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Nets heroic comeback falls short, losing 117-112 to Suns

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Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The losing streak without Kevin Durant continues.

Despite shooting 52.4% from the field and 42.3% from three as a team, the Nets lost their fourth consecutive game, this one to the Phoenix Suns, 117-112, who were without Chris Paul and Devin Booker, having lost three straight.

It was also the third-straight game the Nets have lost to a below-.500 opponent and now face an upcoming slate of the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, and Philadelphia 76ers in their next three games. In short, things could pretty ugly for Brooklyn as it attempts to play without its MVP-caliber forward.

Kyrie Irving had a sluggish start but ended up finishing with 30 points on 11-of-27 shooting after a starry 21-point fourth quarter.

Nic Claxton had a big double-double performance with 20 points and 11 rebounds along with some staunch defense that resulted in three blocks.

Joe Harris also had a nice bounce-back game. He went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field with 16 points on four made threes.

The Suns were led by Mikal Bridges, who put up a team-high 28 points, and Deandre Ayton, who recorded a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double. Saben Lee, a G League staple, was also a nice spark off the bench for Phoenix and had 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with 6 assists.

The Suns game-planned for the Nets with near perfection. They crashed the glass with incredible resiliency against Brooklyn’s smaller lineups, besting Brooklyn 49-34 in the rebounding category. Phoenix also attacked Brooklyn’s switching defense in the first half, a major reason for the 16 attempted free-throw discrepancy between both teams. As mentioned, the Nets shot the cuff off the ball from all areas of the floor, but their incredible shooting night wasn’t enough to make up the deficit.

The Nets got right to it and hit 3 of their first 5 threes. The Suns, meanwhile, made it a priority to post up Deandre Ayton repeatedly to generate offense to the tune of 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field, especially when Nic Claxton was switched out to the perimeter. Then, Cam Johnson checked in for Phoenix and immediately made an impact, scoring 8 points in 3 minutes on 2-of-3 from deep. The Suns led 35-29 after one period of play.

Brooklyn’s defensive schemes were puzzling and continued to be that way in the second quarter. The Nets switched on Phoenix’s pick-and-rolls, despite the Suns not having any high-level creators at the point-guard position. As such, the Suns continued to post up Ayton in the second quarter after he got matched up with smaller Nets players on these switches. Irving, as mentioned, had a rough start and jacked up shots out of the flow of the offense en route to just 4 points on 2-of-8 shooting at halftime. Phoenix grew its lead to 65-52 at the break.

After Phoenix got off to an early 5-0 start to build a 19-point lead, Jacque Vaughn called a timeout just 53 seconds into the third quarter. But the Nets’ bad night continued to get worse when Ben Simmons got ejected from the game for vociferously arguing a foul call. Things finally started clicking for Brooklyn halfway through the quarter when the Nets went on a 12-0 run after a pair of threes from Harris and Seth Curry. Then, Saben Lee checked in for the Suns and Phoenix immediately built back its 19-point lead. A 13-2 run late in the quarter gave Phoenix the 94-74 advantage heading into the fourth.

Just when things were looking over, Brooklyn went on a 12-2 run late while stymying the Suns with a zone defense. Then, a second 20-4 run shrank the deficit to just 5 points thanks to some heroic defense from Claxton and a medley of fourth-quarter points from Irving on drives to the rim. But just when things were looking like they were about to go the Nets' way, Brooklyn coughed up the rock on three straight transition possessions. Though Irving hit a massive stepback three late, the Suns intentionally fouled Claxton in the final five seconds of the game, and he proceeded to miss both free throws, sending Brooklyn to their fourth-straight loss.

How bad has the offense been without Durant? StatMuse has a graphic that will tell you everything you need to know.

Kyrie tweets about overcoming adversity ... and poise

A few minutes after midnight, Phoenix time, Kyrie Irving tweeted out what could be a specific response to what’s going on with the Nets ... or just general advice...

If the comments were specific to the game and the Nets current quandary, it was another indication that Irving believes things will right themselves with patience.

“We’re no different than any other team in the league, figuring it out when guys are in and out of the lineup,” Irving said post-game. “But our confidence can’t waver, so it’s just gotta carry us forward.”

Ben Simmons gets ejected

Ben Simmons’ night in Phoenix did not last long. After picking up his fifth foul for being whistled on an illegal ball screen, Simmons let the official know he wasn’t particularly happy about the call. Brooklyn’s third star was quickly thrown out of the game for jawing back-and-forth with the referee and quickly headed back to the locker room.

Simmons finished the night with seven points, six assists, and four rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.

Milestone Watch

  • Nic Claxton had 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. It was his third 20-10 game of his career. At 23 years old, Claxton is the youngest player to block three or more shots in 10 straight games since 22-year-old Rudy Gobert with the Jazz in Jan. 2015. Claxton entered tonight’s game as the league leader in blocks per game (2.7).
  • Claxton’s four blocks also moved him up the Nets all-time list. His 10-game stretch of three or more blocks is now the third longest in franchise history. Shawn Bradley had two streaks of 11 games with three or more blocks in 1996.

T.J. Warren goes missing

T.J. Warren was the first man off the bench vs. Phoenix, but played only seven minutes and scored only three points. He went to the bench early and didn’t return, not playing at all in the second half.

Jacque Vaughn said that when Warren picked up his third foul early and that with the Nets in another offensive funk, he decided to look at other options.

Another KD update

Jared Greenberg, the TNT courtside reporter Thursday said that Kevin Durant remains in a knee brace and will be evaluated early next week. The Nets said at the time of the sprained MCL diagnosis that they would re-evaluate KD in two weeks. That was back on January 9, meaning the two-week mark would be January 23, next Monday.

All-Star balloting tightens

The third return of fan balloting was revealed Thursday. The Nets still have three players — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Nic Claxton — in the top 10, but the vote is tightening. Giannis Antetokounmpo has moved ahead of Kevin Durant in the Eastern Conference frontcourt voting and Nic Claxton who was ninth in the first two returns is now 10th. Kyrie Irving continues to lead in the East backcourt balloting. Here’s the full numbers...

Fan balloting is only one of three components in determining who gets the nod for the final roster. The other two are NBA media and the players themselves. The game, in Utah, is a month away.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Brooklyn heads to Utah for the second half of a back-to-back. Coverage begins at 9:00 p.m. EST on the YES Network.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Bright Side of the Sun, our Suns sister site.