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Kevin Durant and James Harden combine for 51 points as Nets defeat Hawks, 113-105

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Taking care of business on the road. Gotta do it to be taken seriously and the Nets did just that.

The Nets defeated the Hawks, 113-105 in Atlanta Friday night. With the win, Brooklyn has won 15 of their last 18 meetings against Atlanta while improving their road record to 10-3 and their overall record to 18-8. The Nets won the game on defense, limiting the Hawks to 14 points in the fourth.

“It’s important. We’ve had a little bit of a tougher schedule at home in a sense, but when you go on the road anywhere in this league, it’s tough to win,” said Steve Nash on the latest road win. “I thought our guys have had a great mentality on the road. A come-from-behind in Dallas and in Atlanta on this trip. Proud of not only the effort but the mentality and the willingness to not let go.”

Brooklyn hit the final minute of play nursing a 109-103 advantage. After two missed threes by James Harden, Trae Young hit a layup to cut the Nets lead to four. Kevin Durant followed the miss with two clutch free throws to grow the lead to eight points with 39.1 seconds remaining. The Hawks followed with a John Collins slam out of the timeout to trim the deficit to six points. But that was it. Brooklyn iced the game at the foul line, hitting two free throws.

“We don’t give up. We’re just a resilient team,” Harden said. “We got through times over the course of a game where things aren’t going our way: we miss shots or whatever the case may be. This is the NBA so teams go on runs but we find ways to come back and give ourselves a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”

Durant paved the way for the Nets, finishing with a game-high 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from deep in 38 minutes, a little short of the 40 minutes he’s been averaging over the last few games. The Nets superstar tallied six assists and five rebounds as well in the win. James Harden recorded his 17th double-double of the season (his fourth straight and 10th in his last 11 games) with 20 points, 11 assists and five rebounds in 41 minutes of action. LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 15 points, his fourth straight game or 13 of more and ninth of the last 10.

Brooklyn also got big contributions off the bench from three of their younger players, Bruce Brown, Nicolas Claxton and Cam Thomas. Brown tallied a season-high 15 points, five rebounds and one assist in 20 minutes of play. Claxton finished with four points and four rebounds in 17 minutes, but it was his stifling defense that won his praise.

“He’s such a versatile defender. He’s guarding [Clint] Capella one minute and then he’s guard Trae Young the next, so we go to our switching defense, mix it up, keep bodies in front of the ball and he’s able to guard like that, it makes it very difficult for the other team,” said Nash on Claxton’s performance.

Thomas provided an offensive boost of 11 points in 25 minutes off the bench. He hit 3-of-4 from deep, his best performance beyond the arc in the season. And it was needed. Durant, Harden and Patty Mills had off nights, finishing 2-of-15.

“With Joe [Harris] out, it’s great to have another shooter out there and Cam obviously can score the ball,” said Nash on Thomas’ contributions off the bench. “It gives us another scoring option and someone they got to pay attention to on the perimeter.”

The Nets started Harden, Mills, DeAndre’ Bembry, Durant and Aldridge. Brooklyn struggled to find an offensive flow early due to turnovers, coughing up three in the opening three minutes of action. Gathering an offensive flow, Durant got the attack going, scoring four of the team's first eight points. Meanwhile, the Hawks hit only five of their first 12 shots but took an early 12-8 advantage.

The short offensive slump quickly vanished and the Nets completely flipped the page. Brooklyn concluded the first on a 12-4 run to hit the second frame knotted up at 26. The offense shot 65.0 percent from the field (season-high) and only attempted one three in the period. Durant paved the way with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting overall in 12 minutes of play.

The fouls piled up for Brooklyn with the team going over the limit at the 7:21 mark of the second. It took a while but the first three of the night for the Nets fell at the 3:46 mark courtesy of Mills in the corner. Durant followed the first three with a four-point play (missed free-throw) to give Brooklyn an 8-3 run and a 50-48 advantage with 2:57 left.

The Hawks concluded the half on a 7-2 run to take a 55-52 lead into the locker room. Durant led the Nets with 17 points (8-of-10 from the field and 1-of-1 from three) in 17 minutes followed by Bruce Brown with 10 points in 13 minutes off the bench. Although Brooklyn coughed up 10 turnovers (16 points), the Nets outscored the Hawks, 40-24 in the paint.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

Both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the third, but the Hawks picked apart the Nets in the pick-and-roll, ballooning their lead to a game-high 11 points (73-62) off a 9-1 run with 6:51 remaining.

The Nets countered with a 7-0 run through the midrange play of Aldridge to trim the deficit to four points and at the 1:19 mark, Thomas drilled a left-wing three to knot the game up at 86. The rookie drilled another three from the right-wing to give Brooklyn an 89-88 advantage. but the Hawks hit the final 12 minutes of play with a 91-89 lead.

Brooklyn got a big momentum boost from two highlight-reel plays from University of Georgia product Claxton — one athletic putback slam and a two-man poster dunk over Clinton Capela. After the strong sequence, the Nets sparked a 8-2 run to take a 103-95 lead with 5:24 left.

Atlanta answered with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to one point, but Brooklyn weathered the storm, growing the lead to five. Trae Young and Durant exchanged some friendly yet competitive trash talk and needed to be separated with both receiving technicals.

In the end, Brooklyn picked up their 10th road win, the most in the NBA.

“I don’t feel like we played our best basketball but when it was time in the fourth quarter to lock down and guard, we did that,” Harden said.

The Film Room

The Hawks were getting whatever they wanted in the first three-quarters. Sure, Kevin Durant had some nice isolation defense possessions in the first quarter. Bruce Brown was particularly feisty when bodying up dudes. But Atlanta dragged Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll defense through the coals. LaMarcus Aldridge was specifically targetted by Atlanta’s potent 2-man game; his drop coverage was exposed by Trae Young floaters and lobs to Clint Capela and John Collins over the top of his springless legs.

Below, Trae Young locates LaMarcus Aldridge and has his man (John Collins) set a screen — which Collins “slips” — and so Aldridge is forced to retreat and keep tabs of both players while DeAndre’ Bembry recovers. But Collins gets behind Aldridge which causes the 36-year-old to turn his body — thereby turning his body away from Young — giving up a wide-open layup.

This wasn’t the first nor last time that Atlanta put Aldridge in action. So at the 5:22 mark in the third quarter, Steve Nash made the change: Nicolas Claxton entered the fray after not seeing a second of floor time for the entirety of the first two-and-a-half quarters.

The game plan was simple. Instead of dropping back and hoping that Brooklyn’s point-of-attack defenders could navigate screens, the Nets would simply switch pick-and-rolls and disallow Atlanta’s offense from building any sort of momentum. Why put yourself in a situation in which Trae Young has a floater or lob at his disposal if you don’t have to? Brooklyn answered that question by having their young 21-year-old center remove the head of the snake with one sharp slice.

“We had to change something in that second half,” explained Steve Nash. “We thought bringing Nick on for his activity in length on both ends of the floor, but in particular, when he switches on guards he’s excellent. So putting him and Kevin in a switching defense where they can cover multiple positions I thought was a nice change-up for us.”

Nicolas Claxton is one of the best switch-bigs in the whole league. Shoot, he may just be the best switch-big, period. Take note of how he mirrors Trae Young’s footwork on this stepback without fouling. The beauty of switching is that it generally fools the opponent into playing isolation basketball. More often than not, having Claxton defend one-on-ones is a win.

“I have a lot of practice guarding guys like that. Herky jerky, smaller guards,” said Nicolas Claxton about his performance against Trae Young. “Guarding Kyrie, I feel like that prepared got me for moments like this and I take a lot of pride in that.”

Things got really wild when the Nets ran a closing frontcourt of James Johnson, Kevin Durant, and Nicolas Claxton to stifle Atlanta’s offense. Want to hear something even crazier? In this lineup, Kevin Durant was Trae Young’s primary defender. If Young brought one of the bigs (John Collins or Clint Capela) into the fold, the Nets would simply switch and stick yet another unshakable 7-footer, Claxton, onto him.

“I felt like they were getting into that pick-and-roll at timely moments to make a shot, so we took that away. We got length and athleticism out there with Nick, JJ, and myself, and then you got Patti and James who can space the floor and switch as well,” said Kevin Durant. “So it was just a good lineup finish the game, and I’m glad the defense won it for us.”

This sure felt like Brooklyn’s best defensive performance of the season.

Trae Young and Kevin Durant get into an exchange

Late in the fourth quarter with the Nets up five, things got a little chippy between Kevin Durant and Trae Young. After Kevin Durant fouled Trae Young on an off-ball screen, he towered over the top of Young and tossed what was likely some nasty language his way. Young retaliated by shoving Durant with a soft push. Both were broken apart with smiles on their faces.

“I was a little too during physical their action and I kind of pushed him a bit. He wanted me to get up out of his space and I respect that,” said Kevin Durant about the exchange. “It’s just part of the game and we move on from there. It’s not personal, it’s just all competition.”

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will top off their four-game road trip on Sunday, Dec. 12 when the team travels to Detroit to face the Pistons. The game is scheduled to tip at 6:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Friday night’s game, check out Peachtree Hoops — our sister site covering the Hawks.