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Kevin Durant’s 41 lifts Nets past Cade Cunningham’s 17-point fourth, 130-123

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Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was yet another win that wasn’t pretty — okay, it was ugly. Nevertheless, it was a win that was certainly needed.

The Brooklyn Nets, who led by two points entering the fourth, absorbed a dominant fourth-quarter scoring burst by the Detroit Pistons’ Cade Cunningham to escape with a much-needed home win. The final score: 130-123. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 40-36 on the season and 17-20 at Barclays Center this season. Cunningham, the top selection in the 2021 NBA Draft class, scored 17 of his career-high 34 points in the final period but it wasn’t enough to take home the win.

At the end of the night, the win gave the Nets a little more cushion in the East standings. They’re back in the eighth seed, a game ahead of the Hornets but still two-and-a-half behind the seventh seed Cavaliers with six to play.

Kevin Durant led the charge for Brooklyn, scoring his third 40+ point game of the season (41 points 14-of-23 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) to go with 11 boards, five assists, one steal, and three rejections in 39 minutes of play. He bombed numerous shots over a very aggressive Pistons defense and provided some fantastic insight into his process after the game.

“I know that demoralizes some teams when you make shots over good defense; that calms our team down as well when we’re making those shots,” said Durant. “I want to get better shots sometimes — I felt like a couple of them was just like, ‘I’m hot, let me risk it.’ Getting the best shot I can, sometimes that may be over a guy in the lane, but I feel like that’s open so I gotta keep knocking down.”

Kyrie Irving delivered 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting overall and 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc in the win. Irving, coming off two mediocre games, dished four assists, grabbed a rebound, recorded a steal, but turned the ball over a team-high six times in his game-high 40 minutes of play.

Following a first half that featured Brooklyn’s superstar duo combining for 33 of the team’s 58 points, the supporting cast provided a needed scoring punch in the final two-quarters of play to help pull out the victory. Andre Drummond, who was the third-highest scoring Net at the break with six points, ended with another double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds in his 28 minutes of action. He also hit 4-of-4 from the stripe. Over the past two games, the big man has registered 34 points and 30 rebounds.

Bruce Brown also had a solid performance against his former team, tallying 15 points, two boards, four assists, and one block in 23 minutes. Seth Curry, who fell on his balky right ankle, hit a series of timely triples down the stretch, totaling 11 points on 2-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. Nic Claxton continued his strong stretch of play concluding with a bench-leading 11 points, four rebounds, and a steal in 18 minutes. The young big man shot 4-of-5 from the field and went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line. In the last five games, Claxton has shot 22-of-24 overall. That’s 92.7 percent.

“I think Nic’s played great. He’s been really active. Defensively, he’s been really good. He’s been finishing in the paint at a really high level,” said Nash on Claxton’s recent play. “I’m really proud of his development.”

Although Brooklyn escaped with the win, it was yet another example of defensive inconsistency from the opening whistle to the final buzzer. Detroit outran Brooklyn in fast break points (17-10), were dominated on the offensive glass (17-8), and in the paint (56-38)

“It comes down to how much edge we play with. I think when we play with edge, we’re a much better team defensively,” Nash said. “When we take our foot off the gas a little bit, we’re not good enough to just roll out there and shut people down.”

When asked what they have to do to find that more consistently, he answered “I do not know the answer to that. However, Kyrie Irving, one of the leaders on the team, did.

“I think it just comes down to trust and Steve’s right in terms of the edge and playing with that consistently,” said Kyrie Irving. “We’re going to have to make our staple as a team on the defensive end because if we’re going back and forth in a shooting contest, obviously, we’ll still be in the game. But sometimes those games could be back and forth and lead to mistakes on our end. We don’t want to put our heads down too often when we get down in games, but we just have to make our emphasis on defense.”

The Nets started Irving, Curry, Durant, Brown, and Drummond against the Pistons. The teams exchanged buckets in the opening minutes of the contests. Detroit got a boost early off Isaiah Stewart's 3-point shots — shots Brooklyn was willing to live with. In that span, the Pistons went 4-of-7 from behind the arc. For the Nets, Durant and Irving combined for 12 of their first 18 points to lead an 18-17 advantage with 6:07 left in the first.

Detroit gained some separation heading into the closing minutes of the opening period as Brooklyn paid the cost of careless turnovers (four) that sparked a 12-4 run by the Pistons. Nash ran with the second unit to finish off the quarter but Detroit concluded the frame with a 15-0 fast-break point advantage to propel a 35-33 lead after one.

The Pistons picked up right where they left off to begin the second. The hot 3-point shooting for Detroit carried over to lift an extended 18-8 run to balloon their lead to 12 points. Brooklyn targeted their offense to get to the rim and struggled to connect a pair of baskets, and couldn’t follow it up with stops. Brooklyn was able to trim the deficit down to six points at the 2:47 mark off a scoring burst from their superstar duo and some help down low from Drummond. At the break, the Nets trailed the Pistons, 64-58.

Durant (game-high 19 points) and Irving (14 points) carried the heaviest of scoring loads in the half, combining for 33 of the team’s 58 points. Despite Brooklyn hitting half of their shot from the field and 42.9 percent from range, the team was blown out on the fast break (13-7) and their bench was outscored by a dominant margin of 27-14.

More importantly, the 10 turnovers translated to 11 points for Detroit — who ended the first two quarters shooting 51.0 percent overall and 52.9 percent from behind the arc.

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

“We knew what we needed to do,” said Drummond on the mindset coming out of halftime. “We allowed them to get a rhythm early in the game. We came and watched film at halftime. We knew who was our hot guy and who we needed to take out of the game. We made the right plays.”

The Nets came out of the locker room with a heavier, and must-needed, emphasis on the defensive end. Brooklyn forged a 17-6 run, sparked by Curry’s three free throws off a flagrant one foul whistled against Marvin Bagley III and a pair of triples by Brown, to take a 75-70 lead with seven minutes left. In that span, Detroit shot 2-of-12 from the field and coughed up four turnovers.

Although Durant led Brooklyn with 16 points (6-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 shooting from 3-Point range) in the third, it wasn’t enough due to the lack of scoring in the closing minutes from the supporting cast to gain any separation. At the end of the third, the Nets held a flimsy 96-94 lead.

Brooklyn started to find a rhythm offensively entering the final minutes of the contest. After a crafty reverse layup by Cade Cunningham, the Nets responded with a 7-0 run to take a 115-110 lead with 3:42 left. Drummond hit two pairs of free throws, going a very uncharacteristic 4-of-4.

At that point, Cunningham drained a three to bring the deficit to four. Curry answered with a triple of his own and on the next Nets possession, connected on his pair at the charity strike to bring the lead back up to seven with 1:59 left. The seven-point lead was enough for Brooklyn to float on in the final minutes. The Nets went on to hit their trips at the free-throw line and escape with a much-needed win.

“I don’t think it’s ever good for a team to score that many points in a basketball game. I think for us, it’s buckling down defensively from the beginning of the game and not waiting till the second half because it can come bite us in the butt,” Drummond said. “We won’t be able to come back.”

Kevin Durant pays respect to the young Pistons

Kevin Durant has never been one to pay his dues to the young stars in the league. Just this season, Durant praised Toronto Raptors’ rookie Scottie Barnes with the viral quote, “How old is he? 20? 19? Sheesh.”

Cade Cunningham was the latest rookie to come in town and impress the Slim Reaper. In fact, Durant, never one to overlook an opponent, paid his dues to this young Pistons squad as a whole.

“You got a 6’7” point guard, sh*t, that’s a good start,” said Durant about Cunningham. “Somebody that can wreck the whole defense game plan with his size, his talent, and skill. So that’s a great start. And then you go down the line: Saddiq Bay, Marvin Bagley, and Jerami Grant, and Isaiah Stewart. I mean they got just lengthen and toughness down the line, and with a great coaching staff that’s going to get the best out there players. So I can see this team being some force to be reckoned with in the future.”

Durant was also asked about what the Nets should take away from giving up 123 points to Detroit, to which KD abruptly responded, “What do you mean a team like Detroit? He then went on to clarify his stance.

“I mean, they’ve been playing solid the last two weeks, though. We don’t look at teams like that or know if their record is good. But they still got pros over there. And tonight they made shots. They started off the game making six threes in the first quarter—that gives you a lot of confidence as a team,” said Durant. “So it’s a good test for us, and I like it. No matter if we playing the Pistons or the Milwaukee Bucks, I think the situation we got better from and we evolved as the game went on regardless of the opponent.”

Hack-a-Dre didn’t work

Detroit coach Dwane Casey decided hack-a-Dre would be a good idea late in the game had his charges foul Drummond but the ex-Piston went 4-for-4 to help beat his old team. Drummond shot Casey a look — not quite a glare — on the bench. Drummond admitted it was extra sweet.

“Yeah for sure. That was for Casey for sure,” Drummond said with a big smile. “That’s my guy but I had to make those for him,” Drummond said. “Yeah that was at him for sure.”

Still, Drummond is not tearing up the league with his free throw shooting. For the season, he’s hitting 52.2 percent for the season, 53.2 with Brooklyn.

No Simmons Update

In talking pre-game, Steve Nash said that there’s no update on Ben Simmons injury status, that he hasn’t made any new progress in terms of this ramp up and rehab. Asked if Simmons had undergone a second MRI, Nash said no.

But Andre Drummond and Seth Curry spoke post-game about his well-being, saying he’s moving a little better and in good spirits. Drummond referred to Simmons as the “mystery guy,” that after he arrives at HSS Training Center, he heads to rehab.

“In terms of what he’s doing, none of us know,” Drummond said. “He’s the mystery guy. He comes in in sweats every day, and then God knows what he does after that. So hopefully he’s doing this recovery and he’s getting better each and every day. When we get him back, we get him back.”

Simmons flew with the Nets to the Heat game Saturday, a week after he had received an epidural to relieve the pain in his lower back that had been radiating to his legs. Michael Grady of YES Network said Saturday that the epidural had dissipated the leg pain but that he was still troubled by back pain.

Milestone Watch

Kevin Durant’s 41-point performance was 22nd time he’s passed the 30-point level. That moves him up the list of high scoring Nets. Here’s the list of the most 30-point games in a season in Nets NBA history:

25 - Vince Carter - 2006-07

24 - Vince Carter - 2004-05

22 - Kevin Durant - 2021-22 (31 points tonight)

22 - Bernard King - 1977-78

With six games left, Durant has a shot at matching VC. Tuesday was also his fourth 40-point game this season.

What’s next

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will return to action on Thursday, March 31 when the team hosts the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Tuesday night’s contest, check out Detroit Bad Boys — our sister site covering the Pistons.