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Kevin Durant has classic 37-point game as Nets defeat Jazz, 114-106

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty towards the end but it was pretty, pretty good and a needed win, the sixth in the last seven in fact.

The Brooklyn Nets were up big and did enough down the stretch to avoid a 21-point collapse, defeating the Utah Jazz, 114-106. With the home win, the Nets improve to 38-34 on the season and are now with three games of the sixth seed and two out of seventh with 10 to play.

“I think it was a great performance. Everybody contributed and had their moments that helped us get the win,” said Steve Nash after the 114-106 win over the Jazz. “They made some plays, some live-ball turnovers, and three’s in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, our defense was really good for the most part. It was a good team effort.”

It was an all-around team effort win with multiple Nets delivering big contributions and timely baskets, but the ship was steered by another Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Brooklyn’s superstar poured in a game-high 37 points (15-of-23 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range) to go with nine boards, eight assists, a steal, and four turnovers in 38 minutes.

Highlights galore...

“Somewhere between typical and more locked in. I don’t want to say he's not always competing at a high level but he was terrific tonight,” said Nash on Durant’s performance. “He scored the ball, distributed the ball, defending, rebounding, so total effort from Kevin. We needed it and he was incredible.”

In the midst of another classic scoring performance, Durant also made history, passing Jerry West to move into 22nd place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The Nets superstar won a championship with West in Golden State in 2017 and made it known the next time he sees the “Godfather of our sport,” he’ll talk a little trash.

“It’s an honor. He’s just a legend in the game, a legend in our sport, and almost like the Godfather of our sport,” Durant said. “Good to see him still back around the game but it’s even better to pass him because next time I see him, imma give him a little sh*t about it.”

Bruce Brown had his best scoring performance of the season, finishing with a season-high 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a steal, and only one turnover in 37 minutes.

“He’s been unbelievable. He’s just like a utility, swiss-army knife-type player. He can do a lot of different things,” Griffin said on Brown. “Obviously his defense, people know that. He shot the three well for us. He attacks, sets screens, he rolls, he pops, he does a little bit of everything literally, and he does it all at a high level. That’s what we need.”

Nic Claxton rose to the occasion, bullying Rudy Gobert ... and he did it with Andre Drummond (non-COVID illness) out. The young big finished with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal, and two blocks in 28 minutes while the two-time Defensive Player of the Year played four more minutes but only mounted an 11-point, four rebound output. Gobert didn’t record a block.

Then, there was this...

The owner provided a different view... and different viewpoint.

Blake Griffin, pressed into service, had a solid game, delivering nine points, four rebounds, three assists, and a block in 20 minutes off the bench.

“I don’t know if challenge is how I describe it. We get paid to do this. It’s like in the summer working out, get shots up, conditioning, trying to stay in shape as much as possible, and be ready when my number’s called” Griffin said.

Although Brooklyn came up with the win, Seth Curry had to leave the game and did not return to the contest after aggravating a left ankle issue in the second quarter. The guard slipped along the right-wing and after being evaluated in the locker room, was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Steve Nash didn’t have an update after the game on Curry but said the guard was in good spirits and doesn’t think the injury — to the same ankle that caused him to miss three games last week — will be a long-term thing.

For the Jazz, New York native, Donovan Mitchell led their squad with a team-high 30 points. Gobert had a tough night, scoring only 11 points, four rebounds, one assist, and zero blocks in 31 minutes. With the defeat, Utah falls to 45-27.

The Nets opened the contest with their franchise-record 40th different starting five of Dragic, Curry, Durant, Brown, and Claxton against the Jazz. Brooklyn hit six of their first nine shots with a balanced scoring effort in the opening six minutes, but Utah answered with a 14-1 burst to edge the scoreboard.

Although the run by the Jazz looked good on paper, Durant (eight points) started to heat up in the closing minutes of the first. It wasn’t enough to push Brooklyn, who only attempted six 3-pointers, over the top to end the quarter with a lead. Utah led Brooklyn, 28-25 after one.

The Jazz had the upper hand to start the second. Brooklyn’s poor interior defense helped Jazz to build a seven-point lead. With Durant getting a breather on the bench up till the 6:05 mark, Griffin thrived doing his clean-up duties under the rim and hitting a pair of triples helped the Nets bring the deficit down to single digits.

Brooklyn suffered a big blow at the 3:28 mark of the period when Curry went down. The Nets head coach called a timeout to get Curry off the floor and the guard walked to the locker room. Curry’s wife, Callie Rivers Curry, was not pleased...

The Nets seemed to play with much more emotion after Curry’s injury. The team upped the pace and forged an 8-0 run, holding the Jazz scoreless for the final 3:01 of the first half. At the half, Brooklyn led Utah, 53-51. Durant (15) and Brown (11) combined for 26 of the team’s 53 with bench scoring from Griffin (nine points) and James Johnson (seven points). The offense tallied shooting percentages of 50.0 percent overall but a struggling 26.7 percent from 3-point range. The difference-maker, aside from Durant heating up late in the second, was ball movement. Brooklyn owned a 15-9 assists margin at the break.

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn got a huge energy boost to open the second half courtesy of Claxton. After a defensive stop on Gobert, Claxton ran the floor and off a feed from Durant, put the Jazz big man on a poster with an emphatic dunk to help spark the 9-0 run in the first minute of play. The young big man continued his strong play in the third with a pair of finishes under the basket to help propel an 11-point lead (73-62) at the 7:04 mark.

The offense remained strong with a 13-4 run spanning nearly four minutes of play to build on their largest lead of the game behind the smoking-hot shooting of Durant. At the 2:33 mark, the lead ballooned to 84-68. There was plenty more offensive firepower left in the tank. Durant (27 points through three quarters) scored 11 of Brooklyn’s final 13 points in the period to boost a 91-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

It didn’t take long for the Nets to put a bow on Monday night’s contest. At the 6:08 mark of the fourth, Durant cashed a left-wing three to put Brooklyn up by 21 (108-87), resulting in Utah calling a timeout. At least that’s what many thought.

Brooklyn got a little careless to finish off the contest, coughing up seven turnovers in the final period, giving Utah some hope of an improbable comeback. The Jazz held the Nets scoreless for just over three minutes, building a 15-2 run to trim the deficit to only eight points with 1:06 left. Utah got the lead down to six but a nifty alley-oop connection from Durant to Claxton at the 37.4 mark provided the dagger.

The Film Room

It’s safe to say this one constituted as a team victory.

Brooklyn got contributions across the board on Monday night, even while down as many as 6 key rotation players — Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Drumond, as well as Seth Curry who exited mid-game. Still, these Nets found a way to persevere.

Blake Griffin made the most of his minutes while receiving his first bit of playing time since March 15 against the Orlando Magic. Griffin had played just 33 minutes in the entire month of March prior to Monday, yet instantly filled the stat-sheet by scoring 9 points in 9 minutes along with 3 assists in the first half. It’s always a bonus when Blake is able to knock down his three-balls against defenses that disrespect his shooting abilities.

“I’m so proud of Blake. He’s just a consummate pro,” said Kevin Durant. “Haven’t played damn near the whole month, come out hit nine points, I mean, just did everything for us in his minutes.”

The second half was Nicolas Claxton’s time to shine. Though drop coverage isn’t his primary form of pick-and-roll defense, the 22-year-old big man adjusted to Rudy Gobert’s pick-and-roll cadence as a roller — far from an easy task. On offense, he and Kevin Durant connected on multiple possessions for alley-oops, including the game-sealing dunk after KD beat a trap with a live dribble like a 7-foot point guard. By far Nic’s brightest moment of the game — and maybe of the season — was this monstrous block and Rudy Gobert on one end and then the insane poster on the other. Just pure sickness.

“You see how Nic is playing around the rim,” said Durant. “He’s not just catching lobs. He’s finishing around with both hands, getting an and-one, so his game is expanding as well and we will need that going forward.”

Brooklyn’s little engine that could, Bruce Brown, fueled Brooklyn throughout the entire contest. When it appeared as if the game was slipping out of Brooklyn’s control in the first half, Brown took the reigns by pushing the pace and piercing into the Jazz’s defense with timely cuts and headstrong drives in transition. As such, Brown was able to put up a career-high 9 free throws and his Nets hung 54 points in the paint against Rudy Gobert and Utah’s tough interior defense.

“He’s been unbelievable. He’s like just like a utility, Swiss Army Knife type player. I mean, he can just do a lot of different things,” said Blake Griffin. “Obviously, his defense — people know that. But he’s shot the three well for us, he’s attacked, set screens. He rolls, he pops. He does a little bit of everything, literally, he does it all at a high level. And I think that’s what we need, somebody that’s gonna be tough and fill those gaps sometimes.”

And then, of course, there was the big guy. The effervescent scoring force, and who many consider the best player in the world, Kevin Durant. After his teammates set the table for the first three quarters, Kevin Durant carried the Nets home. He hit back-to-back pull-up threes when the Jazz began to switch their big men late in the third quarter, putting the Nets up 16 which effectively sealed the game.

“We heard they were starting to switch. So really, it was just ‘get him the ball and get out the way’,” said Bruce Brown. “Gobert and Hassan can’t stay with him at all. So really, give him the ball, get out the way, and we just fed off his energy making big-time threes.”

Sitting at the 8-seed with just 10 games to spare, it’s unlikely Brooklyn can climb much higher than the 6 spot — and maybe out of the play-in tournament altogether. Still, when Kevin Durant is on your squad, anything is possible. Nobody wants to see these Nets in a 7-game series when they’re humming like this.

Milestone Watch

Kevin Durant scored has now scored 25,213 career points, moving past Jerry West (25,192 points) into 22nd place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Next up: Reggie Miller (25,279 points).

The game also marked the 20th time this season that KD has scored 30 points. The most 30-point games in a season in Nets NBA history:

25 - Vince Carter - 2006-07

24 - Vince Carter - 2004-05

22 - Bernard King - 1977-78

20 - Kevin Durant - 2021-22

20 - John Williamson - 1977-78

Since returning from injury, Durant has been on a roll...

Patty Mills third 3-pointer was his 212th of the season, moving him into sole possession of second place in Nets single-season history in 3-pointers made, just past Joe Harris. D’Angelo Russell (2018-19) is the all-time leader with 234. With 10 games left, Mills would have to average 2.2 threes a game to surpass DLo. He’s averaging 2.98 for the season.

Tom Barrise, 1954-2022

Tom Barrise, best described as a basketball lifer, died over the weekend after a short illness. He was 68. Barrise is probably best known for his two-game stint as Nets head coach at the beginning of the New Jersey Nets disastrous 2009-10 season but his career was much longer and much more fulfilling.

Barrise had been assistant coach for seven years ending in 2012. Before that, he had been an advance scout for another eight. In 2009, the Nets fired Lawrence Frank after 16 straight losses to begin the season and appointed Barrise interim coach for two games, both of them losses. That set the record for consecutive losses at the start of a season. Kiki Vandeweghe replaced Barrise and Barrise later moved into the front office as Rod Thorn’s assistant. He returned to the bench as an assistant under Avery Johnson.

The Nets let him go after the 2011-12 season and he moved on, working as a scout for the Pistons. YES honored Barrise on Monday night...

Barrise was also head coach of Ramapo College from 1992 to 1995.

Jamal Crawford retires

Back in the 2020 “bubble,” the Nets made a big splash when they signed Jamal Crawford, to a substitute contract. It was a milestone for Crawford, then 40. The 2020-21 season was his 20th. He became only seventh NBA player to do so. Unfortunately, after scoring five points and dishing out three points, Crawford came up lame and had to leave the game with a hamstring strain. It was his last of 1,327 games.

He harbored hopes of returning, telling our Matt Brooks and Alec Sturm that he didn’t join the Nets to achieve the milestone, but for the love of the game.

“I didn’t really have anything to shoot for, so I was just doing it because I loved it. But it was just different. It’s weird because the pandemic is probably the reason why I got a shot last year, because guys couldn’t go; but it was also the reason I wasn’t all the way there as well because I couldn’t play 5-on-5 for like 4 months.”

On Monday, Crawford announced he was finally hanging them up, his last game having been played for Brooklyn.

Crawford counted among his friends several Nets players including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. Crawford will be eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame five years after the season of his last game.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Memphis Grizzlies v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will be back in action on Wednesday, March 23 when the team travels to Memphis to play the Grizzlies. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET. It’s Kyrie Irving’s 30th birthday and he is eligible to play.

For a different perspective on Monday night’s game, check out SLC Dunk — our sister site covering the Jazz.