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Nets ‘Big Three’ combines for only 39 points but Brooklyn defeats Chicago, 105-91

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

It was the return of ‘The Big Three.” Sorta.

The Nets, behind a hot 26-point barrage in the fourth quarter, defeated the Bulls, 105-91, Saturday afternoon. With the win, Brooklyn improves to 47-24 on the season while their home record rises to 27-8. But their post-season fate remains uncertain. Milwaukee beat Miami Saturday night. So the Nets will have to beat the Cavaliers Sunday night or the Bucks will have to fall to the Bulls for Brooklyn to retain the second seed.

“It wasn’t a great game. We weren’t very sharp, but we got the job done and we move on top tomorrow,” said Steve Nash on Saturday’s win. “One last game and we can hopefully have a good performance and be ready for the next week of practice.”

Brooklyn hit the final 12 minutes of play nursing a flimsy eight-point lead. While the “Big Three” were on the bench to start the fourth, the Nets’ second unit stepped up in a big way, behind the play of Jeff Green — who finished with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from deep in 16 minutes off the bench. The veteran hit a pair of 26-foot threes from the wing to balloon the Nets lead to 93-83 with 6:53 remaining, resulting in Chicago calling a timeout.

Harden provided high praise to the role players on the Nets following the win, explaining how he spoke to his role teammates and foreseeing their importance to the Nets championship run.

“They are the pieces. I met with the guys about a week ago and we obviously know myself, Kevin and Kai are going to do what we do at a high level. I wanted to let those guys know they are very, very important to this run we are about to go on,” said Harden on the role players play. “Each individual guy. It can be a different game whether it's rebounding, a shot, a defensive play, a box out whatever it is. They are very, very valuable to this team and we all have to do it together.”

Brooklyn subbed in Durant and Harden and continued to roll, forging an extended 7-0 run to grow their lead to 17 leaving Billy Donovan to pop out of his seat and call a timeout shaking his head. Steve Nash and the Nets cleared their bench, subbing in Alize Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Reggie Perry and Tyler Johnson to join Mike James as they wound down the remainder of the game clock. Following the final buzzer, Perry and TJ both took some threes and got shots up on the court for 20+ minutes.

Kyrie Irving finished with a team-high 22 points to go with two rebounds in 29 minutes. Irving shot 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-7 from deep.

While Irving steered the trio ship, Durant struggled with his shot in Saturday’s win. Durant — who finished with 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from deep — was being fed by his teammates throughout the third quarter in the hope he’d shoot his way out of the slump. James Harden also had a quiet afternoon in the win.

Harden, who played 25 minutes, had a quiet offensive performance of five points to go with seven assists and five rebounds. He only attempted four shots in the win, going 2-of-4 from the field and 1-of-3 from deep.

The Nets are now 6-2 with the “Big Three” on the court together. They’re now 47-24 with a winning percentage of .662, the best in franchise history. When Nash was asked about whether the trio’s performance met his expectations, the Nets head coach’s biggest takeaway is that his ‘Big Three’ got minutes together before the playoffs come around.

“They just got to be out there and feel each other, play together and hopefully that little bit of time today will help move that process forward more quickly than not having that time today.”

Bruce Brown had a good outing as a starter, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes of play. Nicolas Claxton, who played his first game with all three of Brooklyn’s superstar trio, provided a punch off the bench with 10 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Claxton went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field in the win and 2-of-3 from the line. He also grabbed eight boards and blocked three shots.

“Bruce and Nic were outstanding,” said Nash on Brown and Claxton’s performances. “Big reason why we won tonight. Their energy on both ends of the floor was great. Game ball goes to those two. They played really hard, really competitive, disrupted things defensively and were effective offensively as well.”

Joe Harris (left gluteal strain) didn’t play in Saturday’s win, missing his second straight game. Prior to the game, Nash said he's hopeful Harris will make a full recovery before the playoffs, but he’ll miss Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cleveland.

For Chicago, Patrick Williams led the way with 24 points in 33 minutes followed by former Net Thaddeus Young with 19 points in 30 minutes of play. With the loss, the Bulls fall to 30-41 on the year with their play-in tournament hopes hanging by a thread.

The Bulls — without Zach LaVine — came out strong out of the gates, hitting five of their first seven shots - two-of-three from three - to forge a quick 12-0 run with 9:48 remaining in the first. After a Colby White three from the right wing, Nash called a timeout. In that span, Brooklyn was hesitant offensively and only attempted one shot.

“Just try to put a pause on the game and let them get going a little bit,” said Nash on the timeout after the Bulls 12-0 run. “Typical game, Zach LaVine announced out and it’s a late, late game in the season and we came out flat. Just wanted to make sure we took a pause there right before it got any worse; reset and the guys responded.”

The Nets played uphill throughout the first frame but gained some momentum in the closing minutes behind the play of Irving, who scored 13 of the Nets 29 first-quarter points in the period. The Nets guard shot 3-of-4 from deep in the first while the team concluded the first 12 minutes shooting 45.5 percent from three and 47.6 percent overall.

Both teams traded baskets and lead changes, but Brooklyn started to find a consistent rhythm midway through the second.

“We woke up. It was a one o’clock game. We eased our way into the game a little bit, but we found a rhythm on both ends of the ball. That second unit did an unbelievable job of locking in defensively and making shots,” said Harden on the swing in the second quarter.

In the final two minutes, Brooklyn attacked the paint — a category the Net led the Bulls 28-18 at the break — and got strong minutes out of Brown — who scored eight points in 15 minutes — and his gritty play open second chance opportunities.

Although finding a level of consistency offensively, the Nets “Big Three” saw limited minutes together and Durant was struggling with his shot.

Irving was the most aggressive scorer at the break, tallying 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from deep. Durant struggled with his shot throughout the half, going 2-of-11 from the field and 0-of-4 from behind the arc to hit the break with six points, four boards and three assists while Harden recorded three points on 1-of-3 shooting from deep to go with five assists and four rebounds in 13 minutes. Aside from Irving carrying the load, the Nets hit the break nursing a 61-51 point lead while shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep.

The story of the third quarter was Durant and his ongoing shooting woes. After Vucevic picked up a technical foul, Brooklyn went with Durant over Irving — who is the hottest free-throw shooter on the team — to take the free throw. Durant went on to score six points in the third off 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 shooting from deep.

It was a low-scoring third quarter for both squads, combining for 38 points in the frame. The Nets were unable to break the contest open and full away but hit the break with a 79-71 lead behind Irving’s 22 points and Brown’s 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Outside of their offense, the defense has kept the Bulls busy and making it difficult along the perimeter to heat up as Chicago shot 29 percent from deep and suffered seven turnovers (12 points) heading into the fourth, trailing Brooklyn 79-71.

The Film Room

With just 186 total minutes under their collective belts prior to Saturday’s game, Brooklyn’s Big 3 underwent some growing pains. Things just appeared... stagnant and hesitant out the gates; the lack of continuity was undoubtedly a big factor for this Nets group, deploying lineups that had never co-existed until the afternoon.

On this pick-and-roll, Kevin Durant misses a pocket pass to Nicolas Claxton at about the 1-second mark, ultimately throwing up a tough layup through double coverage. This was a trend out the gates — the Nets picking and choosing tough shots while being a second late (or outright missing) passing windows. On other plays, they’d pass up open looks.

Fortunately for Brooklyn, the role players showed up big time. As mentioned above, Jeff Green brought the offensive punch with his three-point shooting. Nicolas Claxton connected on every block imaginable...

But most importantly, Bruce Brown did, well, Bruce Brown things, scrapping for loose balls, skying for offensive boards, cutting into open space, and launching teardrop floaters at a moment’s notice. The dude is just TOUGH, battling in the paint like a pint-sized bruising big man.

“They’ve done their job every single night to the best of their ability. As role players, that’s all you can ask for,” said James Harden. “They play extremely hard, they listen, and they go out there and just do their job every single night. On a team like this with stars or whatever you wanna call it, to have guys like that to fulfill those roles and know what you’re going to get out of them, for a coach, that’s great. And then obviously for me, knowing what they bring to the table every single night and adding the little nuggets I can give them to help them out, to be in certain positions, it’s just extra. They do bring a different energy level to our team that no one really does and we’re going to need them if we make this deep run.”

With seemingly all of Brooklyn’s role players peaking at the right time, the Nets have a built-in infrastructure to coast on while the stars continue to build and improve. That baseline is more than just a luxury; it’s a lifeline should things get tough.

Kyrie Irving shared thoughts on Israel and Palestine

In his postgame presser, Kyrie Irving told reporters that he “really didn’t care about the game.” There were bigger things on his mind.

Instead, Irving used the time to discuss the conflict between Israel and Palestine, stating “if you’re a human being, then you support the anti-war effort that is going on.”

Here’s the full interview with Irving.

For Kyrie and many other NBA players, there’ll be no going back on speaking out. Player empowerment isn’t a fad. It’s the reality you should expect.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action on Sunday, May 16 when the team hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers to wrap up their regular-season schedule. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

With the Bucks win over the Heaat, there is a higher chance the Nets superstar trio will play Sunday.

“We’ll consider it, but it’s just a matter of how they come through. How they feel in the morning and are they available, but if we need that win tomorrow, we’re not adverse to those guys playing,” said Nash on the possibility the ‘Big Three’ plays tomorrow against Cleveland.

For a different perspective on Saturday's contest, check out Blog a Bull - our sister site covering the Chicago Bulls.