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Kyrie Irving scores 43 but Nets go cold late, lose to Magic, 121-113

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Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

It looked promising and then it didn’t.

The Nets played poorly throughout the first three quarters and the feeling was gloomy as the Nets entered the fourth down 19. Ugly. Suddenly, Brooklyn came out with a 16-1 scoring run, on the back of Kyrie Irving, who finished with 43 points, six rebounds, and four assists - making it a four-point game with 7:32 remaining.

The offensive firepower simmered but never reached boil as the Nets kept missing clean looks from deep and going cold when it mattered as the Magic regathered their footing and held on to escape with the 121-113 win.

“We were right there and made that little run at the end. It just came down to getting stops and we couldn’t do that,” Landry Shamet said postgame. “They were making everything so that’s all it really is.”

With the loss, the Nets fall to 28-14 on the season while snapping their six-game winning streak and their eight-game road winning streak. As for the Magic, they snapped their nine-game losing streak and improve to 14-27 on the season.

“A few things. I think we weren’t sharp enough to start the game. The attention to detail wasn’t quite there. We got behind and we really played hard and fought our way back into the game,” Nash said postgame. “The other hand, they made a lot of shots. We weathered it and gave ourselves a chance, cutting it back down to six or less late. We had a lot of good opportunities and a lot of wide-open shots that just didn’t fall.

“If I am being super critical, I think we could’ve started better and been a little sharper there but having said that, I’m proud of the way they fought back. Weathered an incredible shooting night by the Magic and our shots didn’t fall when it counted.”

While Irving had a brilliant game, finishing with 43 points on 19-of-31 shooting, Harden had a quiet one due to early foul trouble. He finished with 19 points, nine assists, and four rebounds in 34 minutes. Joe Harris, who struggled shooting from deep, was the only other Net to finish in double-figures with 16 points, six rebounds, and four assists in 32 minutes. He shot only 3-of-13 from deep, one of his worst shooting games of the season.

The defense wasn’t effective —or every present— early as both teams traded baskets through the first as Brooklyn allowed 35 points. The Magic finished the first shooting over 50 percent from both the field and from deep but the Nets struggled shooting from three in the first going 2-of-10 from deep.

Despite not getting the deep balls to fall early, Brooklyn shot an efficient 12-of-24 from the field, led by Irving with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting overall in 10 minutes of play. Only a late surge Brooklyn kept it close as the Nets trailed, 35-29 after one.

The Magic came out hot from behind the arc to start the second. Orlando’s 3-point prowess helped them construct a 13-7 run as the Nets defensive woes lingered, resulting in Steve Nash calling a timeout with 7:09 remaining down 12. While Harden played only four minutes in the second due to foul trouble with three fouls, Irving carried the load to keep the Nets close, scoring the final 11 points to bring the deficit to two points at the break.

Irving’s 24 first-half points marked the second-most points scored by a Net heading into halftime this season. Complementing Irving’s stellar play, Brooklyn again got big minutes out of Claxton, who had five points in nine minutes but made key stops on 1-on-1 action against both Gordon and Vucevic down low.

While Irving carried the Nets in the first half, helping the Nets shoot 56.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from deep, Orlando was magic from deep going 13-of-22 (59.1 percent), which was the difference-maker. Brooklyn couldn’t capitalize off 3-point shooting but did capitalize down low, outscoring Orlando 32-16 in the paint while recording only four turnovers.

The Nets took an early lead to start the third but the Magic responded by firing bombs from deep as the Nets struggled to defend the arc. On the other end, they couldn’t get their shots to fall throughout the third. Following an 11-5 run boosted by Vucevic’s sharpshooting, Nash called a timeout with 4:40 remaining down 12. The timeout did spark the Nets to play with more energy defensively and the Magic simply couldn’t miss from deep, ending the third with 19 threes to boost their lead 103-84 heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

The 103 points scored by Orlando marked the fifth time this season the Nets allowed 100+ points through three quarters.

Stops, stops, and more stops. That was the formula for the Nets to come back down 19 heading into the fourth. The offense was there as Brooklyn began the final 12 minutes with a commanding 11-0 run, leaving Steve Clifford to call two quick timeouts. It seemed to work as the Magic stabilized. Then, the Nets went cold when it mattered and the Magic escaped with the win. Now let’s look at some film.

The Magic were led by perennial trade target Aaron Gordon, who scored 38 points (14 above his previous high) on 14-of-20 shooting overall and 7-of-8 from three. Evan Fournier also looked like he couldn’t miss at times and finished with 31 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including 6-of-8 from deep. Net killer Nikola Vucevic had a complementary line of 22 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, but shot only 8-of-24. Finally, Khem Birch, who’s been mentioned as a possible Nets target in recent weeks, played 25 minutes, grabbed seven rebounds and scored two points. He’s a 28-year-old Canadian big who no doubt Steve Nash is familiar with.

The Film Room

The Nets felt due for an “L.” After three straight games of, how to put this lightly?... slower starts against the Knicks, Pacers, and now Magic, Brooklyn’s general flow was markedly off against Orlando out the gates. Thank goodness for all that unmatchable superstar talent, am I right?

Kyrie Irving carried the water, put the team on his back, or whatever euphemism you want to use for the Nets against the Eastern Conference bottom-feeding Magic.

Back in the preseason, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had an in-depth discussion about the Nets’ offense in Irving’s “Sitting with Kai” Instagram series. One of the big sticking points was Irving telling Durant he wanted to “post up 8 times a game,” earning a little bit of playful pushback for KD. Well, does this count as one of those eight back-to-basket plays? I sure think so.

This is everything; the quick first-step, the half-spin with the continuation of the dribble, the fadeaway. Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but still. Just magnificent.

And, for what felt like the umpteenth game in a row, Nicolas Claxton outpaced DeAndre Jordan in the seriously-never-ending battle for center minutes (DJ at -11 in plus-minus and Clax at +6, if you’re into that stat), eventually earning the second-year hyperathletic big his second-straight close to a game. (Seriously, right when DeAndre Jordan was able to shed the looming Jarrett Allen, Nicolas Claxton came out of nowhere and filled “The Fro’s” lurking shadow.)

This touchdown pass, from Harden’s MVP-level mitts to Nicolas Claxton’s absurd catch-radius, was something to behold.

Looking like James MaHarden out there. And like the Chiefs quarterback, Harden couldn’t get the W tonight. Ayo!

A new entry for “Quote of the Year”

It’s been a while, but yes! We’re back! “Quote of the year” is BACK, thanks to the always entertaining Bruce Brown and his everlasting source of charisma.

When asked about the Nets defense against Orlando, Bruce Brown responded...

“I’ve never seen Aaron Gordon hit shots like that in my life. Just a tough night.”

Yeah, that one’s gonna be tough to beat. We might have a winner, and it’s March.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will return to action on Sunday, March 21 when the team hosts the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center. The game is set to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Orlando Pinstriped Post - our sister site covering the Orlando Magic for SB Nation.