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Kyrie Irving’s 42-point outing lifts Nets over Rockets, 118-105, and in Play-In bracket

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It was a huge night for Brooklyn ... a night that ended with a must-needed win and key losses by their opponents all benefiting the Play-In bound Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets defeated the Houston Rockets, 118-105, in front of a sellout crowd of 17,768 Tuesday night at Barclays Center. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 41-38 on the season but more importantly, the Play-In Tournament seeding went the “Brooklyn Way.”

“It wasn’t a great performance. I don’t think anyone in the locker room feels like it was a great performance,” said Steve Nash after the 118-105 win over the Rockets Tuesday night. “I think we gave up too many offensive rebounds and lost too many loose balls. It is a trickier team to play than the record [shows]. They got some young, athletic guys that are playing really free, making shots, driving the ball to the basket, and No. 1 in the league in drives and fouls. We found a way. We got it done.”

Brooklyn is currently sitting in the eighth seed, tied with the nine-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who officially locked into the Play-In Tournament Tuesday, are sitting at the seven seed with a 1.5 game lead over the Nets. The Charlotte Hornets, who also lost Tuesday night, are now in the 10th seed, trailing Brooklyn by one game.

“These next games are huge. We want to get to the seven spot,” Bruce Brown said. “We’ll have a home game in the Play-In. That would be huge for us. We control our own destiny. We just got to come out with energy and play hard.”

Here’s the standings...

And the current bracket...

Kyrie Irving paved the way for the Nets Tuesday night, finishing with a game-high 42 points (13-of-24 shooting from the field and 8-of-16 shooting from 3-Point range) to pair with three boards, six assists, two steals, and a block in 40 minutes.

It was a quiet night for Kevin Durant offensively, but Irving got enough help from the supporting cast and his co-superstar for a high-scoring performance not to be needed. Durant tallied 18 points on 4-of-13 shooting overall and 1-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. He grabbed nine rebounds, dished seven assists, and blocked two shots. Durant didn’t record his first field goal until the 3:24 mark of the second quarter.

“Kai [Kyrie Irving] was huge for us tonight. If we didn’t have Kai tonight, I don’t think we would’ve won this game,” Brown said. “He did everything for us. He brought energy. I mean, he had 42 points and was +21 out there. Everything he did for us was huge.”

Aside from Irving’s 42-point explosion, it was a balanced scoring effort on Brooklyn’s side. Brown had another good showing with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, and three blocks in 33 minutes. Andre Drummond, who dealt with foul trouble throughout the contest, concluded with a double-double of 10 points and 11 boards. Cam Thomas led the 27-point bench effort with 13 points in 16 minutes.

The Nets opened the contest with a moment of silence for Herb Turetzky, the franchise’s long-time scorekeeper and NBA legend, who passed away Monday.

Brooklyn started Irving, Mills, Durant, Brown, and Drummond against Houston. The ball was moving early for the Nets. In fact, it was a passing clinic that led to open scoring opportunities to warm up the offense and the supporting cast. The strategy paid off for Brooklyn as the first half prolonged.

Irving was the team aficionado getting his teammates' open looks while mixing in a pair of 3-point attempts. Brooklyn held a nine-point lead early but at the 5:45 mark, the Nets pulled into a 15-8 lead. The Nets built a quick 8-0 burst off sharp ball movement (eight assists on 10 made shots). Out of those eight assists, Durant had five of them in the quarter. That paired with Claxton’s late-quarter boost off the bench helped lift the Nets to a 30-25 lead after one.

After leading by five at the end of the first, Brooklyn took off on another run, this one 10-0, to expand their lead to 10 points (42-32) in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Brown was cooking from behind the arc, hitting three-straight 3-Pointers for the Nets to gain some separation midway through the frame (49-36). It took a while but a passive Durant (six points at the halftime break) got his first field goal to fall at the 3:24 mark of the second quarter. The Nets finished off the first half with their biggest lead of the first two quarters of play (17 points). At the break, the scoreboard read 64-47 with a damaged Houston defense’s fingerprints all over it. The 17-point halftime lead was the biggest lead at the break for the Nets at home since Jan. 15 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Irving was the leading scorer for Brooklyn at the break with 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from 3-Point range in 18 minutes. Brown concluded the half with 13 points while the bench contributed 16 points. The big lead was upped by 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 47.4 percent shooting from deep. Meanwhile, the defense held the Rockets to 37.7 percent shooting and just 4-of-22 shooting from behind the arc.

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Rockets continued to fight offensively in the third but couldn’t buy a stop defensively to halt the Nets' offense. Despite the poor defensive effort, Brooklyn’s defense started to dip midway through the period, allowing Houston to slowly claw away at the deficit. behind the play of Kevin Porter Jr., who had 30 points at the end of the frame. After the Rockets trimmed the deficit to 13, Durant got more active offensively to rebuild the team’s large cushion. At the end of the third, the Nets led the Rockets, 90-74.

The Nets found out fast that the team needed to play defense in the fourth quarter in order to win. With Durant on the bench, Houston forged a 14-0 run, stemming from the final minute of the third, to trim Brooklyn’s lead to only nine points with just over nine minutes left. Irving served as a one-man wrecking crew in a stone-cold Nets offense until Durant checked back into the contest at the 7:20 mark with Brooklyn holding an 11-point lead. The cushion was enough to hold on to till the final buzzer with the Nets pulling out a 13-point win.

“I don’t know if you guys can hear me out there, but I just kept saying, ‘We’ve been here before. We’ve been in these lulls and in this back-and-forth where we haven't made a shot offensively, and teams continue to score on us. It’s no time to hold our heads. It’s no time to look around. It’s no time to wait for the crowd to get into it. We just got to put our imprint on the game, and I felt that was needed,” said Irving on his fourth-quarter takeover. “You’re going to see it a lot more moving forward. When the game starts to get a little out of hand or we have a big lead and we let it go, it’s time to put the foot back on the gas pedal and lead by example. That’s what happened.”

Milestone Watch

Kyrie Irving (42 points) has recorded his fourth 40-point game of the season and his 12th as a Net, second only to Vince Carter (17) in Nets NBA history.

Most 40-point games in a season in Irving’s career:

5 - 2020-21 (Nets)

4 - 2021-22 (Nets)

4 - 2016-17 (Cavaliers)

It was also the 10th time this season that Irving has broken 30 and his seven 3-pointers marked the first time in career that he had hit seven in consecutive games.

He’s the second Net all-time to make seven 3-pointers in consecutive games, matching D’Angelo Russell back in 2018-19.

Irving responds to coaching help ... from the Post

Prior to the game, Brian Lewis of the Post laid out for Kyrie Irving some details of his shooting slump ... and season-long lack of drives to the rim. As Lewis pointed out ...

In the Nets’ past five games entering Tuesday, Irving averaged just 21.4 points on 36.2 percent shooting — including 35.2 percent on jumpers, which always come and go.

But one of history’s best finishers took just 12 layup attempts over that span, less than half his career average.

Is that because his jumper had been so automatic for most of the season that he hadn’t needed to drive? Or being dropped into the season midway through against defenders

Irving responded by claiming it was a “small sample size, brother,” but the data shows that he has driving the lane only 3.8 times a game this season, well below his career numbers which usually hover between five and six.

“I’m able to score on the midrange level, and a threat from the 3-point line; so as long as I’m efficient at those different levels of scoring I have a good chance to perform well out there and give my team a better chance of winning. But as you can see, if I am dipping in and out of my efficiency and not making as many shots, it puts little bit more pressure on our team. Maybe I’ll take some of your advice and drive a little bit more.”

When Irving saw Lewis post-game, he renewed the conversaton...

“Did I drive enough? I took your advice. I’ll see you in coaching one day; maybe fifth grade, eighth grade.”

What’s next

New York Knicks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets will play the second game of the back-to-back against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will mark the first time Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will play together at MSG as members of the Nets.

“It’s going to be action-packed. It’ll be an exciting environment,” said Irving looking ahead to Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. “It’s the Mecca, so what better way to close out your season in the final few games than playing in one of the most historic arenas in the world.”

For a different perspective on Tuesday night’s action, check out The Dream Shake — our sister site covering the Houston Rockets.