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Nets burned by Suns for their fifth-straight loss, 121-111

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Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The slump continues for Brooklyn.

The Nets dropped their fifth-straight loss, losing to the Suns, 121-111. With the defeat, Brooklyn have lost 12 of their last 18, falling further down the Eastern Conference standings with an overall record of 29-21. On a night filled with questionable calls and burning Suns’ responses, it was another loss but a loss that had its share of improvements, at least in the eyes of the head coach’s eyes as the team continues to weather a heavy storm of injuries and other issues.

“I told the guys we’re getting better. They’re playing against a high-level team playing the best basketball in the league. A lot of momentum on their home court. Great crowd. Other than giving up 39 in the first quarter and skidding them in the bonus early in the fourth, some loose-balls, we matched them for large stretches. We are getting better. We got to sustain longer periods of concentration, but we came up short tonight,” said Steve Nash after the 121-111 loss to the Suns in Phoenix. “We’re growing and moving in the right direction.”

Kyrie Irving led the Nets with a team-high 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. Irving snagged four boards, dished three assists and had one steal as well in his 37-minute performance.

“This is one of those tests where we’ll remember it down the line and later in the season that we made some growth in this span,” said Irving on the five-game losing skid.

James Harden didn’t have his best shooting performance Tuesday night. The Nets superstar tallied 22 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and four turnovers in the loss. Harden shot 6-of-19 from the field and 3-of-8 from behind the arc, to go with 7-of-9 from the free throw line.

“We’re improving but the reality is we lost five in a row,” Harden said. “The good thing about this league is you got an opportunity tomorrow to bounce back, play well, feel good about yourself and get off this little slump we’ve been on.”

Blake Griffin stepped up for Brooklyn, leading the bench with 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal in 27 minutes of play, his best game of the season. Kessler Edwards, who continues to grow his confidence, registered 13 points in 29 minutes of action. They were the only double-figure scorers for the Nets.

The foul discrepancy in the contest heavily favored the Suns, 27-19. Outside of the fouls, Phoenix outrebounded Brooklyn, 37-33, and edged the Nets in paint scoring, 44-42. The Nets shot only 15-of-21 from the charity strike (71.4 percent) while the Suns shot 26-of-31 (83.9 percent) in that category. In a loss that didn’t include Kevin Durant (2-6 without him), LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris, the Nets head coach is pleased with the effort put into the product on the hardwood.

“To me, there’s no moral victories but we’re moving in the right direction, and when we get some health, we’ll be able to play teams like this,” said Nash. “I’m proud of the effort. They’re doing what we ask for. Now, we’re just pushing them to have longer stretches of high-intensity concentration and take another step.”

The road Nets started Harden, Irving, Mills, Edwards and Claxton. The contest was filled with plenty of flowing offense early with both teams combining for 32 points in the opening five minutes of play. In the offensive-driven span, the Suns manned an 18-14 lead.

It took till the 5:58 mark of the period for both teams to miss a shot then both offenses simmered down for the remainder of the quarter. The difference in the first was consistent stops and turnovers (five turnovers for seven points for Phoenix). The Nets couldn’t get a string of stops to ice the Suns’ scorching hot offense (71.4 percent shooting from the field), to help lift Phoenix to a 10-point lead (39-29) after one.

“They made shots. We contested their shots. They made some tough shots and we got to give them credit,” said Harden on allowing the Suns to score 39 points in the first. “They’re a good team. We just stuck with it.”

The Nets couldn’t find an answer to Devin Booker (14 points) in the first, and in the second, it was Cam Johnson, who found a series of open looks and made Brooklyn pay from deep. Brooklyn couldn’t receive a consistent whistle on the offensive end and picked up a pair defensively. Both Claxton and Johnson both picked up their third personal fouls early in the second.

Despite weathering a mixed storm with the whistles, Harden heated up in the second with a pair of step back 3-pointers and aggressive drives to the basket to spark a mini rally entering the final minutes of the first half (57-54). Chris Paul closed out the first half with a coast-to-coast floater with no resistance to conclude a 8-2 Phoenix burst and expand the Nets’ deficit to seven points (65-58) at the half.

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Harden led the Nets at the break with a team-high 15 points, three boards and six assists in 20 minutes of play. Griffin provided Brooklyn with good minutes in the first half, tallying nine points off a series of putbacks off missed shots.

Although Brooklyn shot 50.0 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range, the team went a slumping 9-of-15 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Phoenix shot 57.5 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range, while hitting 13 of their 16 free throws.

The Nets opened the third on a 12-4 burst to take their first lead since the opening minutes (70-69 lead) with seven minutes left. The Suns forged a 7-0 run that spanned less than a minute to retake a six-point lead.

Phoenix, once again, sparked a burst off a questionable call. After a missed call on a JaVale McGee goaltend, then seconds later, Edwards getting called for a goaltend at the other end of the court, the Suns found yet another groove. Phoenix went on a 12-2 run to take a 12-point lead with 2:25 left in the quarter.

“It didn’t help. I thought that was a goaltend, and then they gave us a goaltend but the ball didn’t come out. It was kinda a four-point swing right there,” said Nash on the goaltend sequence.

Although Harden and Griffin both had big threes, the veteran big picked up a questionable technical foul, which stunted any momentum. The Suns took a 91-82 lead into the fourth.

It wasn’t the start Brooklyn was hoping for in the fourth. The Nets were whistled for four fouls on their first possession, resulting in the Suns to get in the bonus at the 11-minute mark. But that didn’t stop Brooklyn from forging a comeback. The Nets forged a 14-2 run stemming from the opening minute of the final period to take it a three-point game with 9:41 left.

The Nets were hoping to put together a comeback, but Booker quickly shut those hopes down. The Suns' guard pushed their lead back up to a game-high 14 off a pair of threes mixed in with a series of undisciplined fouls that put Phoenix at the line, and boost a 9-0 run. Entering the final two minutes, Nash released his bench to finish the loss.

Haynes: Eric Adams and NYC have no plans to amend vaccination mandate

Prior to the opening tip of Suns vs. Nets, Chris Haynes, who was working the sidelines for TNT, reported that Eric Adams and the City of New York have no plans to amend the vaccination mandate. The Nets, of course, are hoping to get Kyrie Irving on the Barclays Center court.

“There are currently no plans to amend the mandate. The spokesperson also added we will continue to follow the science and the guidance of public health professionals to keep New Yorkers safe. We encourage all New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted to stop the spread.”

Not unexpected, but another indicator that the Nets aren’t likely to get Irving back in Brooklyn soon unless he relents and gets the vaccine.

The Film Room

The final score wouldn’t suggest it, but this was a pretty spectacular performance from Brooklyn — at least on offense. James Harden carried the Nets early; Kyrie Irving took on the load in the second half.

Maybe most enticing of all was Nicolas Claxton’s pick-and-roll game. He made good contact on his screens, made himself available as a roller with good timing, and showcased eyepopping athleticism on lobs. Though he didn’t finish the game incredibly strong, missing a bunny late, this was a pretty nice showing from Brooklyn's 21-year-old center.

Below, rather than coming up to the set the screen for Harden, he dives to the rim early noticing that Bismack Biyombo is slightly out of position to defend this two-man action. When Biyombo steps up to shut off the water on Harden’s floater, Nic rises up for the dunk. A great Harden pass, as well.

Here, Nic stretches out a little extra to assure that he fully removes Mikal Bridges from the play on this drag screen for James Harden. The Beard, being the magician that he is, decelerates and holds his dribble to wait for Nicolas Claxton to catch up, thereby forcing Deandre Ayton to worry about two players. Nic exhibits great touch on the finish.

It’s a shame the Nets couldn’t revel in the success of their offense. Phoenix preyed on the Nets’ porous defense, first hurting the Nets' tendency to overhelp in the first half, and then pummeling Brooklyn on the offensive glass in the second half.

“We can’t make so many mental mistakes out there against great teams like this,” said Kyrie Irving. “We knew what we were getting ourselves into coming into this place, and you just see the stat sheet, they filled it up and they just kept attacking, kept attacking. Then a little bit down the stretch, they just making those effort plays.”

.They’re 41-9 for a reason, a clinical offensive team.

“We just take our lessons we take our bumps and bruises,” said Kyrie Irving. “We just keep it moving and just give respect to the Phoenix Suns because they’ve shown all year who they are.”

Some good news on LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge won’t play on the last three games on the Nets road trip vs. Sacramento, Utah and Denver, but pre-game Tuesday, Steve Nash let a little optimism seep into his assessment of Aldridge’s ankle injury which he called “a little sprain.”

“LaMarcus will be out the rest of the trip,” Nash said. “He’s got a little sprain, so we’ll reevaluate him after the trip...

“There’s always a dark side, a bad side of all these injuries or incidents in a game, so you can always look at the positive side,” Nash added. “And fortunately I don’t think it’s a long-term thing; it’s more of a short-term thing.”

He said that the Nets certainly expect him back before the All-Star Game, which Nets fans hope will mark the return of Kevin Durant and Joe Harris. That, indeed, is what has to be considered positive news.

And on James Harden

Meanwhile, James Harden told the media some details he the right hand injury that kept him out two games on the trip. Harden said he’s been playing through the pain until things got progressively word and by Saturday, he said he couldn’t move his hand at all.

“I mean yeah. I couldn’t move my hand, that’s why I didn’t play the last game, at all. But I can move it, I’m playing, he told reporters in Phoenix.

He says its still bothering him but he’ll continue to play through it. He thinks he injured it on a fall to the basket a few weeks back reports Alex Schiffer.

Milestone Watch

Patty Mills’ third 3-pointer of the game was his 161st of the season, matching his single-season career-high, done last season (in 68 games). This is Mills’ 49th game of the 2021-22 season.

What’s next

Sacramento Kings v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Nets are back in action Wednesday night for the second game of a back-to-back. The team will travel north to face the Kings in Sacramento. The game is slated to tip at 10:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Tuesday night’s play, check out Bright Side Of The Sun — our sister site covering the Suns.