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Nets avoid blowing 23-point lead in fourth, defeat Lakers on Christmas Day, 122-115

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It was a rollercoaster fourth quarter but in the end, the Nets escaped L.A. with the biggest holiday gift: a quality win and one of the biggest victories of the season in the eyes of the players, their coach and fans.

The Nets defeated the Lakers, 122-115. With the Christmas Day victory, Brooklyn improves to 22-9 on the season and bumps their league-best road record to 12-3. It was Steve Nash’s 70th win as Nets head coach. He is now the fifth winningest coach in NBA history with a 67.9 percent record.

“It’s up there,” said James Harden, author of a 36-point, 10-rebound, 10 assist triple double. “We had a couple of them. The Philly game. We had a couple games at home where guys were out we found ways to win. Until this is over and get our full roster, the motto is to find ways to win and we’ve been doing that.”

It was smooth sailing ... until Los Angeles roiled a heavy storm late. Brooklyn grew their lead to 23 in the opening minute of the fourth but quickly blew the massive lead. The Nets left the door wide open, forfeiting a 23-3 run and having the lead cut to four points with 3:12 remaining.

Patty Mills’ eighth three of the night — the most ever in a Christmas Day game — brought Brooklyn back to a five-point lead, but the Lakers answered with a 5-0 burst to knot the game up at 115 with 45.0 seconds remaining. Nic Claxton exploded over LeBron James for a huge alley-oop poster off a high-arcing Harden lob ... a strong candidate for the Nets play of the year.

The dunk was followed by two clutch free throws from Harden giving the Nets a five-point cushion with 20.6 seconds left.

“Just to be able to take those hits, stay calm, stay composed, and stick to the game plan,” said Mills after the victory. “I think we’ve done a great job of being able to take those blows and still stick to what we want to do.”

James missed a corner three and Harden iced the game with another pair of free throws. James became the all-time leading scorer on Christmas Day and finished with 39 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 40 minutes. But it was not enough.

“Just getting stops and offensively in that fourth quarter, I put that on myself just because I wasn’t attacking the paint and getting to the rim like I’ve done in the previous three quarters. We just had to settle down, get a good shot, and defensively, come up with a stop and we did that with 45 seconds to go,” said Harden on weathering the Lakers' fourth-quarter push.

It was his fifth 30-point triple-double as a Net (franchise record) in a team-high 39 minutes of play. The lone member of the Nets “Big Three” shot 10-of-25 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range.

“We had a 20-something point lead going into the fourth quarter, so it wasn’t supposed to go like that. At the end of the day, I just wanted to win and that’s all that matter,” said Harden. “Just not being able to workout and basically sit in a room, sit in my apartment and not being able to do anything. It’s difficult.”

The 32-year-old superstar paved the way to the win but it was Patty Mills who kept the ship afloat late with a series of clutch 3-point shots throughout the game. The Aussie guard tied his career-high with 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting overall and 8-of-13 from deep to go pair with seven assists, two rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. One of the best performances of his career came with a prestigious record as well. One year after Kyrie Irving set the Christmas Day record with seven three-pointers against the Celtics, Mills broke it.

“Patty’s added so much to our team and obviously, we don’t win tonight without him,” said Nash with a smile. “So many nights this year whether it’s scoring, mature IQ, experience; those things you see on the floor. It’s just the way he approaches the game. His spirit, his mentality and he’s added so much to our group and culture.”

DeAndre’ Bembry and Bruce Brown, who are both fresh out of health and safety protocols, were the other two Nets to finish in double-figures in the Christmas Day thriller. Bembry recorded 15 points (6-of-8 shooting from the field and a perfect 3-of-3 from 3-point range), five rebounds, and a single assist while Brown tallied 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win. For the season, Brembry shooting 12-of-25 (48.0 percent) from deep, including 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) from the corner where he did his damage Saturdany.

“For him to be able to come out after a week absence and play with that type of spirit, energy and to score, defend, rebound and do all those little things is really impressive,” said Nash on Brown’s holiday performance. “We always know Bruce finds a way and that’s why we love him. We love his competitive fire and his ability to be a gamer and make things happen.”

The Nets started Harden, Mills, Brown, Bembry and Claxton for the Christmas Day showdown. The five-man unit forged an early 14-6 lead off a strong opening. All five starters scored in the first four minutes of play, hitting six of their first seven shots (five assists) to take an early 14-6 advantage with 8:15 left in the first.

“They just had a great attitude and approach. You never know how it’s going to go when we had this type of layoff,” said Nash on the start. “They had the right approach. They prepared themselves to play on short notice and we’re solid all night.”

The Lakers picked up their intensity and slowly clawed their way back after a sluggish start, but that didn’t last long. Los Angeles cut the deficit to seven points but Brooklyn matched the physicality increase well in the closing minutes of the frame, growing their lead back up to 15 to hit the second with a 38-23 advantage and shooting 66.7 percent from the field.

Los Angeles opened the second with pace and a string of stops. The result was a quick 9-0 run, cutting the deficit to 40-32, and Nash calling a timeout with Harden on the bench. The run went to 11-0 before Harden returned to the contest and manned the offense.

The comeback for the Lakers almost got over the hump, but the Nets strung together back-to-back four-point plays from Mills and Harden (both on fouls by Darren Collison, brought back by the Lakers on Friday). Although Brooklyn led by double-digits (the largest lead was 17) for the majority of the second, their advantage dwindled to four points and a 66-62 halftime lead.

The backcourt duo of Harden and Mills were the only Nets in double-figures at the break, combining for 42 of the teams’ 66 points. The help didn’t quite follow. The bench contributed only six points while Claxton, Brown and Bembry combined for the other 18 points. Brooklyn topped their first-half shooting 40.8 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range, dishing 14 assists on 24 made shots.

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Lakers took the lead in the opening minute of the third; their first lead since the opening bucket of the contest. The Nets quickly snatched it back and after yet another uncontested three off the hands from Mills, the lead was 82-76 with 6:36 left in the third.

Brooklyn held an 11-point lead with Harden hitting the bench with 3:30 remaining, but the Nets remained scorching hot and gathering a series of stops defensively. Brooklyn concluded the fourth on an extended 23-6 run to take a 20-point lead (102-82) into the fourth — the most points Brooklyn scored through three quarters this season.

And then it got ugly real fast.

Despite going up 23 in the opening minute, the Lakers continued to string together a series of scoring punches and stops, forging a 17-0 run to cut the lead to six points with 5:30 remaining. Mills followed with a right-wing three to snap the teams’ scoreless streak of six minutes. In the end, Brooklyn held their composure late and escaped with a seven-point nail-biting win.

“Just stay positive. They’ve done a good job up until that point. We just needed to make one or two more plays and we got a basket, a stop, and sealed it,” said Nash on weathering the Lakers run late. “That takes a lot of resilience. The guys haven't played for a week and were gassed out there. When they tie it up, crowds go crazy and it takes a lot of toughness to close it out.”

As for Harden and Durant, they summarized the big Christmas win in separate tweets...

The Film Room

It’s been a tumultuous week for the Nets. Brooklyn got hit so hard by COVID-19 health & safety protocols that the Nets were unable to field a roster for all three of their games leading up to Christmas. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and LaMarcus Aldridge remain out with protocols. The Nets were barely able to practice — just once — leading up to the big game.

The silver lining is that James Harden, out since December 10 with health & and safety, got some much-needed rest. He looked it — rested, that is.

It was unclear how Harden would look in the big Christmas Day matchup. For one, he hadn’t played NBA basketball in two weeks. But secondly, he was sharing the floor with just two plus-shooters — Patty Mills and Langston Galloway. The rest — Nicolas Claxton, James Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap, Jevon Carter and Blake Griffin — would only crowd Harden’s precious driving lanes.

It didn’t matter.

Sometimes, basketball is really this simple. The Nets are a different team when James Harden is aggressive, refreshed, and looking light on his feet while attacking downhill. For what felt like the first time all year, his floater was falling in the Staples Center. Sorry, Arena. (That’s going to take some getting used to).

Harden was shooting just 37% on short midrange jumpers coming into Saturday’s game. This looked like 2020-21 Beard.

You know the guy is really himself when he stops on a dime to tee up the stepback three. The confidence of getting himself going with his driving lane really pays dividends in these moments.

Soon, the Nets will get the gang back together with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (partially) back in the fold. Ideally, James Harden is able to maintain this same level of aggression with the whole crew.

Milestone Watch

Where to begin?!?

  • James Harden’s 30 point triple double was the fifth such triple double of his 11-month-long Nets career and the most in franchise history. Moreover, it was only the third time an NBA player had a game of 35+ points, 10+ rebounds and 10+ assists on Christmas Day joining Oscar Robertson, who did it twice in 1961 and 1963.
  • Patty Mills eight 3-pointers were the most ever in a Christmas Day game, breaking a record that had been held by, wait for it, Kyrie Irving who had seven in last season’s holiday game vs. the Celtics. Mills’ fifth 3-pointer of the game was his 100th of the season (31st game). That ties Joe Harris (last season) for the fewest number of games to reach 100 threes in a season in franchise history. It’s also the fastest Mills has made 100 threes in a season in his career.
  • The Nets are a league-best 16-4 on the road against Western Conference opponents since the start of last season (4-1 this season)
  • Despite missing seven players including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving the Nets 38 point total in the first quarter was the second highest of the season and the 66 point total at the half was the highest of the season.
  • The Lakers loss was their fifth straight, the first time in LeBron James career that one of his team has lost that many in a row. James did break Kobe Bryant’s career record for most points in Christmas Day games.

Langston Galloway extended for another 10 days

Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer report that the Nets have extended Langston Galloway to a second 10-day deal...

The Nets do not have to keep Galloway the full 10 days. He can be released at any point in that period. Nets will need to make decisions on extending Shaq Harrison and James Ennis III by Tuesday and Wenyen Gabriel by Friday.

As Sponge Bob might say

What’s next

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Nets will return to action on Monday, Dec. 27 when the team remains in Los Angeles to face the Clippers. The game is scheduled to tip at 10:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on the Christmas Day showdown, check out Silver Screen and Roll — our sister site covering the Lakers.