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Kevin Durant’s 34-point double-double leads Nets to fourth straight, defeating Sixers, 114-105

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Make it four straight for the depleted Nets, two for Kevin and the Kids.

It was another tight one at Barclays Center but in the end, the Nets prevailed, defeating the Sixers, 114-105 Thursday. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 21-8 on the season and remains perfect against fellow Atlantic Division competition (5-0).

“I think the spirit has been outstanding. These guys are playing for one another, playing the right way and sticking with it,” said Steve Nash on the recent winning stretch. “The first quarter was pivotal to jump out and play such good basketball, set the tone, create some separation and had a good second quarter as well. They gave us that space to have a couple of patches in the second half that didn’t sink us. The resilience, the spirit, and a lot of good basketball mixed in there as well.”

Despite leading by 20 points in the second, Brooklyn left the door open for Philadelphia and the Sixers came roaring back in the fourth to make it a game. With the game knotted up at 103, Kevin Durant nailed a three and added a free throw for a four-point play. Then, with Philly focusing on KD, Blake Griffin was left wide open and he hit a clutch right-wing three of his own to forge a 7-0 run, putting Brooklyn up seven with 1:13 left. After two free throws from David Duke Jr. — the second time in two games he hit crucial foul shots at game’s end, Durant iced the game with a fadeaway jumper over Joel Embiid.

“I love playing, I like being out there,” said Durant. “The challenge of winning is fun to me. So no matter who’s out on the floor, we want to play to win.”

Durant finished with a near triple-double: a game-high 34 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of action. The lone member of the “Big Three” available to Steve Nash, KD shot 13-of-24 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range. The performance marked his fourth-straight 30+ point game and his 13th this season (a league-high). In his last three games, Durant has scored 119 points, a 39.7 point average.

“It’s definitely not something you can take for granted. I think he’s the GOAT. He’s making plays for us, trusting in us, and he’s just getting the job done,” said Nicolas Claxton. “Playing a lot of minutes too on the offensive end and on the defensive end. I don’t think he gets enough credit on the defensive end — he’s really active out there, you know, getting blocks, steals. So, he’s definitely nice right now.”

Claxton and Blake Griffin had their best offensive performances of the young season in the win. Claxton finished with a season-high 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field, to go with two rebounds in 22 minutes of play.

“I think he’s so long and athletic, able to get in around the basket and finish above people, but I think he’s improved in his finishing over people too when he gets little drop-offs or offensive rebounds,” said Nash on Claxton’s growth. “He’s able to go up and finish, contest opportunities down there that aren’t as successful in the past. He’s developed here. He’s got more confidence. He’s got more strength and he’s finishing in the paint better as well.”

Griffin recorded his own season-high of 17 points to go along with nine rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes. He also took two charges, tying him with Kyle Lowry for the lead league despite his limited playing time the last two weeks.

Brooklyn’s rookies had a quiet outing n the box score but their fingerprints were all over the win. Cam Thomas was the high man with 11 points — all in the first half— on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from three in 25 minutes off the bench. Kessler Edwards finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes, giving him a two-game average of 13 points and 8.5 rebounds in 35.5 minutes. David Duke Jr. tallied six points, four rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes while Day’Ron Sharpe snagged five rebounds to go with three points in 13 minutes.

“For me, the toughness. They’ve played hard, played physical and they haven’t been afraid,” said the Nets head coach on the rookies’ play Thursday night. “The most important thing we’ve tried to instill in them is we want you to develop. We want to teach. We want to give you an opportunity to make mistakes but also be you and be free out there, play good basketball and we believe in you. Watching them accept that challenge and go for it physically and mentally has been outstanding.”

The depleted Nets went with the same starting five they used Tuesday night against the Raptors — Duke Jr., Durant, Griffin, Claxton and Patty Mills. There was a lot of scoring early and not a lot of defense. Both teams hit their first four shots and ran up the scoreboard in the opening minutes. The Nets made Joel Embiid move early, giving Claxton opportunities he made the best of. He led the Nets early, scoring seven of the Nets’ first 17 points, followed by Mills with six as Brooklyn took an early 17-16 advantage with 6:52 left in the first. Brooklyn grew their lead eight off a 10-2 run following the timeout.

The Nets concluded the first with a 39-25 lead, led by Durant with 10 points in 12 minutes followed by Claxton with nine points and Thomas with eight points in six minutes off the bench.

Philadelphia chipped away at the deficit early in the second, but Brooklyn’s offense remained hot to keep the advantage in double-digits and grab the biggest lead of the game; 20 points with 4:26 remaining in the frame. And then Embiid took over for Philadelphia, cutting it to 10 off a 9-0 run, but the momentum didn’t last long.

The Nets responded with a 12-4 run to hit the break with an 18-point lead, 66-48 (the second-biggest halftime lead this season for the team). The 66 points scored at the half also tied the Nets best offensive output as well.

Brooklyn had three players in double-figures at halftime — Durant (15), Claxton (11), and Thomas (11), and the offense shot 54.3 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range. In addition, the rebounding margin was in Brooklyn’s favor, 28-20.

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

For the second straight game, the Nets had a sloppy start to the third. Philadelphia had Brooklyn’s number early in the third, forging a 15-5 run to trim the deficit to eight with 7:50 left. Although Durant answered for Brooklyn, helped by key hustle plays from the rookies to bring the advantage back up to double-digits. Still, the door remained open for the Sixers.

In fact, Philadelphia managed to cut the deficit to two points heading into the final minute of the third, but couldn’t get over the top. Brooklyn hit the fourth quarter of play nursing a six-point lead, (85-79) — snapping a five-game streak of trailing after three quarters of play.

After going three quarters with seven turnovers, Brooklyn turned over the ball six times in the less than four minutes of play in the fourth, allowing Philadelphia to cut the deficit to one point (92-91) with 8:18 left.

“I thought in the third, it was a combination of we were a little bit flat and also, we just didn’t convert,” Nash said. “I thought we created some good opportunities in the third that we missed: a couple of layups, a couple of open looks. We were missing good opportunities and they were going down and getting buckets and sometimes, that’s just how the game goes. We had a patch there where we turned it over and they got down and got layups, then the lead was all but gone.”

The Nets pulled together three consecutive offensive fouls on the defensive end, two by Griffin, and took advantage offensively, growing the lead back to five. The Sixers tied the game at 101 with three minutes remaining before Durant’s heroics put it away.

The win was Brooklyn’s fourth straight, its 11th win in the last 14 and 19th win in the last 24 The Nets are now 6-0 vs. Atlantic Division opponents this season.

The Film Room

The first half against Philadelphia was Nicolas Claxton’s best offensive half in his career, bar none.

Claxton finished with 11 points on a perfect 5-on-5 shooting line, with some pretty outstanding defense against Joel Embiid on the other end. But we know what Clax does as a defender, so let’s get into the fun stuff.

The Nets got Nic going early after the Sixers switched a David Duke Jr. and Blake Griffin pick-and-roll, thereby giving Blake the mismatch with Seth Curry. Griffin backed Curry down, spun, and made a gorgeous lay down read to Clax, who gladly slammed it home.

Things really started to get fun when Joel Embiid doubled Kevin Durant — off of Claxton. In response, Clax dove into the paint to get deep positioning. Durant made the pass to the open Claxton, and Nic calmly finished with a gorgeous turnaround shot — a shot he likely would’ve missed last season. Remember, Boston repeatedly schemed to double Brooklyn’s stars to put the ball in Claxton’s hands, and it was a viable strategy — and just about the only strategy that worked for Boston in the first-round series.

“My confidence is already pretty high but going out there and being that effective on the offensive end is definitely good for my confidence,” said Claxton. “Teams, if they want to continue to guard KD like that (and double-team), I’m gonna continue to make plays for myself and my team. So it’s just all just having a feel for the game and going out there and playing and letting the game come to me and not forcing anything.”

Later, the Nets got Claxton yet another wide-open dunk by running “double drag,” a semi-transition set with two screeners (Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton). The Nets had run this set previously with James Harden handling and Nicolas Claxton and Kevin Durant screening. But with the limited cast, it was KD’s time to shine as the lead ball-handler.

Maybe Claxton’s best bucket of all occurred after Kevin Durant was double-teamed. But this time, it was KD handling at the top of the key and the Sixers sending Claxton’s man to double. Durant made the pass to Claxton and Nic took two dribbles, spun, and hit a gorgeous hook shot. Not even being hyperbolic, it was the best finish of Claxton’s career. (Short roll reads have been a... source of grief for Claxton in his young NBA career.)

But on Thursday, and maybe for just Thursday (we’ll see), it was a strength.

Milestone Watch

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant is the second player in Nets history to score at least 150 points over a four-game span, joining Vince Carter who did it in 2005.

Durant is also the first Nets player to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists in three straight games since the Nets joined the NBA in 1976.

KD shouts out Brooklyn fans

In his post-game comments to Michael Grady, Kevin Durant gave a shoutout to Nets fans on hand. Asked to react to the non-stop MVP chants at Barclays Center KD has this to say.

“There’s nothing like playing in Brooklyn. They show love, they appreciate great basketball. We gotta keep it rolling for them.”

As he spoke, the MVP chants picked up again.

Galloway gets minutes

Langston Galloway, signed earlier Thursday to a hardship exception, wound up playing after all. He wound up with nine minutes, playing in both halves, hitting a three in the first. Galloway, a 6’2” combo guard, last played for the Suns last season.

With the signings of James Ennis III and Shaq Harrison expected Friday, the Nets have utilized three of the team’s allotted hardship exceptions. They have five.

It’s all a holiday special worth watching, says Tsai

Joe Tsai wasn’t on the sidelines Thursday, but his wife, Clara Wu Tsai was on hand. Not long after the game, he tweeted his thoughts on the game...

The Nets owner will be paying for the privilege of watching said “special.” Each of the three hardship exception signings will cost him $504,000 in luxury taxes. By his own estimate, Tsai will be paying out $100 million in taxes.

What’s next

Brooklyn will return to the hardwood on Saturday, December 18 when the team hosts the Magic at Barclays Center. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Thursday’s game against Philadelphia, check out Liberty Ballers — our sister site covering the Sixers.