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Backcourt barrage: James Harden, Kyrie Irving combine for 61 as Nets defeat Spurs, 117-102

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Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

No KD, no problem. It was a Nets’ backcourt barrage in San Antonio Friday night.

The Nets defeated the Spurs, 117-102 in San Antonio. With the road victory, Brooklyn improves to 29-16 on the season, 17-5 on the road, and puts the team back in the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The win marks the first time the team has defeated the Spurs in five-straight games ... ever. Although the contest included various lead changes, Brooklyn’s superstar backcourt slammed the door shut when it mattered.

James Harden finished the road win with his eighth triple-double of the season and a massive performance of 37 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and a block in 37 minutes of play. Kyrie Irving followed with an assassin-like performance of 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 from 3-point range, to go with three rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes.

“James was electric. Obviously, the stat line is incredible. Kyrie was an assassin at times, just being able to create offense for himself,” said Steve Nash on the play of his superstar backcourt. “Overall, I thought everybody really played a role and did their jobs.”

Outside of the superstar duo, Steve Nash praised all of his players for sticking with their roles and playing well in the win. Blake Griffin had a standout showing filled with hustle — 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals (and of course a charge) in 11 minutes of action off the bench.

“Everyone chipped in. LaMarcus had some really important stretches for us. Day’Ron [Sharpe] had stretches. Kessler [Edwards] was great. Bruce [Brown] was great on both ends. BG [Blake Griffin] started out and struggled a little, but he really did a lot of things for us tonight,” said Nash.

In their emotional returns to San Antonio, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t disappoint. Mills, who hit a series of big shots for Brooklyn, tallied nine points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range in 32 minutes. Aldridge recorded a bench-leading 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and a block in 22 minutes. Prior to the game, both players received a tribute video that they deeply appreciated.

“Just soaking it all up. There’s so much hard work, ups and downs, ins and outs, through this organization. To be able to get a welcome back was special,” said Mills on the tribute video. “There were a lot of memories that came flying back. It was a special night.”

“I thought it was pretty special to have that video transition like that. It was kinda cool that they added that,” Aldridge said. “I’m honored to have played here and honored to continue to play with Patty.”

Outside of the individual scoring numbers, Brooklyn outrebounded San Antonio, 53-49, and outplayed the Spurs in the paint, outscoring the team, 56-46. The largest lead of the game for the Nets was 17 points.

The Nets started Harden, Irving, Mills, Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe, and got off to a hot start. Brooklyn grew an early 14-5 lead after hitting six of their first nine shots, led by the scoring of Irving (seven points) and the sharp facilitating of Harden (three assists).

Despite the hot start, the Nets went cold up until the two-minute mark, forfeiting an extended 15-6 run that got the Spurs back into the contest. San Antonio went on to conclude the first with a two-point lead (26-24).

The two teams exchanged baskets and lead changes throughout the second quarter. A majority of San Antonio’s scoring in the frame was picking apart Brooklyn’s defense transition. Brooklyn weathered the storm with a series of midrange makes to keep the contest within striking range, but struggled to find a rhythm due to their heavy lineups with lack of shooting. San Antonio answered every run the Nets had in store to end the first half with a flimsy 51-50 lead.

Each of the 11 Nets to see action in the half spent at least six minutes on the court. Harden led the way with a triple-double watch of 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 19 minutes while Irving had a quiet second, scoring only two points. Griffin had a good second quarter with eight points and two rebounds off the bench.

Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets and Spurs traded baskets and lead changes until Harden took over midway through the third. The Nets guard manned a 10-2 burst that included a posterizing dunk and a nifty and-one finish to give the team some momentum, but little separation (four-point lead) with 2:53 left in the third.

“I came out of halftime with a deeper focus and that third quarter flew by. Watching James just be himself. He’s very special and you can easily get caught up by just watching,” said Irving on Harden’s third quarter takeover. “He’s just so great getting in one-on-one when he’s feeling it. He makes the game so much easier for everyone else, so I was just trying to get out of his way.”

Brooklyn encapsulated the third with an 8-0 run and a jumpy finish — a Harden drop to Aldridge for a poster dunk followed by a Bruce Brown steal on the defensive end, which lead to a transition slam by Brown to hit the fourth quarter with a 79-74 lead.

“Defensively, we were pretty locked in. That entire third quarter, I think they had 23 points, which is pretty solid. 51 at half isn't bad either but 23, that just gave us momentum and then our offense got going,” said Harden on the third quarter play. “That third quarter, we really got going. That was the separation right there.”

It was a Harden takeover in the third. Then, in the fourth, it was Irving’s turn.

The Nets and Brooklyn’s backcourt picked up right where they left off to start the fourth. Brooklyn opened the quarter playing very well on both sides of the ball, putting together a 13-8 burst to grow their largest lead (10 points). The barrage continued and after Irving drilled a left wing three from Irving, the lead ballooned to 14 points with 4:26 left.

“For sure that was a breakthrough,” said Harden on Irving’s early fourth quarter takeover. “He’s capable of doing that at any moment or any point of the game. That’s one of the reasons why we need him every single game. Because he’s able to do that, especially with everything going on with our team. He’s a special talent.”

The backcourt duo of Harden and Irving slammed the door shut on a late-game comeback for the Spurs, delivering a pair of threes to expand the advantage to 15 points. With one minute remaining, Nash pulled his superstar duo and let Cam Thomas, David Duke Jr., DeAndre’ Bembry, Brown and Sharpe to finish out the contest.

“When we’re playing with the unbelievable pace like we were in the fourth quarter, I don’t see too many teams that can keep up with that,” Irving said. “You got to go shot-for-shot with us and we get an eight-point lead or a 10-point lead, we’re going to make it tough. We’re going to make it tough.”

For the Spurs, Dejounte Murray also generated a triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Milestone Watch

With the win and losses by the Heat and the Bulls, the Nets are back in first in the East, a half game ahead of Miami and Chicago. If the Nets are in first on February 10, Steve Nash will coach Team Durant at All-Star Weekend.

The Nets are now 18-4 with James Harden and Kyrie Irving but without Kevin Durant.

Brooklyn is 18-5 since start of last season on road vs Western Conference teams (best record in the NBA). In three prior seasons (2017-20), Brooklyn was 18-39 on the road vs West teams.

James Harden has generated his 20th triple double as a Net, well behind Jason Kidd’s 60, the franchise record, but Harden is putting up TD numbers every 3.75 games while Kidd did it every 8.4 games. Harden has recorded eight 30-point triple-doubles as a Net. All other Nets players have posted 12 ... total.

It was the sixth time that Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe started for the Nets. That’s the longest string of games where two rookies started since the 2008-09 season when Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson started more than a dozen games together.

Pop talks about how he’s happy for Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge

“We’re in a rebuilding mode, and that doesn’t help [Mills] very much,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s very important to Brooklyn. It’s a different group when you’ve got Harden and Irving and Durant. He’s a complement to them. We kind of knew this was going to happen. We just wanted to try to make sure he got to a place where it was going to be a successful program.

“It was the same thing with LA. [Aldridge] did all the community things that Patty did. He wasn’t here as long as Patty, but he did a lot of things quietly. He worked and gave in a lot of schools in town. It was never in the press, nobody ever knew about it, but we knew about it here. He was a great teammate with everybody, heck of a player, obviously, and doing a great job in Brooklyn. But it was the same thing. He needed to be a complement to other guys.”

Brooklyn’s Backcourt?

Back in 2013, the Nets trademarked “Brooklyn’s Backcourt” to highlight their All-Star duo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Here’s what it looked like...

Time to re-up the trademark?

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets will conclude their four-game road trip on Sunday, Dec. 23 when the team travels to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Friday night’s action in San Antonio, check out Pounding The Rock — our sister site covering the Spurs.