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Nets overcome 18-point deficit, survive critical game against Blazers, 128-123

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Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

In a game that breathed March Madness, the Brooklyn Nets were able to escape what would have been an inexcusable loss to a “lower seed,” the Portland Trail Blazers.

After a poor first half performance, Brooklyn turned it around in the second to overcome an 18-point deficit to beat the Trailblazers, 128-123. With the crucial victory, the Nets improve to 37-34 on the year and 15-19 at home, remaining in eighth place, two and a half games behind the Raptors. On an encouraging note, it was the Nets fifth win in six games.

“It’s cool to watch the standings but we’re more focused on playing a good brand of basketball and just having some good momentum going into the playoffs,” Kevin Durant said. “Wherever we end up, we just got to be prepared for it. It’s not something we’re focused on every day.”

Durant ended the win with 38 points, his 19th 30+ point game of the season going 11-of-15 from the field, 2-of-3 from three, and a season-high 14-of-15 shooting from the charity strike. The Nets star added six boards, six assists, a block ... and a team-high eight turnovers in 38 minutes.

Seth Curry had his best scoring performance as a Net Friday night. He finished the contest with a season-high 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting overall and 7-of-11 shooting from behind the arc in 38 minutes. Curry is now averaging 16.8 points in his 12 games with Brooklyn and shooting 47.6 percent from beyond the arc.

“He’s just a really good NBA player. He’s an elite shooter who can score off the bounce, can handle in pick-and-roll, and has a high IQ. He adds a lot to our team. Obviously, we needed all of his points tonight,” said the Nets head coach on Curry’s return performance.

The guard, who missed the previous three games with left ankle soreness, said he felt no worse after logging 38 minutes in his return, but admitted he’s been managing the pain with his ankle.

“Probably a month before the trade. It’s been a while,” said Curry on his lingering ankle injury. “Something that I’m just gonna have to manage and deal with till the offseason.”

Bruce Brown put together yet another sensational all-around game with 17 points, seven boards, three assists, a steal, a block in 34 minutes of play. Andre Drummond tallied 17 points, nine rebounds, and an assist in 23 minutes. Over the past six games without LaMarcus Aldridge, the 28-year-old big is averaging 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

“They’re just doubling Kev, and then teams are still trying to disrespect me like I can’t hoop,” Brown said after his 17-point performance. “I’m just taking advantage of it.”

Although Brooklyn shot 58.4 percent (45-of-77) from the field and 40.0 percent (10-of-25) from 3-point range, it was often a careless mess offensively, starting with what Steve Nash saw as inexcusable play in the first half. The Nets ended with 21 turnovers that translated to 29 points for the Trail Blazers. Portland also edged the Nets in offensive glass (17-13) and points in the paint (68-58). Like the Nets head coach said, the Nets only played two quarters of NBA basketball.

“I thought we wanted it easy. We wanted to solve the puzzle with the snap of our fingers instead of playing it,” said Nash on the team’s 21 turnovers. “Part of it is defensively, we weren’t locked in. Part of it is also offensively, not going the extra mile: to play with pace, make hard cuts, set good screens, move the ball, drive it, kick it, drive it again, touch the paint, spray it out. We wanted it easy and we wanted it quick.”

The Nets started Curry, Durant, Brown Drummond and Goran Dragic against the Blazers. Portland picked apart the middle of Brooklyn’s defense early to get good looks at the rim in the opening the contest. Brooklyn’s offense followed with the Trail Blazers poorly protecting the rim due to the gravity of Durant and Curry along the perimeter, but was able to hold a floppy 17-16 lead 6:53 left.

Brooklyn gained some separation entering the final three minutes of the first. They turned defense into offense, attacking Portland’s woeful interior defense to forge an 11-1 burst to take a six-point lead at the 2:37 mark. Despite building a six-point advantage, the Nets defense forfeited the initiative and the Blazers went on a 6-0 run to conclude the first frame. The Nets were still able to forge a 34-33 lead.

The defensive woes extended to the perimeter starting the second, and it stemmed from the effort or lack of it, as both Nash and Brown said post-game. Brooklyn couldn’t handle Portland in early offense situations and along the arc in the opening minutes of the frame and after a 25-foot 3-pointer from Brandon Williams went down, Nash called a timeout at the 7:33 mark with his team trailing by five points (48-43).

It got worse. Beyond their defensive woes, Brooklyn was outhustled by Portland and coughed up a total of nine turnovers (19 Blazer points)in the first half, most of which were careless mistakes. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, the Trailblazers scored a total of 75 points and held a 13-point lead (the biggest lead of the first half) over the Nets (75-62).

“Halftime, I was a little upset. We didn’t come to play, and we really played one half tonight. We’re just lucky it was enough to win the game,” a visibly disappointed Nash said.

At the break, there were three Nets in double-figures: Durant (22), Curry (14), and Drummond (13). The trio combined for 49 of the team’s 62 points. Meanwhile, Portland had four players: Ben McLemore (15), Justice Winslow (13), Josh Hart (10), and Drew Eubanks (12).

Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

After maybe the worst first half in the season, the Nets started to come alive in the third but only after they went down by 18. After a 7-0 run and behind a newfound offensive rhythm behind the play of Durant and Curry, the deficit was trimmed to nine (85-76) with 8:06 left in the period.

The Barclays Center crowd finally became engaged in the closing four minutes of the third when the team gave them something to cheer for — an 11-0 run — trimming the deficit to only five points. That run expanded to 20-4, and after trailing by 18 points in the quarter, Durant nailed a top of the key 26-foot triple to put the Nets in front (96-94) with 2:50 left. Brooklyn was able to weather the final two minutes of the third, concluding the quarter knotted up at 101 with Portland.

“Just energy and effort. I don’t think we came out with energy or locked in at the beginning of the game,” Brown said on regrouping in the second half. “They kinda took advantage of that. We just had to come back in the second half and play hard.”

Behind the electric 3-point shooting of Curry, Brooklyn opened the final quarter with an 11-0 run to finally gain a double-digit lead and more importantly, some separation, while Durant was getting a breather on the bench. That wasn’t enough to put Portland away.

After three-straight free throw misses from Winslow (with Mr. Whammy staring him down), the Trail Blazers hit the final two minutes of play trailing by only eight points. Portland responded with their next opportunity with Hart drilling a left-wing three to make it a five-point game entering the final minute.

A few possessions later, Dragic forced a bounce pass to Durant, resulting in a key turnover that sent Hart to the free-throw line, hitting both, to make it a one-possession game (122-119) with 45.2 seconds left. Brooklyn needed to answer with a well-timed bucket off a good look and got the job done.

Claxton tipped home a tough floater miss by Brown to give the Nets some more wiggle room (124-119) with 21.4 seconds left on the game clock. Portland got the quick two off a Hart lay-in at the rim with 18.9 seconds remaining. Following three shaky inbounds passes by Brooklyn, Durant went to the line and connected on a pair of free throws to bring it back to a five-point game (126-121) with 12.3 seconds left. The Blazers got the lay-in on their next possession but a pair of free throws by Curry sealed the five-point win.

“Every team that comes in here tries to kill us just because we are the Nets. People who can’t really shoot that much, like a terrible percentage, come in and hit threes and play extremely well,” Brown said. “We’re probably circled on a lot of people's schedules so we just got to come out and play pretty hard.”

Milestone Watch

With his 7-of-11 shooting from three, Seth Curry is now shooting 43.92 percent from three for his career (712-of-1621) moving him just barely ahead of teammate Joe Harris who has shot 43.90 percent over the course of his career (874-of-1991). Curry is now No. 3 all-time, Harris No. 4 and Drazen Petrovic is No. 5.

The Nets have scored 100+ points through three quarters for the fourth time in their last six games (dating back to 3/8 at Charlotte). The Nets scored 100+ points through three quarters three times in their first 65 games of the season.

KD on MVP

As happens regularly at Barclays Center nowadays, Kevin Durant got serenaded by the fans last night with the chant, “MVP, MVP, MVP,” every time he steps to the line. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to get the the Maurice Podoloff Trophy handed to him this season. While he was a, if not the, leading candidate for the award early in the season, his sprained MCL caused him to miss six weeks.

When he was asked about the chants post-game, he expressed gratitude and said he isn’t bothered by his bad fortune.

“Nah, it’s not frustrating,” he said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like to win MVP, and that doesn’t validate me as a player. I mean, I know what I can do. So it’s always great to get some home fans, some hometown love, and it’s great when fans recognize you as one of the best players in the league, but nah, I wouldn’t say I’m pissed off or mad that I got hurt. It’s just a part of the game, but I understand the type of player that I am.”

He also handicapped the MVP race now that he’s out of it.

Durant doesn’t have a vote in the MVP race — the award is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters — but if he did Durant said, “I would go between Joel Embiid, DeMar DeRozan, Ja Morant - those are my top three, I would probably go Joel. Could throw Jokic in there but I’d go Joel.”

When Karaoke turns to Commitment

What’s next

Chicago Bulls v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Nets will return to play on Monday, March 21 when the team hosts the Utah Jazz at Barclays Center. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Friday night’s game, check out Blazer’s Edge — our sister site covering the Trail Blazers.