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Kevin Durant scores NBA season-high 51 as Nets take down Pistons, 116-104

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

You know who he is ... and he had himself a classic.

Kevin Durant had an NBA season-high 51 points and the Nets defeated the Pistons, 116-104 Sunday night in Detroit, after getting a healthy scare until the fourth when again the Nets dominated with their defense. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 19-8 on the young season and grows their road record to 13-3, the best in the NBA. At eight games over .500 on the road, the Nets have set a new franchise record.

“Kevin was incredible tonight,” Steve Nash said after the Nets’ 116-104 victory. “Not an easy night. They played extremely hard with tons of energy. We were playing different lineups, so I think there were different guys out there at different times trying to find spacing, spots and where to be. There were some challenges there for us, but for him to be able to score 51 with nine assists, seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal is unbelievable.”

He did it in every way...

It was Durant’s night and a career classic. The Nets superstar recorded his eighth 50+ point performance of his career, finishing with 51 points on 16-of-31 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from three-point range in a game-high 41 minutes of play. KD finished four points shy of setting a new career-high and seven shy of a Nets franchise record, Durant also tallied nine assists and seven rebounds on the night. His 51 points are the most points scored this season, edging Steph Curry’s 50 points.

Patty Mills called Durant’s 51-point performance “special” in a number of ways.

“Obviously special for him, but I think it’s special for everyone that was able to take part in that, be up close and personal to what happened tonight.

“It’s very special to see how we goes about his business off the court. Not a lot of people have the opportunity to see what goes into something like that. They see the result and the result is unbelievable but I think for me, it’s special to see what happens behind the curtain and behind the closed doors, which makes it even more special. An unreal game by him.”

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

With James Harden out — after starting the Nets first 26 games, the Nets had to find other ways to get the win and although it took some time, up until the fourth quarter, all’s well that ends well.

“Nah,” said Durant on whether he felt obligated to carry a heavier scoring load with Harden resting Sunday night. “I felt like we got enough scoring. I feel like defensively, we come out, stick to the game plan and play physical, the offense will take care of itself. We went cold there for a second so I figured I can be more aggressive.”

Mills had a successful outing with 18 points, five assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes followed by LaMarcus Aldridge with 15 points in 25 minutes of action. Cam Thomas had another strong outing off the bench with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range in 29 minutes. He also finished with a game high +/- rating of 27. It was Thomas’ third straight game finishing in double figures and his fifth overall this season. Nic Claxton finished with only two points, but again played solid defense down the stretch and finished up with a +19 in +/- rating in 23 minutes.

“It was good. He was a little more aggressive,” said the Nets head coach on Thomas’ performance off the bench. “He got some looks and pulled up on the break for a three, for a two, got to his spots and was confident. That’s the most important thing. When he makes good decisions, when to get to his spots, when to shoot, he’s confident and he’s a very good scorer.”

After building a 13-point lead early, the Nets clawed back and hit the final 12 minutes of play trailing 91-86. And as it has of late, the fourth was Brooklyn’s turn to shine, outscoring the Pistons, 30-13 in the frame to pick up the victory. The 13 points allowed in the fourth mark the fewest points allowed by Brooklyn in any quarter this season, tying the 13 they allowed by the Mavs earlier in the week.

“We’re keeping the ball in front, making them shoot over us, x-ing out and closing out and just being there for one another,” said Durant on the Nets’ defense in the fourth quarter. “When I had five fouls with like eight minutes to go, they tried to go at me every time and then I look over and Nic [Claxton] is coming over for a contest or a block. David Duke right there for a low, Bruce [Brown] there to help, so we’re just on one string and it was good to play like that defensively to close the game out.”

In the end, the Nets concluded the win shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from deep. The team dished 28 assists on the 41 made shots and edged Detroit in the rebounding category, 43-40.

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Getting there may have been exhilarating, but it wasn’t easy.

The Nets started their 11th different starting five against the Pistons — Mills, Bembry, Durant, Johnson and Aldridge. Brooklyn was rolling early, hitting five of their first seven shots to go up 14-6 with 7:35 left in the first. Mills scored eight of Brooklyn’s first 14 points.

Although Detroit concluded the first with two threes, Brooklyn remained in the drivers seat throughout the first and hitting the second quarter with a 31-24 advantage. Beyond a solid defensive effort that saw them force six turnovers and converting them into six points, Durant punched the Pistons earlry with 10 points in the first 12 minutes, followed by Aldridge with nine points and Mills with eight points.

Nash and the Nets used their coach’s challenge with 10:01 remaining in the second when Blake Griffin was called for a defensive foul. After a fairly quick review from the officials, the call was reversed and instead of picking up his first personal, he hit one of two free throws. Following the successful challenge, Brooklyn seemingly lost their offensive rhythm.

After leading by 13 points, the Pistons forged a 16-1 run with the Nets going scoreless from the field for nearly four minutes of play. In response, Brooklyn subbed in Cam Thomas and David Duke Jr. to provide some scoring and shortly after, Durant came off the bench. The Nets took back the lead off a left-wing three from Durant, going up 47-46 with 4:34 left in the half. Brooklyn powered through the final four minutes of the half to hit the break with a flimsy three-point lead (60-57).

Despite blowing a 13-point lead in the second, there were plenty of positives in the first two quarters. Brooklyn dished 19 assists on 20 made shots (ties the highest assist total of any half this season) and Durant led all scorers with 22 points (first half season-high) on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from 3-point range in 19 minutes, a reversal of a short 3-point shooting slump. Aldridge recorded 13 points and four rebounds while Mills totaled 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 shooting from deep in 16 minutes.

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

However, the turnovers piled up in the opening minutes of the third for Brooklyn. The Nets doubled the number of turnovers they coughed up in the first half, resulting in 13 points for Detroit. In that stretch, the four turnovers helped spark a 9-0 run for the Pistons, who led 70-66 with 8:11 left in the third.

“We were sloppy,” said Nash on the turnovers in the third. “I think we started the third pretty well and then it just went the other way really. We went up six or eight right off the bat and then right before you know it, they were up six. It was a little period there we turned it over three of four times in a row for three or four layups, and obviously that hurts.”

Brooklyn also struggled against Detroit’s press, which restricted ball movement and forced more turnovers. Harden was obviously missed. The Nets simply struggled to score by committee, Durant had to carry the load, scoring 16 of the teams 26 points in the third frame to keep the squad in the contest. Durant shot 7-of-8 in the quarter and Brooklyn hit the fourth trailing 91-86.

“He was just outstanding,” said Nash on Durant’s scoring takeover in the third. “I thought his leadership and his willingness to keep us in it for stretches and then all of a sudden, the defense was unbelievable in the fourth quarter as well. I told the guys to start the fourth, we got to win it with our defense and that’s what they did.”

It was the Brooklyn way in the fourth quarter. The Nets opened the fourth on a 19-1 run, fueled by their lockdown defense and more athletic lineup to take a 105-92 lead with six minutes remaining.

“We went to our switching defense and more importantly, we got into them more,” said Nash on the catalyst to the strong fourth quarter start. “I thought we upped our intensity, forced turnovers and did a good job of defending in general in the fourth, holding them to 13 points.”

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

In the end, Brooklyn crushed Detroit, outscoring the Pistons, 30-13 in the fourth to win by 12 points. It was the third time in their last four games that the Nets held their opponent to 14 or fewer points in the final stanza. They held Dallas to 13 and Atlanta to 14.

“I think it shows our group is gaining confidence and resiliency,” said Nash on all three road wins including fourth quarter comebacks. “We’re able to dig ourselves out of little holes and that we can turn up the defense, so it’s always great for our staff when we see the guys defend and win games with defense. That’s got to be the way we win a majority of our games this year and they did that on this trip.”

Milestone Watch

Kevin Durant’s 51 points was also the most points ever scored by an individual player in the history of Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit. Who’s record he beat? Blake Griffin who scored 50 three seasons back for the Pistons.

KD became only the sixth player in NBA history to score 50 points for three different franchises: the Thunder, Warriors and Nets. Jamal Crawford did it with four teams.

Defensively, the Nets allowed the Pistons 13 points on four field goals. In their two previous wins, they allowed the Mavs 13 on two field goals and the Hawks 14 points, also on two field goals. In their one loss on the four-game road trip, they allowed Houston 24 points on seven field goals. So on the trip, they allowed an average of 16 points on an average of 3.8 field goals in the fourth.

Sans Harden

Sunday was the first game that James Harden sat this season. Steve Nash said he had been looking to give his superstar point guard a rest and Harden was open to it.

“He was open to it,” Nash said prior to the game. “He had a heavy stretch of games, and we’re going to steal some games for these guys here and there. We’ll miss him tonight, but I think it’s important and it pays forward, hopefully, to the end of the season.”

Harden leads the Nets in minutes with 941. With his 41 minutes Sunday, Kevin Durant is up to 912.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Nets will return back to Barclays Center to host the Raptors on Tuesday, December 14. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“Just get home and protect the house,” said Durant looking ahead. “We get James [Harden] back next game, get Paul [Millsap] back and keep plugging away, man. We want to take care of that homecourt. That’s key. We want to start building up that advantage for ourselves and that starts in the regular season. Fans getting onboard with us and us going out there and giving them a great product on the floor. That means a lot, so that’s the main focus; to take care of homecourt.”

For a different perspective on Sunday evening’s game, check out Detroit Bad Boys — our sister site covering the Pistons.