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Truly Scary! Short-handed Nets come back from 24-point deficit, burning Suns, 128-124

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Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was Sacramento all over again for the late-night crowd!

Without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets pulled off a remarkable 24-point comeback, burning the Suns late, 128-124, on the back of James Harden who finished with 38 points, 11 assists and seven points, arguably his best game since the Nets acquired him a month ago.

The Nets extended their current winning streak to four games —three on their West Coast swing and ended the Suns’ six-game streak. The Nets are now 18-12, one game behind the conference-leading 76ers in the East.

“All vibes in there right now. All vibes,” Nash said on the mood in the locker room following the comeback win. “The guys are rightfully excited. It’s great morale and a boost especially missing Kevin and Kai and finding a way to make up a 24-point deficit. We showed a lot of character, a lot of heart, and as a coaching staff - that makes you proud.”

Harden was assisted by Joe Harris, with 23, Jeff Green with 18, Tyler Johnson (in a surprise start) with 17, and Landry Shamet with his second straight 13-point game off the bench and some solid defense.

Following an ugly first half, which included Phoenix scoring 75 points at the half (second-most points allowed in a first half this season), Brooklyn flipped the script and fought back, behind The Beard and good defense, coming all the way back from a 24-point deficit. The Nets outscored the Suns, 74-49, in the second half.

It was the second-biggest comeback in team history (24) and the biggest halftime deficit a Nets team had ever overcome (21).

“I just think we got more aggressive on the ball,” said Jeff Green of the second-half turnaround. “Our communication was good; it got better throughout the game. But I feel like we were just aggressive on the ball. We didn’t allow Devin (Booker) and CP to get to their spots as comfortable as they wanted to. And then we rebounded. We rebounded and got out in transition, and that’s what forced open looks. I think the aggression really turned the tide for us.”

The strategy was simple. The Nets chipped away and chipped away, led by Harden and Harris. With 6:30 left in the fourth, the Nets had gotten with two, 108-106. The Suns, led by Chris Paul, extended the lead with five straight points with the veteran Paul scoring 11 straight Phoenix points in three minutes to give the Suns a 124-116 lead. Brooklyn could have given up then, but stuck to their guns. Instead, the Suns never scored again.

Then, with the game coming down to the final minute, Harden took over, drilling a 27-foot three to give Brooklyn their first lead since the first quarter...

The dagger followed by a huge defensive stop by Shamet on Devin Booker. Holding a two-point lead, Harden drew a foul on Booker and calmly hit two big free throws to extend Brooklyn’s lead to four points with 11.3 remaining. Jae Crowder and Paul missed three’s as the Nets completed their run and left Arizona with the win!

Harden shot 14-of-22 overall, 5-of-11 from three, and 5-of-5 from the line as he racked up his best scoring game of his Nets tenure in 37 minutes. Harden is now shooting an even 90 percent from the line (second on the team to Irving who’s at 91.8 percent.)

“It’s the true definition of a team. When one man or two men go down, it’s next man up,” Harden said after the win. “Tonight was a perfect example of that. We got down 20+ at halftime and we didn’t give up. We didn’t quit. We kept fighting, cut the deficit down, kept fighting, and gave ourselves a chance to win the game and things went our way.”

Harris had a strong game, finishing with those 22 points, four rebounds, and one assist in 31 minutes of play. Harris shot 8-of-13 overall and 4-of-9 from deep.

TJ had himself a strong revenge game against the team that cut him a year ago as he finished with 17 points and five rebounds in 32 minutes of play. Johnson shot 5-of-10 from the field with all of his makes coming from three-point land.

“Tyler was great. He’s had a nice little run for us and we love his competitiveness,” Nash said on Johnson. “He can guard and he’s also been very confident knocking down threes. He is just competitive and plays with high energy. It gives our team some life.”

And once again, Green provided a must-needed punch off the bench with 18 points in 25 minutes, going 7-of-14 overall and 2-of-4 from deep. Brooklyn topped the win shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from deep.

For Phoenix, Paul kept them afloat in the final minutes as he finished with 29 points in 35 minutes, including 11 points in three fourth-quarter minutes, followed by Devin Booker with 22 points in 36 minutes.

Now, let’s dive into some film.

The Film Room

With a shorthanded squad of just 11 active players, this was the night to experiment. For those who (understandably) missed the game given this God-forsaken 10:30 PM start time, you may be thinking, “Oooh, did Noah Vonleh play real minutes? Did Andre Roberson make his debut??”

Well... no. Sorry to inform you of the bad news. But what the Nets DID tinker with was some of the schemes. Particularly, the defense.

Towards the end of a first-half, the Nets mixed in some zone. Here’s a clip, courtesy of our guy Anthony Puccio of The Association.

Playing in zone doesn’t just mean standing in one specific spot and sticking to it; no, in order to succeed with an NBA zone, defenders need to make sure they actually match-up with the opponent. Otherwise, you’re just kind of mindlessly guarding space, which is exactly what the Nets do in the clip above; neither one of Jeff Green nor DeAndre Jordan picks up Jae Crowder in the “dunker” spot, and some passing along the perimeter gets the Nets in rotation, leading to the open shot.

“The wone wasn’t great, but you’ve gotta try it at some point,” said Nash postgame. “You’ve gotta take a chance, take a risk to change the game. The man wasn’t great in the first-half –– some of it was we were a little sloppy, a little late. And then part of it, they made every shot.”

The beauty of “just trying things” is that sometimes, you stumble into a winning formula against the right opponent. With backs against the wall, that is when ingenuity can be created. That’s what happened with the Nets tonight; they slightly altered the switching defense, bringing DeAndre Jordan closer to the level of screens in the second half, and tinkered with a few things on offense –– using Harden as a ball-screener, for example –– to throw the Suns off the scent.

Basketball is a funny sport like that. Sometimes, it helps to hit the 24-point deficit rock bottom. For the Nets, there’s sure a lot that can be learned from the second-half adjustments that Nash and co. made to pull off the best comeback win of the season.

Nash provides updates on the 7/11 duo

Brooklyn announced on Thursday afternoon that Kyrie Irving would be missing the game against the Suns because of “back soreness,” which can be a bit of a red flag; back problems linger, they flare up at inopportune moments, and they require pretty intensive rest if serious.

Fortunately, it sounds like Kyrie’s back injury is minor.

“I’m hoping it’s very short-term day-to-day. He was feeling it during the game yesterday,” said Nash. “He got treatment at halftime and we knew it was –– like I said –– he was feeling it. We all hope and I think Kyrie believes it’s not a long-term thing, so hopefully we can monitor this in the short-term and he’ll be back soon.”

As for KD? Well, not too much to report if you’ve been keeping up with the news. The left hamstring strain that flared up on Sunday evening appears to still be a factor.

“I don’t have an update on that. I think it’s still too early, though I do think we’re all optimistic that it’s not a long-term thing,” said Nash. “But we couldn’t put a time frame on it. We still have to monitor. We have to see how it settles and how much strength he can develop in it, and that’s only gonna happen when it’s ready.”

Steve Nash and Nets identified Andre Roberson for his defense, talks fit

Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash spoke about Andre Roberson, his newest defender. The Nets head coach said there was a possibility the defensive wing can see minutes but the opportunity would need to present itself during the game.

“It’s a tough question,” Nash said. “I can see that being a possibility of him playing but I think that has to present itself during the night having just shaking his hand for the first time. We’ll see how it goes. This is a third in four nights on a lot of travel. We’ll see what presents itself.’

When asked about what Roberson can bring to the Nets, it was defense that led the Nets to sign him, said Nash. The Nets head coach also said how he just met Roberson tonight prior to the game.

“Andre has experience as a defensive wing. He has some length and experience on the defensive end so having a piece to go out there and swarm people down as part of our defense is kind of the profile we identified in him. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance to bring him into the mix and gel. As I said, I just shook his hand for the first time so I haven’t got a chance to talk to him about what we do. We will see how he fits in.”

Roberson didn’t play vs. the Suns. Nor did another recent signing, Noah Vonleh. Iman Shumpert, another top defender, has yet to play for Brooklyn, suffering a hamstring strain while working out in Brooklyn.

Steve Nash on returning to Phoenix: ‘This place means a lot to me.’

When you think of the Phoenix Suns, one, if not, the first name that pops into your head is Steve Nash.

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The Nets head coach spent a total of 10 seasons with the Suns, which included back-to-back NBA MVP seasons (2005 & 2006), multiple playoff appearances, and is the franchise’s leader in assists, 3-PT FG made and attempted, and free throw percentage. The accolades go on and on.

When asked about returning to Phoenix as a head coach, Nash expressed his love for the city of Phoenix, noting the return as special.

“This place means a lot to me obviously. I had some incredible years here. Some incredible teams. teammates, coaches, and the organization was first class. The fans here are fantastic,” Nash said. “I lived here for 10 years and I loved every minute of it. To come back here and actually be in the game playing against them is special. I feel very fortunate and I’m not the most sentimental person but it’s really exciting driving into the arena and seeing some familiar faces and people that mean a lot to me is very special.”

Mike D’Antoni, who spent six years as an assistant and head coach for Phoenix, and Amare Stoudemire, who played the first eight years of his NBA career with the Suns, headline the Nets’ return to Phoenix as well.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

No KD, no Kyrie, but the Beard!

How good of an offensive player is James Harden?!?

Last year, “The Big One” averaged 34.3 points per game. Two years ago, he averaged 36.1., the best NBA scoring average since Michael Jordan averaged 39.1 in 1986-87. Only three NBA players have ever averaged more than 34 points per game in two different seasons: Harden, Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

And the boss was happy

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action for a possible NBA Finals preview as the team travels to Los Angeles to take on the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday, Feb. 18. The game is set to tip at 10:00 PM ET and will be televised on TNT.

For a different perspective, check out Bright Side Of The Sun - our sister site on SB Nation covering the Phoenix Suns.