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Nets grab 17th win in 19 games with ugly 108-102 victory over Pelicans

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Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Nets rattled off their 17th win in 19 games Friday night in the Big Easy.

The Nets avenged their Wednesday loss against the Chicago Bulls by taking down the New Orleans Pelicans, 108-102, in what was largely an ugly contest. With the win, the Nets have climbed back into the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference as the Milwaukee Bucks lost to the 11-29 Charlotte Hornets. The No. 5 seed, the 76ers, lost as well, 126-112, to the Bulls.

“Being challenged by other teams on the road and also at home shows we’re growing in some small areas where our communication is at an all-time high,” said Kyrie Irving after the game. “Especially when we’re on the road and we understand where we are and then just the way execute.”

Brooklyn’s stars had atypically poor showings. Kevin Durant had a quiet 33 points on just 9-of-26 from the field, and Kyrie Irving was just as poor with just 19 points on 7-of-22 shooting. Fortunately, Irving hit the two biggest shots of the game—a layup off a broken play and a deep 3-pointer—to build a nice five-point cushion to get his Nets across the finish line.

“There’s gonna come a time when them shots don’t fall,” said Durant after the game. “Like tonight, I thought we got good looks all night. Especially me. I mean, I’m 9-for-26. Like five or six of those, I felt like I’m supposed to make those shots. But I liked how we kept grinding. Regardless, my teammates kept trying to find me.”

Nic Claxton, however, was simply exceptional, putting up 9 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting line, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 blocks. Royce O’Neale also had a nice bounce-back game, going 4-of-7 from deep for 14 points after missing all eight threes vs. the Bulls.

CJ McCollum (28 points and 6 assists) unsurprisingly led the way for the Pelicans, and Naji Marshall pitched in 23 points as well.

Despite the poor showing from its stars, the Nets shot very well from deep (15-of-33, good for 45.5%) and the free-throw line (19-of-20 for 95.0% for the math-challenged!). That alone made up for the differences in rebounding (51-43, New Orleans) and points in the paint (42-36, also New Orleans).

New Orleans erupted to a 12-6 start. Kevin Durant began the game just 2-for-8 from the field, and the Pels made six of their first eight threes. Fortunately, the Nets ended the quarter on a 10-2 run after a pair of corner threes from Yuta Watanabe and Seth Curry to finish the half down just 28-27 despite the disastrous start.

The Pelicans started the second quarter on fire once again, immediately going on a 15-1 run. Then, T.J. Warren checked in and went on a 7-0 run by himself. Still, the Nets as a whole looked discombobulated as C.J. McCollum got himself going with 10 in the quarter to give New Orleans the 64-53 lead at halftime.

Brooklyn’s All-Star frontcourt, (at least in the eyes of the early voters) Kevin Durant and Nic Claxton, helped Brooklyn start the third on a 19-8 run to give Brooklyn its first lead since the first quarter. The Pelicans responded by pounding the offensive glass and posting up through Jonas Valanciunas en route to an 8-2 run. Brooklyn entered the fourth ahead 88-85 after Warren nailed a catch-and-shoot three with 5 seconds remaining.

The Nets could not get anything going in the fourth quarter, beginning the first 3.5 minutes scoreless. Both teams continued to go back and forth in what was a fairly low-scoring fourth quarter. FINALLY, Kyrie got it going with a layup off a broken possession and a deep three-pointer to give Brooklyn a 5-point cushion. This essentially gave Brooklyn the advantage it needed to cruise across the finish line for its 17th win in 19 games.

“I think the biggest adjustment at halftime was we decided to guard the basketball and take pride in doing it,” said Jacque Vaughn after the victory. “38 points for them in the second half. really shows that by the numbers and just the overall demeanor. The way we climbed into the basketball, we were definitely more physical in the second half, dictated more possessions, and at the end of the day, we wanted to win and we did things necessary to do so.”

The Film Room

As our Lucas Kaplan wrote this week, Nic Claxton has arrived.

After being one of the top vote-getters in the Eastern Conference for frontcourt players, Nic Claxton lived up to the title with a crucial all-around performance. Clax has really come into his own, especially as of late, and affected the game in a positive way against New Orleans with his nonstop hustle. You can make the case that he was one of the main reasons the Nets came out victorious. It’d be tough to disagree.

As usual, Claxton, first in blocks per game after Friday, was a dominant paint-denying force against New Orleans’ downhill excursions. One thing that stands out is his ability to block shots with both hands, regardless of how his hands are positioned initially on possessions.

This one is with his dominant hand, his left, but what stands out is just how effortless this looks despite the required dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

His ability to screen-and-roll has also taken a massive leap this season. His screens have been more forceful and timely, and he’s been much more decisive and choosy about rolling into open pockets of space and throwing his hands up to let his teammates know, “I’m open! I’m open!”

And then, of course, there’s his rebounding. Clax is in the 73rd percentile for offensive rebounding at his position, per Cleaning the Glass, and is one of the few players on Brooklyn’s roster that can create extra points opportunities. He had three offensive rebounds late that essentially swung the game, including this one. It’s always fun when an offensive rebound makes the highlight real.

“You see he’s just starting to learn different ways to impact the game. And so he saves us on a lot of positions where it’s the amount of blocks he has at the rim for us, whether it’s his ability to kind of show a crowd in transition and still get to his man, or whether it’s 14 seconds left and he goes offensive rebounding and gets offensive rebounds,” said Vaughn. “So from beginning to end, I think we’re showing a great confidence in him to leave him in with two fouls, put him out there with three fouls. He’s so important for us and he’s proven it on a nightly basis.”


The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, along with Leandro Bolmaro, the draft rights to 2022 first round pick Walker Kessler and Minnesota’s 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 first round picks and a 2026 first round pick swap.

The Brooklyn Nets re-signed Nic Claxton to two-year, $20 million contract ($18.25 million guaranteed.)

Who’s having a better year? Claxton, 23, is blocking 2.6 shots a game to Gobert’s 1.4. Claxton is shooting 73.7% overall, Gobert 67.2. Gobert, 30, is averaging more points and rebounds, but Claxton doesn’t need to average a lot of points and rebounds. He has KD and Kyrie.

And the Nets are 26-13 while the Timberwolves are 18-21.

Milestone Watch

  • Kevin Durant’s next basket will move him into 14th spot in NBA scoring all-time. Durant needed 34 points to pass Dominique Wilkins but finished one short. Wilkins is at 26,668, KD at 26,667.
  • Brooklyn has a league-high 13 road wins (13-8) and is one of just three teams over .500 on the road this season.
  • Nic Claxton (five blocks) has posted three or more blocks in a career-best fifth straight game, the longest streak of games with three or more blocks for a Net since Brook Lopez in November 2012 (also five straight).

Claxton is now NBA leader in blocks per game at 2.6, moving ahead of Brook Lopez. He had five blocks last night to Lopez’s 0. Claxton is now NBA leader in blocks per game, block percentage (7.9), shooting percentage (73.7), effective shooting percentage (73.7)

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets head off to Miami to play the Heat on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. EST. YES Network has the game.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to The Bird Writes, our Pelicans sister site.