players finish in double figures in the road victory — Durant and Harden plus Blake Griffin (14), Bruce Brown (12), Joe Harris (11) and Mills (13). A huge factor into having six players in double-figures was the ball movement — 29 assists on 41 made shots. The Nets also had five players with three or more 3-pointers, led by Griffin’s four, the most since he joined the Nets last season.

“The defense was really strong. In the first and second, we get some slippage. I think that was down to turnovers. They got out and ran for easy baskets, so the turnovers and offensive rebounds, again were an issue. Offensively, there were pockets of play where we were really happy with,” said Nash. We still have to push to play that way naturally and from start to finish. I thought tonight, we obviously made shots but we were sharp with our intent and our purpose offensively for stretches. That’s what got us through.”

The Nets ran the same starting lineup — Harden, Harris, Durant, Brown and Griffin — for the seventh straight game. Although Brooklyn had difficulty early finding space on the offensive end due to Toronto’s length, the team found a rhythm behind the play of Durant, who scored 12 of the Nets’ 29 points to take a 29-26 lead after one. Griffin snagged six rebounds in the frame.

It was a back-and-forth second quarter, but Brooklyn’s second unit held it down defensively, holding Toronto to only 21 percent shooting from the field through the first six minutes of the second. Still, the Raptors forged a 9-2 run in the span of a minute to grab a six-point lead. Following the run, Durant picked up a technical foul for arguing with the officials over a push in the back call on Chris Boucher. “I didn’t touch him! I didn’t touch him!” KD pleaded.

In the final minute, the Raptors tough defense sent a pair of double teams at Durant in the midrange, resulting in two turnovers. Toronto, in fact, flipped Brooklyn’s nine first-half turnovers into 13 points and as the second quarter buzzer sounded, the home team hit the break nursing a seven-point advantage. The Nets did not play Griffin throughout the second quarter and instead, attempted to go small against the lengthy Raptors.

Durant led the Nets with 16 first-half points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from deep in 19 minutes of play. Harden followed with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field but went 0-of-5 from three.

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

Then, when the second half opened, things changed and fast. The third quarter was all Brooklyn. The frame opened with a 9-0 Nets run behind the play of Griffin, Durant and Harden. A two-man maneuver between Harden and Durant that led to a flush from the NBA’s leading scorer served as a big catalyst to the hot start. The ball movement continued to boost the Nets' offense and helped contribute to Toronto’s defensive confusion. The Raps picked up their fourth team foul with nearly eight minutes remaining in the fourth, allowing Brooklyn to go to the line off fouls for the remainder of the quarter.

Brooklyn’s offense was clicking on all cylinders but it was the defense that helped the Nets build their largest lead (11 points). The team held the Raptors to only five points through the first six minutes of play and a total of 17 points. Although Toronto answers with a quick six-point boost, Brooklyn concluded their dominant third on an 11-2 run to lift their advantage to a game-high 11 points.

Toronto hung around and kept clawing away to cut the deficit to single-digits, but Harden began to feel it late. Despite the Raptors forging a late 7-0 run for more breathing room, Harden scored 16 points in the fourth and nailed the dagger from deep in the 32.5 seconds remaining to seal it.

Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 21 points in 41 minutes followed by OG Anunoby with 16 points in 38 minutes. With the defeat, Toronto falls to 6-5 on the young season.

The Film Room

James Harden had his best performance of the season. Some might say he looked like himself... Debate a wall.

Much of Harden’s scoring through Brooklyn’s first 9 games had been at the three-point line — 49.7% of his scores came from behind the arc, which would’ve been the highest of his 13-year career. Essentially, Harden was living and dying by the three more than ever, supplementing for what had largely been iffy burst off the dribble.

Yet on Sunday, the three-point shot was not there. Harden finished 3-of-10 from three. And he still finished with 28 points.

How’d he do it? By driving. Just like the James Harden we know.

After a shaky start, Harden found himself a mismatch with Raptors center Chris Boucher at the end of the first half. In previous games, matchups with slower centers or smaller guards had proved to be fruitless. He couldn’t get by either one of Cory Joseph or Kelly Olynyk during Friday’s game against Detroit, for example.

Yet against Boucher, Harden got into his bag and simply put his head down. The help was late just never showed up, and what resulted was the best drive of Harden’s 2021-22 season, bar none.

“When he’s aggressive, then the defensive focus has to shift, said Blake Griffin about Harden’s scoring. “I think he’s done a great balance lately.”

That sound you’re hearing is a thunderous sigh of relief echoing down the wide streets of Flatbush and Atlantic.

The beauty of Harden’s early struggles is that it slowly but surely birthed new counters. He’s toyed with a step-back midrange shot in each of the last three games to counteract when defenses overplay his drives. Lately, he’s been making threes in spot-up situations, which was basically unheard of last year. A pass fake breaks Toronto’s zone defense and Harden cooly breaks the Raptors with a 0-dibble three.

“I thought in the first half, he didn’t give himself enough credit. I thought he had opportunities to attack more. I tried to implore him to go and to be aggressive. In the second half, he was excellent,” said Steve Nash when summarizing Harden’s performance.

Don’t look now, but he’s finding his groove. There’s a chance he’s added a few new layers in the process.

(More) Blue Collar Boys

It’s been a while since the Nets have had a bit as funny as the Blue Collar Boys. Sunday’s game gave us more priceless snippets into what appears to be a jovial locker room.

Blake Griffin provided updates on the application statuses of two potential new members, Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, both of whom have strapped into their working boots and taken some bone-crushing charges in Brooklyn’s last two contests.

Kevin Durant took a particularly nasty charge and after the game, he joked he was “nearly concussed.” It appears Blake Griffin was impressed by Durant’s commitment to the team... though he’s still got a long way to go to get into the exclusive club.

Patty Mills, meanwhile, is officially in. The news we’ve been waiting for.

Clearly overjoyed by the news of his acceptance, Mills joked that he wasn’t sure if the co-presidents of the Blue Collar Boys (Blake Griffin and Joe Harris) had sent the news to the wrong email address.

Inside goofs like this are what make the NBA season all the more enjoyable.

O Canada!

Sunday was Kevin Durant’s first time playing in Toronto since he got hurt in the 2019 Finals, famously tearing his Achilles tendon while attempting to will back his Golden State Warriors from a 3-1 deficit. Durant called it one of his “lowest moments” of his career.

“I had some great memories in Toronto. I love playing in Toronto, the fans have been amazing to me,” said Durant. “The last time I was here was one of my lowest moments as a basketball player, but it’s good to come back here, play, see the fans, and get a W.”

Sunday’s win was the first the Nets have put together in Canada’s largest city since 2015. They had lost 10 straight. It was also the first win in Canada for the team’s two high-profile Canadian citizens, head coach Steve Nash and owner Joe Tsai.

“It means a lot,” said Nash on winning Sunday afternoon as a head coach. “This is a very special place for me. Not obviously Canada but Toronto. I spent so much of my time here. I have so many close friends, relationships and memories in the city. I have a lot of admiration for the Raptors organization and Nick Nurse. To get a win here is really special for me. For me, this is definitely a sweet one.”

It was also the first time the Nets had traveled to Toronto in 638 days. Due to COVID travel restrictions, the Raptors wound up in Florida for the 2020 “bubble” and all of the 2020-21 season.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will travel to Chicago to face the Bulls Sunday, Nov. 8 for their second back-to-back of the season. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET. and will be televised on YES Network.

“They got three elite level scorers from all areas and one at the big man position. And then you got a point guard in Lonzo who can orchestrate it all. We got our work cut out for us. Another test for us,” said Durant looking ahead to Chicago.

When asked about the availability for Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin for Monday’s matchup against the Bulls, Steve Nash said the team will decide after the Raptors game. Griffin said he expects to play Monday after the victory over the Raptors.

“We’ll see. We haven’t made any decisions. We’ll see how today goes so we’re really just going to focus on this one and then we’ll have a chat about it after the game and see what we do tomorrow,” said Nash prior to Sunday’s game.

For a different perspective on Sunday’s game, check out Raptors HQ — our sister site covering the Raptors.