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James Harden, Kyrie Irving combine for 54 as Nets escape with bounce-back win, beating Wizards, 113-106

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Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a bounce-back win with some revenge mixed in is always nice.

Led by Brooklyn’s backcourt of James Harden and Kyrie Irving, who combined for 54 points, the Nets avenged two tough losses against the Wizards, defeating Washington, 113-106, Sunday. With the win, Brooklyn has won 15 of their last 17 games, the best record of any NBA team over that stretch, and extends their winning streak at home to four, improving to 29-14 on the season.

“I think we got enough stops and they are a tough team for us to cover. We’d like us just to take that next step but if you really look at the game, we gave up 20 points in the first five minutes. We held them to 86 in 43 minutes so, pretty good when you take a step back and look at it,” Steve Nash said postgame. “Our defensive intensity was there and they went on their run. A couple of mistakes allowed them back in it late but cleaned it up, cut the stops, got the rebounds, and made a couple of buckets down the stretch to finish it off.”

AND, Blake Griffin, in his Nets debut, ended a 464-day dunking drought, his first points as a Net coming on a two-handed driving slam in the fourth.

The win didn’t come easy as shades of the Nets' choking loss to the Wizards on January 31 shadowed Brooklyn. The Nets struggled to put Washington away as the Wizards kept hanging in there. But the Nets never lost the lead.

Brooklyn entered the final 12 minutes of play up five, called timeout with 3:23 remaining up three, hoping to put the game away. The Wizards cut the deficit to one but Nicolas Claxton, who finished with 16 points and a career-high three blocks off the bench, slammed home a thunderous dunk to put Brooklyn up four with 1:29 remaining. It was Claxton’s fifth game in double-figures this season and the third straight game where he was on the court at game’s end.

Then, it was a two-point game when Irving, who finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, and six assists fed Claxton off a nifty inside pass to connect on an and-one to put the Nets up five. After a big stop, Washington mysteriously failed to foul until there were 3.2 seconds on the clock. Irving capped the game with two free throws to give Brooklyn a seven-point win. Bottom line: despite some sloppiness, the Nets finished the win on a 10-4 scoring run.

Harden led the show finishing with 26 points to go along with eight assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes. DeAndre Jordan had a solid game as he ended with 12 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. Joe Harris had 10 points in 35 minutes. As a team, the Nets shot 48.9 percent overall and 31.0 percent from deep.

For Washington, Russell Westbrook with a game-high 29 points in 39 minutes followed by Alex Len with 20 points in 29 minutes as the Wizards concluded the loss shooting 53.2 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep. But Bradley Beal, the league’s leading scorer, had only 17, going 6-of-15.

The Nets, who lead the league in points per game (120.4) went up against the Wizards, who leads the league in most points allowed (120.2).

Nash has said it multiple times. He wants his players to come out strong but for the second straight game, the Nets started the game sluggish on both ends. The Wizards had everything working in the opening minutes. It was such a sluggish start that Washington constructed a quick 20-6 lead with 7:13 remaining, hitting eight of their first 10 shots, forcing Steve Nash to call an early timeout to regroup.

Down 14 early, the Nets responded with a 10-5 run and Griffin checked in for the Nets with 4:37 remaining followed by a loud welcome from the 1,000+ fans in attendance. Griffin backed up his ovation with a perfectly timed screen to give Landry Shamet space to fit a three in the corner, beginning a 9-0 run, and taking a hard charge on Beal to draw his second foul. Brooklyn ended the first 12 minutes trailing 30-25, shooting 44.4 percent overall but a rough 14.4 percent from deep.

Harden, who scored 11 points in the second, was in his bag to open the quarter as he casually heated up, extending the 29-10 scoring run to put the Nets up 34-30 with 9:30 remaining in the second. As the second quarter progressed, Brooklyn turned up the heat and got a shooting spark from Joe Harris, who hit two threes in the period. The Wizards responded with a small run but the Nets closed out the first half with a 63-56 lead but not on a positive note.

Harden took a hard shot to the head from Garrison Matthew’s shoulder while collecting a loose ball at halfcourt and remained down for the final seconds. As the halftime buzzer sounded, the medical staff assisted the Nets superstar and Harden was able to walk to the locker room on his own power rubbing his neck.

Brooklyn concluded the first half shooting 54 percent overall and 35.3 percent from deep. Brooklyn capitalized off Washington’s carelessness, scoring 21 points off the Wizards’ 12 turnovers. On top of scoring off turnovers, the Nets held the edge in the paint at the break, outscoring the Wizards 36-32 in that category - an area Brooklyn needed to lock down in order to win.

The Nets held momentum throughout the third quarter but bad news occurred with 2:23 remaining with Brooklyn up nine. Landry Shamet rolled his right ankle on Raul Neto’s foot off a straightaway three. Shamet remained down on the floor holding his ankle in pain and following a timeout, he was helped off the floor by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who did not play in the win, and Bruce Brown. As expected, he did not return to the game.

Brooklyn ended the third holding a 88-83 lead shooting 51.4 percent overall and 30.4 percent from deep while recording only six turnovers heading into the final 12 minutes of play. Irving and Harden led the charge for Brooklyn as Brooklyn’s backcourt combined for 46 points.

Griffin kicked off the fourth for the Nets with a strong dunk off a pump fake to record his first points as a Net. Following the slam, Brooklyn’s bench erupted while Griffin cracked a bright smile as Brooklyn collected an 8-2 run, boosting their lead to 10.

“It felt great. I knew once it happened it was going to be a thing,” said Blake about his big dunk. “So I tried not to look at the bench when I was coming back down, but then I kind of peeked over and I saw DeAndre Jordan all the way out on the side, and I saw everybody standing up. It was hurt not to smile in that situation. It felt good to get that out of the way and move on.”

Now, let us dive into some fine film work.

The Film Room

There needs to be a federal investigation into the Blake Griffin signing. I mean, seriously. The dude deep-faked his way through 19 games in Detroit, missing threes, looking sluggish. And yet, he comes to Brooklyn and does....

This?

And as the league-leader in charges per game, doing exactly that in Basquiat threads?

Or how about a dash of Blake’s playmaking, maybe the biggest thing he brings to the table, especially in relation to the rest of Brooklyn’s bigs?! Notice how Griffin quickly gives up the rock in the post the second he feels the dig, eventually leading to the bucket.

Obviously, there’s a need for a larger sample. But the early signs are good. Very good. If DeAndre Jordan continues to be a matchup-dependent option —— and less of a starting-caliber big —— then there’s a real chance Brooklyn stumbled on its starting five-man for the veteran minimum. Wouldn’t that be kooky?

James Harden feels ‘great’ after hard blow to jaw in second quarter

James Harden took a hard shot by Garrison Matthews to the head in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Harden remained down on the court for the remainder of the quarter and walked off on his own power. He finished the game and after the win, Harden spoke about how he was feeling.

“I’m great. I got hit and it’s part of basketball.”

Harden said his jaw took the hit by Matthew’s shoulder but he will be fine and ready to go for Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trailblazers.

“I got hit in the jaw. My neck kind of twitched,” Harden said. “I’ll be fine though. It’s nothing. I’ll get some treatment, get some rest, and be ready to go for the next game.”

Yet ANOTHER contender for “Quote of the Year”

Nicolas Claxton was asked about his hunger to guard smaller players, especially at the All-Star level of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. His response? Priceless.

“Deep down, I’m smiling because if teams wanna continue to do that, they might get a couple of buckets. But I’m going to get more stops, definitely.

“Deep down, I’m smiling. I’m ready. I know the scouting report. I know what players want to do. I’m a huge basketball fan so I’ve been watching all of these guys since I was young. Just me being out there, using my IQ, using my footwork, guarding without fouling.

“It’s fun, honestly. I wasn’t able to switch 1-through-5 last year at all, so me being able to switch? I think that’s huge. That’s huge for us, especially if teams want to go at me directly. That’s just taking away the flow from other players. Like I said, I might get scored on a couple of times, but for the most part, I’m good.”

Look at Nic, folks. Slowly getting more chatty, slowly showing more and more confidence. And now, that confidence is practically overflowing.

This guy is going to be so good.

Landry Shamet to undergo scan and imaging for right ankle sprain Monday, Nash says.

Landry Shamet suffered a right ankle sprain in the closing minutes of the third and was helped off the court by Bruce Brown and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot as he put very little pressure on the ankle.

“He’ll definitely have a scan and imaging tomorrow, and we’ll go from there” Nash said. “I don’t have any further details tonight, unfortunately.”

If Shamet is out for an extended time, does that make the signing of J.J. Redick post-buyout from New Orleans more likely?

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Handley

What’s next

The Nets will return back to action when the team hits the road to face the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday, March 23. The game is set to tip-off at 10:00 PM ET and will be the first game of a back-to-back as Brooklyn will face the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, March 24 at 10:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Bullets Forever - our sister site on SB Nation covering the Washington Wizards.