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Nets snap four-game losing streak behind sensational 48 points from Kyrie Irving

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Brooklyn Nets v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The losing streak is over!

Brooklyn snapped a four-game skid with a 117-106 victory over the Utah Jazz and secured their first victory without Kevin Durant, who remains sidelined with an MCL sprain. The Nets, reeling from an ugly loss to the Phoenix Suns, showed incredible poise to take down a Jazz team that has been fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Oh, and Brooklyn did so on a back-to-back.

“Total perseverance from this group from beginning to end,” said Jacque Vaughn after the win. “So I told this group, impressive win. This is a tough place to play. And against a really good team. It’s a good win.”

Kyrie Irving continued to ride the fire he showed in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game against the Suns and dropped an incredible 48 points on 18-of-29 from the field and 8-of-15 from three to go with 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. He was simply majestic.

“I had the trust from Jacque to be able to make plays down the stretch,” said Irving about his big fourth-quarter performance. “He comes to me and we talked about it and I think we’ve been able to develop a dialogue that continues to grow game-to-game. So it gives me a lot of confidence in the fourth quarter to be able to perform that way. My teammates looking to me as well. And when the ball’s feeling good in my hands, you still want to get a great shot. That’s better for our team.”

When a reporter prefaced a question by suggesting that it’s unrealistic to expect him to play like this every game, Irving stopped him by saying, “I don’t think it’s an unrealistic expectation.”

Indeed, over his last five quarters, starting with his 21 points vs. San Antonio Thursday night, Irving has scored 69 points.

“Every night I try to put myself in that place, in that zone,” Irving said. “Specifically in the fourth quarter when it’s winning time. But I just think the way we started off the game really made a difference tonight and then the way we finished, I felt like we grew as a squad.”

Nic Claxton also brought the big heat, dropping 20 points for the second-straight night on 8-of-9 shooting. He also recorded 4 blocks, which tied a Nets record for shot-blocking: most consecutive games with three or more stifles.

Utah was led by Jordan Clarkson with a team-high 29 points. Likely All-Star Lauri Markannen also dropped in 22 points on six made threes to go with 11 rebounds.

The Nets played the Jazz to a relative standstill on the glass, 46-42 in Utah’s favor, which is always a win for this Nets’ squad that ranks toward the bottom of the league in rebounding. For the second-straight night, Brooklyn shot north of 40% from three—43.9% to Utah’s 41%. The difference came down to 2-point scoring. The Nets shot 53.8% from the field while the Jazz shot just 42% overall, which just speaks to how sensational Brooklyn’s interior defense was.

“We talked about yesterday, but now isn’t the time for anybody’s approach to change. Just gotta do the little thing. So prepare,” said Irving about Brooklyn’s grizzled mentality against Utah. “Just lifting extra time on your downtime, getting extra shots up, and just staying ready when your number is called. That’s the identity of our group, and we’ve just gotta keep it up.”

Brooklyn got off to a fiery start. Claxton took the matchup with Walker Kessler, a rookie big man, personally and bodied him on multiple possessions for a poster dunk and a smooth lefty hook shot. Irving showed an aggressive mentality early as well with a short-range jumper, a long two-pointer from the post-up position, and a sweet stepback three-pointer. As such, the Nets erupted to a 16-5 lead through the first 5 minutes of play. Utah, however, went on a 9-2 run to shrink Brooklyn’s lead down to 28-22.

The Jazz continued to close the gap in the second quarter and eventually took their first lead at the 5:34 mark after Collin Sexton hit a two-pointer. Utah got a balanced effort from their guards, with all of Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, and Sexton raining in shots. Fortunately for Brooklyn, Irving could not miss, raining in a multitude of tough jumpers en route to 20 first-half points. Though Brooklyn made a run late, a Lauri Markannen three gave Utah the 55-51 lead at halftime.

The Nets brought intensity into the second half with a 9-0 run in the opening two minutes, and Joe Harris broke his first-half slump with three made 3-pointers in five minutes. Then, the Nets started busting out some zone defense for the second straight game, which halted Utah’s offense almost entirely. As a result, the Nets went on a 10-2 run. A late push from Sexton and Mike Conley tied things up at 83 apiece heading into the fourth.

Irving could not be stopped to begin the fourth with 12 points including a huge 30-foot heat-check three. However, when Jacque Vaughn put in a lineup of Edmond Sumner, Seth Curry, Simmons, Claxton, and Royce O’Neale as Kyrie sat, Utah was able to fight back and even things up. But Kyrie wouldn’t let his team lose, continuing to put pressure on the basket and nailing shots in rhythm to boost his fourth-quarter total to 21. But maybe his best play of the game was when he drove to the rim hard against Lauri Markannen, saw Jordan Clarkson helping from the strongside corner, and kicked to Seth Curry for the dagger three-pointer. That play helped cap off the much-needed victory in Utah.

“This group is growing and they deserved and did the work to get a win tonight,” said Vaughn rather succinctly about the conclusive victory.

The Film Room

You know the Nets played well when it’s tough to discern who had a better game between Kyrie Irving and Nic Claxton—and one of those players dropped 48 points.

We’ll start with Irving, who was obviously the headliner. After a sluggish game for his standards against Phoenix, in which the All-Star guard basically failed to attack the painted area until the fourth quarter, Irving had a balanced effort from all three levels of the floor.

With the Jazz running rookie Walker Kessler in a shallow drop and forcing their guards, typically Mike Conley, to get over the top of screens, Irving obliged at the opportunity and nailed multiple pull-up threes.

If a defender made a mistake, as Collin Sexton does here by going under Ben Simmons’ (terrific) re-screen, Irving made the defense pay courtesy of a three-point bucket off the dribble. For reference, the general rule of drop coverage is that the ball-handler’s defender goes over the screen while the big man hangs back to deter at-rim shots and the possibility of the screener rolling the rim.

Now let’s get to Claxton, who by all accounts, completely warped the floor defensively. As mentioned, Nic had 4 blocks, two of which came in the final two minutes of the game. The block below might’ve been Nic’s best of the season.

Collin Sexton challenged Nic at the rim, and Clax responded by preparing to block the shot with his left hand. In response, Sexton hung in the air an extra second and switched hands to his right for what looked to be a highlight up-and-under finish. But then Claxton switched hands and adjusted on the fly, showcasing incredible hand-eye coordination to swat the shot on the way down. You’ll be tough-pressed to find a better block this season.

And just in case you don’t believe us, here is the Jazz’s shot chart on Friday. They shot 47.5% against the Nets near the rim. League average from this area of the floor is 59.9%. You’re looking at a 12.4% difference in shooting largely because of Clax’s impact.

Milestone watch

  • Kyrie Irving’s 48 points were a personal season-high and a Nets season-high in scoring. His eight made three-pointers were also a season-high. His 11 rebounds were, yep, another season-high. Finally, Irving’s four steals tied a season-high.
  • Irving has dropped 21 points in two-straight fourth quarters. Those 42 total points are 5.5 more than any team has averaged in that same two-game span (the Chicago Bulls have averaged 36.5 in their last two games in the fourth quarter).
  • Irving’s 45 points are the most points scored against the Jazz all-time, breaking Bubbles Hawkins’ record, who dropped 44 points in 1977.
  • Speaking of all-time records, Nic Claxton tied Shawn Bradley’s record from 1996 with 11 straight games of 3 blocks or more. Claxton had four rejections against Utah with the opportunity to break Bradley’s record on Sunday against Golden State.
  • Irving is closing in on Vince Carter’s record as the holder of most 40-point games as a Net. Carter has 17 games and Irving has 13 (and counting!).
  • As mentioned, Nic Claxton has dropped 20 points in two consecutive games. He had only dropped 20 points twice in his first 134 games prior to the recent back-to-back against Phoenix and Utah. In his last six games, Claxton is averaging 15.7 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Jazz play tribute video for Royce O’Neale

Before tip-off, Utah played a touching tribute video for Royce O’Neale, who stood up and basked in a loud round of applause from the crowd.

“I mean, it means a lot. A great feeling. A lot of love they showed for five years,” said O’Neale about the tribute and Utah’s fanbase. “I had a lot of great memories here and just to feel that welcome back meant a lot.”

O’Neale is a fantastic rags-to-riches story for the Jazz’s franchise. He played two seasons overseas after failing to get drafted in the 2015 NBA Draft but got his shot by performing well on Utah’s Summer League roster and eventually became a starter on multiple playoff rosters for the Jazz. Over his five-year career, Royce averaged 6.1 points on 44.8% from the field and 38.1% from three while guarding the toughest assignments on the other end.

O’Neale, of course, landed in Brooklyn this offseason via a trade that sent Brooklyn’s trade exception from the Spencer Dinwiddie sign-and-trade and a 2023 first-round pick. He’s performed well in Brooklyn, averaging a career-high 40.1% from three.

Jersey sales drop

The NBA and NBPA released sales data on jersey sales and both Kevin Durant (No. 5) and Kyrie Irving (No. 15) made the list...

That’s a bit of a dropoff from two years ago when shortly after the James Harden trade, the Nets had three players in the top eight. Among teams, the Nets sales rank eighth...

That, too, is a dropoff from two years ago, when Brooklyn was second. A lot has happened since then.

Nets bring Kessler Edwards, David Duke Jr. back

After he scored 25 points and hit seven 3-pointers for Long Island two nights ago, Kessler Edwards got a reward. The Nets flew Edwards and one of their two two-ways, David Duke Jr. across the country to Salt Lake City where they sat on the Nets bench. The two have both averaged 20 points a game for Long Island this month. Brooklyn’s newly signed two-way, Dru Smith, remained with Long Island who play again vs. the Delaware Blue Coats in Wilmington Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET.

What’s next

The Nets head to San Fransisco to play the Golden State Warriors, who have gone an incredible 17-5 in their home stadium. Coverage begins at 8:30 PM EST on NBA TV.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to SLC Dunk, our Jazz sister site.