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Nets overcome 21-point deficit, snap four-game losing skid, down Nuggets, 125-119

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Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It was shades of their first meeting against Denver this season. The Nets fought and fought to overcome an early double-digit deficit, winning it in the last minute.

Brooklyn overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat the fatigued Nuggets, 125-119. With the win, the Nets season-high four-game losing skid is broken and the team improves to 44-24 on the season. The Nets are now back in second in the East, a half-game ahead of the Bucks with four games to play.

“They just played hard as hell. They fought, scrapped, and a lot of things have to go right but when you play that hard, you cover up mistakes and give yourself an opportunity. It was kind of the tale of the game was those two halves,” said Steve Nash on the comeback win. “The first half, there was a little bit of paralysis by analysis. There was a little bit of loss of composure and in the second half, just dug deep and fought. [I’m] really proud of the effort they put in and I think they proved something for themselves tonight.”

As the game entered the fourth, fatigue caught up to Denver, who was playing the second leg of a back-to-back.

The Nets took their first lead since it was 3-0 off a 23-foot corner three from Joe Harris — who finished with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field — to go up 111-110 with 6:12 remaining off an 11-2 run.

The game came down to the wire with the Nets entering the final minute of play nursing a flimsy 120-119 lead. Brooklyn caught a huge break late after a costly turnover from Harris. Facundo Campazzo stole a poor pass from Harris but the Nuggets failed to capitalize on the fast break, giving the Nets the ball with 21.6 seconds still nursing that one-point lead.

Denver fouled Kevin Durant off the inbound, sending him to the charity strike, where he hit both free throws to boost Brooklyn’s lead to 122-119 with 21.0 seconds remaining. Jeff Green tied up Nikola Jokic for a jump ball but again Denver failed to capitalize. The Nuggets big man missed a six-foot floater and uncharacteristically lost it, believing that he’d been fouled on the play by Nic Claxton. He was assessed a technical foul after jawing with the officials. (The NBA L2M Report upheld the no-call. See below.)

Durant iced the game with three free throws, scoring the last nine points for the Nets. It wasn’t just Brooklyn’s offense that dominated the fourth. The Nets held Denver to 15 points in the final stanza.

“We didn’t change anything. We just worked together and worked harder. There was less doubt. Sometimes that the benefit of being down is you don’t have time to analyze or doubt. You just got to play hard and pick it up,” said Nash on the Nets effort in the second half. “It was a great effort from the guys in the second half.”

Durant finished with 33 points, 11 points and seven assists. Griffin had his first 20-point game as a Net. And Green, as reliable as ever, had 15 points off the bench.

“That’s who we need Blake to be in terms of being out there and being an option for us and being a playmaker,” said Irving on Griffin’s performance. “His game has evolved. We understand that he’s going to play a different style with us out there and that's going to compliment us when he figures that role out. Right now, we just need him to stay aggressive playing as our big, especially on that defensive end. We’re asking a lot out of him, so we just got to help him out as best we can. Tonight was a great stepping stone for him as well as his role on our team.”

Kyrie Irving, who kept the Nets within striking distance during the middle quarters, finished with 31 points and four assists on 11-of-17 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from deep.

“The energy in the locker room has changed drastically since we started the game. I’ll tell you that. Just coming out and getting embarrassed like that on someone else’s home floor for the third consecutive game, giving up 30+ points in the first quarter, and then climbing out of a hole. Coming out of halftime, we just intensified our effort on both ends of the floor,” said Irving on the victory. “We just had to withstand a lot of their runs.”

Denver scorched Brooklyn out of the gates with higher energy and physicality on both ends of the floor. The Nets lacked defensive intensity, resulting in Porter Jr to get early, scoring 11 of the Nuggets' first 13 points, leaving Steve Nash to call an early timeout trailing 13-5.

Brooklyn gathered their footing and responded, cutting the deficit to six points (26-20) — the closest the Nets got in the first, which included a right-handed hammer slam from Durant, leaving the Ball Arena crowd in awe.

After a short burst from Brooklyn, Porter Jr continued on his hot start, finishing with 17 of Denver’s 37 first-quarter points. The Nuggets finished the first frame shooting 60.9 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from behind the arc, taking a 13-point lead (37-24).

It was an offensive clinic for Denver in the second and an embarrassing quarter for Brooklyn. The Nuggets, behind the deep bench pieces, forged a 7-0 run. The run was broken by a 26-foot three from Durant but the momentum was still in Denver’s hands and scoring with ease, nursing a 52-40 advantage with 6:39 remaining in the second.

It got even more ugly as the quarter progressed. Denver’s ball movement - 17 assists - and sharpshooting (43.5 percent from deep) killed Brooklyn, leaving a visibly frustrated Nash to call a timeout in a 19-point hole with 4:11 remaining in the half. The frustrated Nets struggled to stop the bleeding and their offense was stagnant with only Irving — 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting - and Durant — 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting — being the only Nets in double-figures at the break. Meanwhile, Denver had four in that category, led by Porter Jr with 21 points on a tearing 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from deep as Denver hit the break with a 15-point lead.

The Nets needed to come out of the locker room strong and did, shifting the game’s momentum and forging a 13-4 run sparked by a pair of threes from Griffin and the parking lot shooting of Irving to cut the deficit six points, leaving Mike Malone to call an early timeout with 9:22 remaining in the third frame.

Enter Griffin — who couldn’t miss in the opening half of the third and keeping Brooklyn within firing distance on a 15-0 run to cut the deficit to three points midway through the frame. The veteran went on to score 14 of Brooklyn’s 41 third-quarter points in the period.

“His threes kind of got us back in the game. I really thought it was his defense. It’s a tough matchup. That kid [Nikola Jokic] is so good, but he battled,” said Nash on Griffin’s performance. “He scrapped. He made him work for it and as did the other guys. Blake was fantastic with his three-balls in the third quarter but also just his willingness to battle. Jokic is the MVP this year and he was able to battle and make it hard on him.”

The scorching hot Griffin was subbed out and replaced with Claxton. The Nets young big defended Jokic who finished with 29 well in the final minutes of the third but the Nets offensive firepower did the damage, going 16-of-19 in the period to slice the deficit to seven heading into the fourth.

“We had that confidence,” said Griffin. “To play like that out of halftime, I mean that just shows we had a different energy about us. I think that hopefully gets us back on track. But we’ve still got work to do. If it happens again, we have gotta keep the faith and do the same thing we did — dig deep and play harder.”

What’s the lesson here? The Nets are never out of a game when two or more of the “Big Three” are on the court.

The Film Room

This is going to sound like lazy analysis. And to be truthful, it partially is.

But sometimes the opponent just gets hot. There! I said it!

Respect due to Markus Howard, Facundo Campazzo, and the rest of Denver’s unexpected heroes, but just have a look at some of these shots.

Like... there is, quite literally, nothing you can do about this as a defense.

Here, giving up a side-step three to Markus Howard, who has played just 105 total minutes in his NBA career, is certainly a look you’re okay with surrendering. Yet, the Nuggets make the Nets pay. But again, there’s just nothing you can do about this.

Which only meant the pendulum was only bound to swing Brooklyn’s way. Shooting 51% from three will do that for you!

A big part of Brooklyn’s three-point boom came from none other than Blake Griffin, Brooklyn’s tremendous buyout market grab that just seems to do a little bit of everything. 4 three-pointers in the third quarter in one thing...

But when he leverages those three-point makes into at-rim shots with fancy finishes, THAT is where the money is made.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Blake Griffin was a massive steal.

NBA’s L2M Report confirms correct no-call on Nicolas Claxton’s defensive stop on Nikola Jokic

As noted above, the Nets were nursing a 122-119 lead with 15.6 seconds remaining before some late-game fireworks. Off a jump ball, Nikola Jokic gathered the ball loose and went into to body of Nicolas Claxton, missing the bank shot. A frustrated Jokic immediately took issue with the call, resulting in a critical technical.

The NBA’s L2M (Last Two Minute) Report, out Sunday afternoon, confirmed the “no call” on the play, clarifying things with the comment: “Claxton (BKN) moves toward Jokic (DEN) and marginal contact occurs as Jokic brings his left arm into Claxton as he retreats his arm into a vertical position.”

Kevin Durant took and made the technical which was, in essence, the dagger.

Milestone after milestone

  • The Nets shot a season-high 62.1% from the field.
  • Brooklyn outscored Denver 28-15 in the fourth quarter, marking the fewest points the Nets have surrendered in a quarter on the road this season.
  • Brooklyn rallied from 21 points down, representing the second-biggest comeback for the Nets this season (came back from 24 points down to defeat the Suns in Phoenix on February 16).
  • Kevin Durant (33 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) has recorded his 11th double-double of the season (eighth points/rebounds). KD posted team-highs in points (34), rebounds (nine) and assists (13) in Brooklyn’s win over Denver on January 12, the night before the James Harden trade. For the two-game sweep, KD averaged 33, 10 and 10 with a 66/54/90 shooting line. (Who’s The Joker now?)
  • With 31 points tonight, Kyrie Irving recorded 30+ points in a season-high three straight games. This is the fourth time in Irving’s career that he’s tallied 30+ points in three or more straight games and the first time since March 2019 with Boston (career-best five straight).
  • Brooklyn shot 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) in the period, the highest percentage the Nets have posted in any quarter this season.
  • Blake Griffin tallied his first 20-point game as a Net (14 of his 20 points came in the third quarter). Griffin went 4-of-6 from distance, doubling his previous high for 3-pointers made as a Net.
  • The Nets are now 29-3 when scoring at least 120 points.

CSKA Moscow coach goes after Mike James ... again!

In an interview Saturday with Eurohoops.net, the Euroleague’s official fan blog, CSKA Moscow coach Dimitris Itoudis once again went after his former star player —and now Nets back-up Mike James. After an “altercation” with Itoudis, CSKA suspended James at the end of March, ultimately leading to James signing two 10-day deals in Brooklyn.

Two weeks ago, Itoudis without mentioning James by name, he seemed to suggest James forced his way out. Then, two days ago, Itoudis reiterated that criticism and added that the decision to let the 30-year-old go was based not on a single incident but what he and the other CSKA coaches witnessed “daily.”

“If somebody isn’t feeling that he belongs there, then he’s not going to belong there,” said Itoudis when asked about James. “The certain changes that we did are based on what we witnessed daily. All coaches.

James responded when Malcolm Delaney, another American player who plays in Europe, tweeted at him...

What makes it all bizarre is that CSKA and Itoudis are enjoying great success having secured a spot in the Euroleague Final Four. Why not just move on? Then again, European coaches have a reputation across all sports of being very much old school, authoritarian, than their American counterparts.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will top off their five-game road trip when the team travels to the Windy City to take on the shaky Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, May 11. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective on Saturday’s contest, check out Denver Stiffs - our sister site covering the Denver Nuggets.