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Kyrie Irving drops 33 in Nets ugly 122-116 win over Hornets

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Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

This probably won’t go down in the archives as one of the finest victories in Brooklyn Nets franchise history.

“Sizable lead, we took our foot off the gas pedal. But you’ve gotta give them credit. They definitely came out,” said Kyrie Irving, “hit us in the mouth in the second half. They were playing with a lot of confidence.”

After leading by as many as 23 points, the Brooklyn Nets saw that advantage dwindle to just one in crunch time. Behind some late-game shotmaking from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, however, the Nets were able to hang on, winning 122-116 to improve to 14-12 on the season. Brooklyn has also improved to 5-1 in the recent 6-game homestand, 8-3 since they were embarrassed by the Kings on November 17.

“Overall, it was one of those games where we jumped out to a lead. They’re an NBA team and a well-coached team that would continue to fight back and we relaxed a little bit and kind of paid for it,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn after the game. “Good thing we have some pretty good players to execute at the end of the game, which we did for the most part. I love that piece of it. But we just got too comfortable and started to let them get where they want to, to the rim and to the paint, too many times.”

As mentioned, Kyrie Irving was spectacular down the stretch, putting up Brooklyn’s four final points and dropping 33 in total on a nice 14-of-24 shooting line. He also had nine assists, a season-high; five rebounds, and four blocks, which ties a career-high.

Kevin Durant was also productive thanks to a 29-point, 8-assist, 9-rebound stat line. Seth Curry dropped 20 points off the bench, as well—just the third time this season that the Nets have had three 20-point scorers in a game.

“I like our intensity,” said Durant about his squad. “I like how we came out on the offensive side of the ball and moved the ball pretty much controlled the whole game.”

The Hornets had five starters in double figures, led by Terry Rozier, who dropped 29 points on remarkable 54.2% efficiency, and Kelly Oubre Jr., who finished with 28 points and 8 rebounds. But their undermanned bench contributed only 15 points to the Nets’ 35.

‘Amazing, amazing,” said Irving about Rozier. “I wish we had won a championship together with that squad that we had in Boston because you see just how talented we all are as individuals now. Some of us are on different teams, but we talk a lot to each other. I was pushing him, he was pushing me every day in practice and in games. We just tried to run the team the right way, but now that we’re going against each other, it’s special, man.”

Both teams shot a blistering percentage from the field—57.0% from the Nets and 53.4% from the Hornets. The Hornets dominated inside thanks to Brooklyn’s fairly weak point-of-attack defense with 64 points in the paint to the Nets’ 46. Fortunately, Brooklyn made up for the deficit with 10 more points off turnovers and two more made three-pointers.

The first quarter was many things; it was not a defensive affair. The Nets could not keep the ball in front, allowing a slew of layups at the cup as its weakside rotations floundered. Brooklyn was ahead just 20-19 with just over four minutes to spare. Then, Curry checked in and completely changed the game. Curry, with his father Dell watching from the Hornets TV seats, hit two threes, one of which drew a flagrant foul, as well as two two-pointers for 11 points in the first. Behind his efforts, the Nets closed the quarter out on an 18-8 run to lead, 38-28, after one.

Edmond Sumner picked up right up where Curry left off and played with some infectious energy to start the second. Sumner hit a three, drew two free throws, and then made a driving layup for 7 quick points. The Nets as a team went on a 16-7 run and led by as many as 21 points with eight minutes to go in the third. Brooklyn kept that advantage heading into halftime, up 73-55.

Irving led the charge in the third and put up nine points on some truly spectacular buckets. Things were looking promising; Brooklyn was on the verge of breaking 100 points with just under 3 minutes to spare in the third quarter. Then, the unthinkable happened: Brooklyn went scoreless for the final 2:50 minutes remaining in the quarter, and the Hornets went on a 7-0 run to close the period. Brooklyn’s 23-point lead was whittled down to a 96-87 advantage heading into the fourth.

Charlotte continued to play with a rhythm, scoring the first five points of the fourth. Thankfully, Kyrie Irving decided to single-handily break Brooklyn’s five-minute scoring draught, which dated all the way back to the third, and filled the stat sheet up with 6 points. Still, the Nets couldn’t stop defending without fouling, first hacking Jaden McDaniels on the break and then fouling Mason Plumlee on a gallop to the rim, both of which were and-1s. This forced Jacque Vaughn to put Kevin Durant back in the game at the 7-minute mark to help stabilize things.

Oubre didn’t care. He hit a huge three to bring Brooklyn’s lead down to one with 3:22 to spare in the fourth, forcing a timeout from Vaughn. Durant started to get going, hitting a midrange jumper and a huge three. Still, the Hornets wouldn’t quit; Jaden McDaniels got by Kyrie Irving for a layup and then Terry Rozier absolutely dusted Irving on a behind-the-back dribble for a highlight finish at the rim. Charlotte began blitzing Durant to get the ball out of his hands. Fortunately, the ball found Irving twice in the closing minutes and he delivered, first drawing contact for a pair of free throws and then hitting a feathery floater with 13 seconds remaining. Somehow, someway, the Nets held on.

The Film Room

Brooklyn’s point-of-attack defense has to improve if this team truly wants to contend for a title.

Look, things are trending upward for the Nets. The Nets are one victory away from going 6-1 in the 7-game homestand and have somehow climbed into the Eastern Conference’s four-seed after the sluggish start to the season. Brooklyn is the league’s sixth-best defense since November 1, largely because of its dominant interior defense that leads the league in blocks by a considerable margin.

But still, there is room for improvement. As mentioned, the Hornets scored 64 points in the paint, 10 more than the 53.9 points in the paint they typically average. And for once, this wasn’t because the Nets—28th in rebounding—couldn’t hold their own on the glass. Charlotte grabbed 10 offensive boards, fewer than the 12.7 rebounds on offense they average on the season.

No, the issue on Wednesday was that Brooklyn could. Not. Keep. Anyone. In. Front. Of. Them.

In what was a crucial point in the game, here, Royce O’Neale gets switched onto Terry Rozier after Kyrie Irving fails to fight through and stay with his matchup. Then, O’Neale overplays this handoff action between Rozier and Mason Plumlee, and Rozier happily obliges with a snappy hop-step and up-and-under finish at the rim. An awesome highlight, to be sure, but one that came about because Brooklyn failed to focus on the details.

Seth Curry’s issues with guarding the perimeter continued against Charlotte. Here, he bites on this pump fake from Kelly Oubre Jr., shooting 31.9% from three, and it results in him completely getting dropped on Oubre’s two-handed dunk. Fortunately, Curry made up for his deficiencies with a tremendous scoring night off the bench, but still, his size continues to compromise the Nets’ defensive integrity.

“It’s about us establishing our defensive principles and again, we had a chance to do that tonight and we gave up the lead,” said Irving after the game. On nights like this, you feel great winning, but how we won, we definitely want to improve on that.”

Can’t disagree there, Kyrie.

Kyrie Irving announces his sneaker freedom

Kyrie Irving is a sneaker free agent after Nike announced that he no longer reps the footwear company, ending an 11-year partnership that reportedly paid him $11 million per. So on Wednesday, he started the game wearing Nikes, Kyrie 3s in the ‘Raygun’ colorway, with the famous “swoosh” taped over. He also wrote a messages on both shoes: “I am free. Thank you, God. I AM,” on the right and a not-so-subtle statement on the left that read, “LOGO HERE.”

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Nike ended the relationship Monday following the controversy over Irving’s decision to publicize an antisemitic video which also led to an eight-game suspension. He repeatedly apologized for the decision.

KD on Aaron Judge

The big sports news in New York Wednesday was word that the Yankees and Aaron Judge have agreed to a monster deal — nine years and $360 million — that should keep the AL home run king in pinstripes for the rest of his career.

KD was asked about it. His response was honest... if harsh,

Then, at 1:00 a.m. Thursday morning, KD softened his stance, admitting his response was a bit “cold”...

KD on Kobe

Durant was asked post-game about comments Hornet coach — and former Nets consultant — Steve Clifford made prior to the game in which he compared KD to Kobe Bryant.

“Their makeup is different in many ways, but on the court they’re very similar in terms of the way they work, and they’re both students of the game,” said Clifford. “When I think of Kobe, I think of passion, when I think of Kevin, I think of passion. So two elite players who care deeply about the results more than they do like individual numbers.”

KD seemed humbled by the comment from Clifford who he said he had been close to during his time with the Nets.

“I mean, it’s hard to fill them shoes and to be a Kobe Bryant,” Durant said. “But Kobe is somebody who’s been around and I still study to this day, and basically I just tried to copy everything he does. Same with Michael Jordan. Those two guys just set the tone for everything you want to be as a basketball player, so I simply try to copy them as much as I can.”

KD noted when he first started to fully appreciate Bryant.

“I was at that age at 23 where I thought the world revolved around me. And I know we’ve talked a lot about Kobe, he was real humble in how he approached the game, how he approached his teammates, just life in general. So I learned just from watching his movements. “He was an example, he didn’t say much but he was an example just by how he moved ...

“And I guess that showed to Cliff. I enjoyed being around him a lot. We talked a lot about the game of basketball, so I’m sure he could hear that, hear it in my voice how much I just enjoy that dialogue about the game. So that’s pretty cool to hear, man. I love Cliff.”

He also said one lesson he took from the Laker great was, “don’t be a crybaby.”

Kyrie Irving, asked about Clifford’s comparison, spoke of how the two sacrificed for the game.

“You could definitely see the similarities. And they’re both great, and they’re willing to do anything,” said Irving who knew Bryant well. “They’re willing to do what it takes to win ballgames, and that’s what you want on your team every single night. You can depend on something like that.”

DNP-CD No. 6 for Patty Mills

For the sixth straight game, Patty Mills remained stuck to the Nets bench. Mills who appears to be healthy had played in the first 20 games. No word on why the veteran guard has fallen so far out of favor. The 34-year-old NBA champion and Olympic bronze medal winner is under contract through the end of the 2023-24 season, being paid a guaranteed $6.4 million this season and $6.8 million next.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Brooklyn stays home for the final game of its seven-game homestand, hosting the Atlanta Hawks at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday. Coverage begins on the YES Network.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to At The Hive, our Hornets sister site.