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Kyrie Irving’s season-high 30 boosts Nets past Wizards in last second thriller, 119-118

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Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Just got the job done.

The Nets escaped Washington D.C. Wednesday, defeating the Wizards, 119-118. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 28-16 on the season and boosts their East-best road record to 16-5. Over the past two years, the Nets are now 17-5 with Kyrie Irving and James Harden but no Kevin Durant.

“I think we just made enough plays defensively to get the job done,” said Steve Nash on the closing stretch of the 119-118 win. “Offensively, we were a little stagnant. [We] wanted to get to more actions, and we had a hard time getting into actions. I think we isolated a little too much. Got a little too predictable and then it’s make or miss. The offense wasn’t great down the stretch. I thought the defense, not that it was great, made enough plays to win the game.”

Despite Brooklyn putting on an offensive clinic in the second and pulling together a solid third quarter to forge a 16-point lead, the game came down to the final seconds. After two big baskets by LaMarcus Aldridge and a pair of free throws from Bradley Beal, the Nets entered the final minute nursing a flimsy two-point lead.

Although Aldridge hit a pair of free throws off a foul out of an inbound pass that put the Nets in the bonus, Brooklyn left Kyle Kuzma wide open in the left corner and he made them pay, drilling the three to trim the lead down to one point (119-118) with 36.2 seconds remaining.

And then it got chaotic. After Montrezl Harrell swatted James Harden’s layup, the Wizards had a chance to escape with the comeback win, but Kyle Kuzma missed a 27-foot three, and Spencer Dinwiddie’s tough 27-foot three couldn’t fall at the buzzer.

“They found the offensive rhythm late, so just trying to make him take tough shots, trying to crush the boards, and trying to get a win,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “It got scary at the end, but the basketball Gods were on our side.”

While a lot of Nets fans might have been sure that Dinwiddie’s shot would go down, John Schuhmann said not to worry.

Irving helped forge the win for the Nets and put on a hoops show in the nation’s capital. The Nets superstar guard tallied a season-high 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from 3-point range. Irving dished seven assists and grabbed three boards as well in his 38 minutes of play.

Harden had a near triple-double of 18 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in 39 minutes of action. The superstar didn’t shoot well in the road win, going 7-of-21 from the field and 0-of-5 from three.

“I thought he did a lot of good things in the first half. He got into the paint. I thought he made plays for his teammates. He got to the rim and he does a lot for us, so he’s allowed to have nights where he’s not as efficient as we expect him,” said Nash on Harden’s performance. “It’s important in those nights that we find a way to win those games.”

Without Kevin Durant, it was Aldridge who stepped up for Brooklyn Wednesday night. The Nets veteran big was on automatic — “LaAutomatic” as Ian Eagle said — all night and had his own season-high night with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field, to pair with six boards and three assists in 32 minutes off the bench. It was the most points Aldridge has scored since January 7 of last year when he scored 28 for the Spurs.

Patty Mills put together another confident expert performance as he revived his sharpshooting. The Aussie guard recorded 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range in 38 minutes of play. Day’Ron Sharpe, who struggled with foul trouble, put together another stealthy showing, scoring 14 points, six rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

“Try not to foul. Try not to foul” said Sharpe on his biggest adjustment. “I averaged like three fouls in the first half of a game. There’s a lot of things, like in the restricted area somebody driving, I gotta like jump, so I got a foul called there tonight. I just got to stop fouling so much. I just got to find a way to be effective on defense and not foul.”

For the second straight game, the Nets started Harden, Irving, Mills, Sharpe and Kessler Edwards. Irving (12 points after one quarter) found a rhythm early, which served as a catalyst for Brooklyn in the opening minutes. Brooklyn built a 16-12 lead with 6:38 left.

The Wizards began to attack the paint and rack up the fouls on the Nets, getting in the bonus midway through the frame. Brooklyn’s lead quickly shrunk to 25-24 with 3:25 left, but Aldridge provided an immediate scoring impact, tallying 10 points in the period. The Nets ended the first frame strong with an 8-4 burst to take a 33-28 lead after one.

After a quiet first, Harden’s turned up his assertiveness to get to the basket. The Nets guard put together a series of barreling downhill drives to boost Brooklyn’s offense in the second and maintain a seven-point lead off a 7-0 run with 6:47 remaining in the period.

Then it turned into a scoring spree. Brooklyn’s offense continued to turn up the heat behind the scorching scoring of Aldridge (19 points) and Irving (22), with Harden (13) getting in the mix. The trio shot 17-of-21 from the field and compiled 54 of the team’s 74 points (a first-half season-high) to end the second with a momentum-filled 74-62 lead.

Although Brooklyn shot 63.9 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range in the first half, Washington dominated the boards (23-17), especially on the offensive glass (10-1). That rebounding barrage contributed heavily to 19 second-chance points for the Wizards.

Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets offense remained in sync and filled with momentum. While Aldridge got an extended breather on the bench, Harden manned the offense and continued to get Sharpe involved down low with shooters on the floor. The rookie provided strong minutes and he was commonly left open dow low or out of the pick-and-roll. The only downside to Sharpe’s play was foul trouble — a common theme, even he admits — picking up his fourth foul with 6:36 left.

After Brooklyn ballooned the lead to 16 in the early minutes of the third, Washington found some rhythm and forged an 11-5 run to trim the deficit down to nine with 3:40 left. Out of the timeout, Irving put on some wizardry to grow the Nets’ lead back up to 13 (97-86), hitting the fourth with momentum.

The Wizards continued to hang around and play tighter defense serving as a catalyst to their offense. The Nets offense went quiet to start the fourth and after Sharpe picked up his fifth personal foul, Washington was in the bonus at the 7:45 mark — a major factor in their comeback.

“I think they were in the bonus and towards the end, a lot of their shots were free throws. I feel like they were getting to the rim and getting a lot of fouls called for them,” said Sharpe on the impact on the team’s handful of fouls to put the Wizards in the bonus early in the fourth. “Free throws helped them get back into the game and gave them momentum.”

A 9-0 run cut the lead to only one point with six minutes remaining, but Brooklyn answered with a 7-0 run to bring the advantage up to six midway through the fourth.

In the end, the Nets held on and weathered the final seconds filled with chaos to pull out a confidence-building road win that the team believes can spark resolve and add more confidence to a team finding their way out of a slump.

“Just getting a win, I think was such a positive thing. Not just for the win but it’s a long road trip, we got tons of road games coming up,” said Nash on the impact of Wednesday night’s win. “We thought the Cleveland game was winnable although we didn’t play well enough in the first half. Tonight for three quarters, I thought we were pretty good. Lots of things to clean up but in the fourth quarter, we didn’t play great but found a way.

“That gives us a little bit of confidence and build a little bit of resolve that we can lean on our resilience at times and clean up the technical aspects.”

Kyrie waxes philosophical

For more of Kyrie Irving discussing basketball, his return and what he did while at home during his ban, take a look...

The Film Room

The Nets got themselves a LaMarcus Aldridge game. Thank goodness, because holy heck did Brooklyn seem satisfied with giving the game away down the stretch.

Aldridge was crucial in the big moments, as Brooklyn cleared out a side to let veteran cook on his preferred left low block. Even when the Wizards “scram switched” their guards out of the picture by having versatile forward Kyle Kuzma take the place, the timeless center still took Kuz to the weight room.

Still, relying on a 36-year-old big man isn’t exactly the most sustainable method of cooking up wins going forward. Brooklyn was fortunate to come out as the winner on Wednesday night. Steve Nash and the players themselves must clean up the loose ends.

“Defensively, that’s where we want to make our mark and come out and make some much-needed stops at the end. But I just feel like even coming in at halftime, the Wizards were very comfortable. I just knew it, you know, they scored over 60 points. They were in a good rhythm,” said Kyrie Irving. “They were going to go to kind of their kill zones where they were going to be very efficient.”

Let’s start with help defense. The Nets allowed multiple buckets down the stretch because their “low men” were either late, ineffective, or a combination of both. In the play below, James Harden would be considered the “low man,” in charge of rotating over to stop rolls to the rim should an offensive player break free (also known as “tagging” the roll man). However, he’s late, doesn’t put his hands up to contest, and instead kicks his feet up in a proverbial hammock while watching Harrell glide on by for the dunk to cut Brooklyn’s lead down to 2.

Kyrie Irving was also responsible for a poor low man rotation in the clutch. Granted, LaMarcus Aldridge does a pretty poor job of defending in drop and lets Harrell get behind him, but Irving exasperates the problem by sliding over to contest like his feet are covered in sludge. The lazy reach-in is the cherry-on-top, as Harrell finishes the play and earns free throws.

Then, let’s skip ahead to the final made Wizards basket. Wait, first, recall back to two nights ago when the Nets faced Cleveland on the road. During that Monday game, James Harden was tasked with defending Lauri Markkanen as his primary assignment. The idea was that given that The Beard is (still) one of the Nets’ better post defenders, he could certainly hold his own should the Finnish scorer post-up. Meanwhile, Kessler Edwards was assigned Evan Mobley and Day’Ron Sharpe would do his best to deter Jarrett Allen.

Unfortunately, this meant Harden was also tasked with tracking Lauri as a movement shooter, and... that didn’t go well. There were numerous occasions in which Harden camped out in the painted area, all while Markkanen broke free off screens... or just stood still and still got open.

Alright, back to the Wizards game. With 40 seconds remaining, Montrezl Harrell set a hard step-up screen to knock Kyrie Irving out of the play and give Brad Beal a runway to the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge did his damndest to backtrack and keep pace, but watch Harden.

He just flat out falls asleep on perhaps the biggest defensive possession of the game while his man, Kyle Kuzma, drifts to the deep corner for the clutch three-point basket. That’s inexcusable.

Sure, the Nets came away victorious to secure their 28th victory of the season, placing them just 0.5 games back from first place in the standings. And sure, Kyrie Irving was once again brilliant. But the Nets need to discover their attention to detail that ruled the early part of the season. After all, Steve Nash did describe this group as a “defensive team.”

Sleight of hand

It was during this final stretch that the Nets pulled off the highlight of the game when with the score 109-103 assistant coach David Vanterpool stuck out his hand — inadvertently ... or not — and deflected the ball.

It was a crucial non-call because Kessler Edwards retrieved the ball and the Nets went down the court scored. If it had been called, the Nets would have been assessed a technical and gotten possession of the ball.

Schuhmann again...

And no, since the incident took place with 5:45 left, it won’t be addressed in the L2M (Last TWO Minutes) report Thursday. But the controversy, particularly coming out of the Wizards locker room, required the refs to provide a pool report. Here it is...

See no evil, call no evil.

Milestone Watch

Bits and pieces...

  • Patty Mills scored 17 points (5-of-7 from three. Mills has already established single season career highs in the following categories this season:

Games w/ 4 threes - 17

Games w/ 5 threes - 12

Games w/ 6 threes - 8

Games w/ 7 threes - 5

Games w/ 8 threes - 2

Mills now has 138 threes for the season. His personal best is only 23 away.

  • Day’Ron Sharpe (14 points) has reached double figures in a career-best three straight games and five of his last six overall. Sharpe concluded Wednesday night’s game averaging 12.3 points across his last six games.
  • As noted, the last time LaMarcus Aldridge scored more than the 27 he nailed Wednesday night was back on January 7 of last years when with the Spurs. Aldridge scored 19 points (8-of-9) in the first half. It was also the most points in a half for Aldridge since December 2019 Memphis (28 in the first half). It was also the most points for a Net reverse in a first half since Joe Harris scored 20 in March 2018 vs. Cleveland.
  • The Nets shot 63.7 percent from the field in the first half, their second-highest first half FG % of the season (high: 66.7 percent on Halloween vs. Detroit). This is the Nets’ highest first half field goal percentage on the road since shooting 67.4 percent in the Orlando Bubble on August 9 against the L.A. Clippers.

Fan love

On their way out of the Washington arena, both James Harden and Kyrie Irving made some young Nets fans day by stopping by...

What’s next

San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will play the third game of their four-game road trip on Friday, Jan. 21 when the team travels to San Antonio to face the Spurs. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Wednesday night’s game, check out Bullets Forever — our sister site covering the Wizards.