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Kyrie Irving’s historic 50-point ‘master class’ leads Nets to must-needed win over Hornets, 132-121

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Brooklyn Nets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

After the Brooklyn Nets’ 126-120 loss to the Boston Celtics in TD Garden Sunday, Kyrie Irving said “I’m going to have to show up even more so” in order to help get the team out of their downward spiral. In the very next game, Irving put on one of the best games of his Nets career to lead them to a much-needed victory.

The Nets defeated the Charlotte Hornets, 132-121, at Spectrum Center Tuesday night. With the win, Brooklyn (33-33) leapfrogs Charlotte (32-34) in the Eastern Conference Standings to take sole possession of the eighth-seed.

“It was an important win for us,” said Steve Nash on the 132-121 victory over the Hornets Tuesday night. “There were lots of facets in the game that was good for us. In the first half, we played about as well as we played all year on both sides of the ball. In the second half, we didn’t defend. We gave up 78 and had to hold on. We struggled against the zone, got really stagnant so we got a bit of everything in the game. Most importantly the win but we showed the level that we can play at when we play extremely hard and play connected.”

The night belonged to the Nets superstar guard. Irving ended one of the best games of his Nets career, and the most consistent high-scoring shooting performance of his entire career, with a season-high 50 points on 15-of-19 shooting from the field and 9-of-12 shooting from 3-point range. His 19 field goal attempts rank second-lowest in NBA history for any 50-point showing, trailing Andrian Dantley (50 points on 17 field goal attempts) with the Utah Jazz more than 40 years ago.

“You just got to go into that deep place where you aren’t distracted by anything that’s going on and there’s a goal at hand when you step out there. I just get less talkative. I just have a look on my face that I’m just ready to go out there, do what’s needed for us to get this win, and join a collective group,” said Irving on his historic scoring performance. “We’re just sacrificing results. All results.”

The final two points came on a drive to the basket after Seth Curry passed up an open three with 58 second left...

The 50-pointer marks the third such performance of Irving’s Nets career and his fifth of his NBA career. Eight players have posted at least one 50-point game in a Nets uniform in their franchise’s history. No other player in any other franchise’s NBA history has more than one.

“He’s incredible. He’s a career-highlight reel every night. We have a special player on our hands. Tonight he was unbelievably efficient and difficult to defend,” said the Nets head coach on Irving’s performance. “Although we’d like to think we had the game in hand, there were a couple of possessions he bailed us out from it getting close to single digits. There were some really big shots in the second half but overall, he’s just an incredible player and shot-maker.”

Although Irving’s master class steered the ship to the win, there were plenty of other key contributors for Brooklyn in Tuesday’s road win. Andre Drummond registered his third double-double in a Nets uniform, finishing with 20 points and 14 boards in 24 minutes of play. Bruce Brown added yet another strong all-around performance into his hot stretch of games with 14 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals in 28 minutes. Patty Mills contributed 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-Point range off the bench.

“I thought they played really hard,” said Nash on the role players’ contributions in Tuesday’s road win. “They worked hard defensively and they made shots, especially Patty had a great stretch there in the first half. When he’s able to space the floor like that, it really helps our team and the middle guys got to scramble and play hard defensively to try to make it difficult for the other teams. They fought and played with their hearts on their sleeve tonight, and Bruce made some shots as well.”

Kevin Durant had a quiet Tuesday night, concluding with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 shooting from behind the arc in a game-high 40 minutes of action. it was also a bit of a milestone. KD had never scored so few points in a game where he also spent 40 or more minutes on the court. Durant also grabbed three boards, dished seven assists, and had five turnovers in the win.

“It’s pure. Everything he does is pure. It looked so easy tonight. I look up and he got 10 points, and it felt like he only took two shots in the first quarter. I told Seth, “damn, I didn’t know he had it cooking like that.’ I have seen it in his eyes to start the game. He wanted to play better than last game so he came out here tonight and wanted to impact the game from the start. He led us all night,” said Durant on Irving’s 50-point performance. He hit big shots when we needed him to and it was just an incredible, incredible performance.

“Younger players should watch this game and learn what it takes to score at that level as a 5’10,” 5’11” [player]. For him to score that easy, that was just a master class.”

Brooklyn ended the must-needed win shooting 46-of-82 (56.1 percent) from the field and 18-of-35 (51.4 percent) from 3-point range. The 132 points scored by the Nets are the second-most in a game this season, trailing the Nets signature win against the Bulls on January 12 against the Bulls (138). The team dished 33 assists on their 46 made shots. Brooklyn is now 9-0 when dishing over 30 assists this season.

The Nets used the same starting five of Irving, Durant, Brown, Drummond and Seth Curry against the Hornets to open the contest. Just under two minutes into the game, Drummond took a hard shot to the face and hit the bench, replaced by Nic Claxton.

In the handful of minutes the 28-year-old big was getting treatment on the bench, Durant and Irving started the onslaught against Charlotte. The superstar duo tallied 10 of the team’s first 14 points to help the Nets take a 14-9 lead with 5:40 left. The rest of the offense started to get more involved with the ball swinging around the perimeter and off drive-and-kicks. Brooklyn dished eight assists on 2 made shots to power a 34-20 lead after one.

The Nets much needed urgency went full throttle in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Hornets had a terrible all-around quarter. Behind the hot shooting of Irving, who tallied 20 points on only six shots attempts, quickly expanded the Nets’ lead to 20 points in the opening minutes of the period. Irving got a breather on the bench at the 7:50 mark of the frame that lasted up till the 4:02 mark. While Irving was off the floor, the Nets maintained their 20-point lead.

When Irving checked back into the contest, the Nets’ sense of urgency rose higher on both ends. Brooklyn forced Charlotte to cough up a total of nine first-half turnovers while swiping a total of five steals. More importantly, the team kept looking for their best shot. The Nets dished 20 assists on their 25 made shots (only four turnovers) in the first half to propel a 69-43 lead at the break — their second-highest halftime lead of the season.

“I thought both sides were so connected in the first half. Defensively we were locked in, contesting everything, scrambling, sticking to the game plan, physical, rebounded the ball. That was outstanding at both ends. We got to see the ball move, make quick decisions, make good passes. Offensively, we made shots but even if you don’t make shots, the methodology was in place. They played the way we wanted to play. The play we pushed them to play almost to a tee in the first half.”

Irving led the Nets with 20 points at halftime, followed by Drummond with 13 points and six rebounds. Brown played a huge role, sparking Brooklyn’s sharp defensive play, and tallied 11 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in 15 minutes.

Brooklyn Nets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Hornets opened the third with a consistent offensive rhythm, putting together a series of 3-pointers and finishes around the basket. On the other end, Brooklyn’s sharpshooting remained strong behind the play of Irving, who registered 31 points off his seventh triple of the game.

Then the Nets hit a wall and a big collapse followed. Charlotte forged an 12-0 run midway through the frame to trim the deficit to 19 with 4:54 remaining in the quarter. The run included three careless turnovers by Brooklyn. The Hornets scoring run ballooned to 20-4, slicing their deficit (34 points) in half entering the final three minutes. The Nets regained a flow offensively to hold their crumbling lead up at 16 points (100-84) entering the final 12 minutes of play.

“Two things: The foot came off the gas defensively. We gave up 41 in the third and then zone. You can say the zone slowed us down but we had 63 in the second half. Really for me, it’s the defense,” said Nash on the factors that helped the Hornets climb back into the game in the third quarter. “Can we improve against the zone? One-hundred percent. Defensively, we took our foot off the gas.”

Brooklyn started Irving, Curry, Mills, Dragic and Claxton against a bigger Hornets five to begin the fourth. Irving carried over his red-hot sharpshooting into the fourth, drilling a pair of triples to keep a bright light down the tunnel in sight. Although Irving was shooting his way to a big road win, Brooklyn’s defense couldn’t string together stops resulting in Charlotte not going away.

Entering the final three minutes of play nursing a 13-point lead, Charlotte went to the defensive strategy, intentionally fouling Drummond on back-to-back possessions. The big man went 3-of-4 in his two trips in the line to raise the lead a bit to 15. Brooklyn held on in the final two minutes to comfortably escape Charlotte with an 11-point win.

Applause for a friend

After the Celtics game Sunday, Kyrie Irving publicly applauded Kevin Durant on his big accomplishment, the 25,000th point in his career.

So on Tuesday, KD returned the favor to celebrate Kyrie’s 50 piece...

Milestone Watch

So many milestones.

  • Irving registered his third 50-point game as a Net. No other player in the franchise’s NBA history has more than one (eight players have posted one 50-point game as a Net).
  • This is Irving’s fifth-career 50-point game: three in Brooklyn and two in Cleveland.
  • Irving has his ninth 40-point game with Brooklyn, breaking a tie with John Williamson for 2nd-most in franchise history. Only Vince Carter (17) had more.
  • Irving is the first player in NBA history to record 50 points, nine 3-pointers and shoot 75 percent shooting in a game.
  • Irving’s nine 3-pointers was the third most ever by a Nets players, behind only Deron Williams (11) and Joe Johnson (10), both in 2013.
  • Patty Mills hit four 3-pointers vs. the Hornets, giving him 198 for the season. The number is already the most in Mills career, topping the 161 makes he recorded last season. When he breaks the 200 mark, Mills will be the fourth Net to hit that mark, behind only D’Angelo Russell (234), Joe Harris (211) and Allen Crabbe (201). Could he break DLo’s record? It would take a little more than two three’s per game over the last 16 games. He’s averaging 3.04 so far.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s the game that has been marked on everyone’s calendars since the February 10th trade deadline. The Nets will take the trip down I-95 to play James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center in the City of Brotherly Love. Ben Simmons is slated to make the trip and sit on the bench and bear the brunt of Philly’s famously fickle fan base.

For a different perspective on Tuesday’s game in Charlotte, check out At The Hive — our sister site covering the Charlotte Hornets.