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James Harden scores season high 44 as Brooklyn escapes Motor City with nail-biter, 113-111

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Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets bought the motor to the Motor City leaving with a hard-fought win and plenty of bruises. In the end, a win is a win ... and now the Nets have 31 of them.

Behind James Harden’s near triple-double of 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, the Nets escaped Detroit with a big road win to close out their three-game road trip, defeating the gritty Pistons, 113-111. The Nets improved to 31-15 on the season with the road win.

As Harden said, post-game when asked if he thought games like this put him in the “conversation” for MVP: “I feel I am the MVP.”

Steve Nash wasn’t pleased with the performance from his team Friday night. Despite the Nets ending their three-game road trip with two wins and a loss, Nash characterized the win as sloppy.

“It wasn’t a great performance. We won the game. We went 2-1 on the trip, which is all positive but, sloppy,” Nash said. “Details weren’t good enough and just felt like Detroit wanted it more than we did too often. This is part of the process and the journey to have experiences like this and learn from them.

“We talked about it for a little while after the game. We can address it at practice and we’re going to face similar teams coming up who have nothing to lose, going to see a target on us and we have to be prepared to match their energy.”

It wasn’t peaceful either as the game with filled with high emotions, lots of chippiness, five combined technical fouls and an ejection as the game came down to the final seconds.

Brooklyn nursed a two-point lead heading into the final minute when Jeff Green, who finished with eight points in 30 minutes, drained a big three in the corner to lift the lead to five with 58.7 remaining. Jerami Grant, who scored 19 in 37 minutes, followed with a pull-up two to cut the deficit but Nicolas Claxton, who contributed three points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes, snagged a big offensive rebound to help the Nets drain the clock holding a three-point lead.

With 6.1 seconds remaining, Mason Plumlee hit one of two free throws as the Nets led 112-110. Joe Harris hit two clutch free throws, Plumlee missed one of two. But after (another) botched inbounds play, the Pistons had some life. Saddiq Bey grabbed the inbounds and the Pistons had one last hope with 3.3 seconds remaining down two. Corey Joseph drove down the lane and missed a layup with Claxton all over him as Brooklyn escaped Little Caesars Arena with the win. With the loss, Detroit falls to 12-32 on the season.

“They play extremely hard,” Harris said on the Pistons. “This is a lot of really young and hungry players and obviously, they have some really talented players too. The three times we faced them, particularly the two times we played against them here, they just really wanted it a lot more than we have. It goes back to what Steve was telling us at the end of the game - we were really lucky to come away with the win.”

Harris was on the same page as Nash in terms of the team's performance following the win.

“We didn’t play particularly well across the whole game, especially in the fourth quarter. There were definitely a lot of miscues,” Harris said postgame. “I think defensively, a lot of fouls and easy rim attempts. Open threes and his sentiment was that we were very lucky to come away with the win.”

While Harden had his fingerprints all over the win as he scored 40+ points for the third time this season, Griffin followed with a huge boost off the bench in his return game to Detroit. Griffin’s line which included scored 17 points and three rebounds as well as a charge, two 3-pointers, a technical and a thunderous alley-oop, served as a big x-factor for the Nets in Friday’s win. After almost key play, Griffin turned toward the Detroit bench and let them know he had more than enough left.

It started the way it often does. The Nets opened the contest with one of their favorite plays - getting Joe Harris an open look from deep off a catch-and-shoot. No surprise. Their sharpshooter leads the league in that category. Brooklyn continued to target Harris throughout the first as he attempted four shots in the period, going 1-of-4. Harris finished with nine points on 3-of-8 shooting overall in 29 minutes,

It didn’t take long for refs to assess a technical foul. DeAndre Jordan picked up a quick one following a no-call on the offensive end with 7:14 remaining. Jordan had a clear argument as Rodney McGruder forced visible contact with Jordan on the defensive block. He channeled the early frustration with two consecutive dunks set up by Harden as the Nets trailed 16-14 with 5:13 remaining.

Griffin checked in with 3:52 remaining, facing his former team and quickly made an impact. Griffin not only took his third charge in three games but hit a contested three in front of the Nets bench as he finished the first quarter with seven points in three minutes off the bench to lead Brooklyn in scoring.

Brooklyn closed their solid first quarter on an 8-3 run, holding a 34-27 lead after one. The Nets shot 50.0 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from deep, led by their strong free-throw shooting. The Nets shot 12-of-13 from the line, marking the most free throws made in an opening period since December of 2009.

Similar to the first quarter, the second quarter opened with some chippiness between former teammates. Griffin and Isaiah Stewart. The two were battling from the beginning of the quarter and got into some bumping, resulting in the officials stepping in and hit the monitors. After an official review, Stewart was assessed a flagrant two and was ejected while Griffin picked up a technical foul with 9:50 remaining with Brooklyn up 38-32. Griffin exited the floor with 7:52 remaining in the first half with three fouls and did not return till after the half.

Following the altercation, the Nets found their rhythm and it started, as it has for weeks, with Harden. The Nets superstar, who scored 12 points in the second, began to heat up and facilitate while Brooklyn’s defense picked up their intensity in the final minutes of the first half. The Nets hit the break with a nine-point lead (59-50) and shot 46.2 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep. Outside of Harden, balanced scoring stuffed the stat sheet. The Nets bench, led by Griffin with eight points, contributed 18 points.

It was a tight third quarter that included yet another technical foul, this one coming at the hands of Harden who was vocal after an out-of-bounds call. Detroit did not go away putting the clamps on in the paint - an area the Nets continued to stuff. Brooklyn got sloppy with the basketball, turning over the ball five times in the third, resulting in six points for Detroit.

With 2:04 remaining, the Piston took their first lead since the first as Nash called a timeout to regroup. Brooklyn picked up a huge defensive stop and with 11.8 remaining, Harden hit a step-back three over Hamidou Diallo to put the Nets up 82-78 heading into the final 12 minutes of play where the Nets finally put it away.

The Nets got some breathing room early behind a 27-foot three from Griffin followed by a Harden step-back three plus the foul but couldn’t make the free throw. Harden continued to unleash from deep and Johnson began to make it rain from deep with back-to-back threes as the Nets forged a 13-2 run to boost their lead to 11. Detroit weathered the storm but the Nets escaped with the win as the final buzzer sounded.

The Film Room

*Ahem*

The Brooklyn Nets might’ve gotten themselves a steeeeeaaaaal.

Blake Griffin was everywhere against his former team, playing deep in the paint in help defense position, putting his body on the line for charges, and drawing fouls like a pro. His three-point shot made an appearance as well, a welcome sight for the Nets given his struggles from deep in Detroit this season. It’s an odd, methodical release; but it works.

Where Blake really comes in handy, especially with Kyrie Irving out of the fold, is those non-Harden minutes. The Beard has been playing (*checks stats, winces*) A LOT since landing in Brooklyn. Running the offense out of the post to make use of Griffin’s top-notch passing is a more than viable source of attack. Check this skip pass out; it’s out of a double-team!

There were a couple of instances in which Blake got lost on a closeout while tracking a smaller player. That’s something to watch. But overall? Solid stuff.

Steve Nash sticks with familiar rotation as Chris Chiozza, Reggie Perry and Alize Johnson did not play

Prior to Friday’s win over the Pistons, Steve Nash said he’ll stick with a familiar rotation against Detroit. While Nash played a nine-man rotation, which featured Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, along with Nicolas Claxton, Tyler Johnson, and Blake Griffin off the bench, Brooklyn had three DNP players.

Alize Johnson, who impressed in his 10-day debut leading the shorthanded Nets with 23 points along with 15 rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes, did not play Friday night. Brooklyn’s two-way players, Chris Chiozza and Reggie Perry, did not see minutes as well.

Steve Nash feels great about roster, declines to talk about free agents on buy-out market

The Nets remained quiet at the trade deadline for the second straight year. While the trading has concluded for the remainder of the season, Nash spoke about how he doesn’t give too much thought into the movement around the other teams and key contenders.

“I don’t really consider too much from the other teams. I really worry about our group and trying to make sure we’re staying on course,” Nash said. “For me, I haven’t really dug in too deep but teams are always going to try to improve and get themselves a more comprehensive roster. You expect that.

Nash feels great about how the roster currently stands. The Nets head coach noted the chemistry and overall environment backing his thoughts on how the roster currently stands as the end goal is to compete for a championship comes playoffs.

“For us, we feel great about our roster. We have great chemistry and environment so, we’re happy to go through the deadline, continue to move forward with this group, continue to work, get better and put ourselves to compete at the end of the season.”

When asked about the recent reports about Brooklyn making a run for LaMarcus Alridge, who is a free agent following his buy-out with the San Antonio Spurs. Nash declined to talk about any players who are free agents, directing the question to Sean Marks and the front office.

“I’m not going to comment on any players. That’s for the front office and not on our roster so, I’ll leave that one from Sean [Marks] and his group to discuss.”

As it stands, Brooklyn has one roster spot opening, one 10-day contract (Alize Johnson) and two two-way players in Chris Chiozza and Reggie Perry.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley...

What’s next

The Nets will return home from their three-game road trip when the team faces the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, March 29. The game is set to tip at 7:30 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Detroit Bad Boys - our sister site covering the Detroit Pistons for SB Nation.