Harden, Claxton Shine as Nets Lock in for Road Win Over Blazers

B

Final: 03/23/2021

W 116 – 112

What Tuesday’s game lacked in defense was made up for in offensive discoveries.

A shorthanded Nets roster came together to record a 116-112 victory on the road against the Trail Blazers. James Harden, the lone active member of the Big Three, put up 25 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds to lead the way in what was a back-and-forth contest. 

Portland had their opportunities down the stretch, putting the Nets’ grit to the test once again. In-bounding the ball provided some late trouble for Brooklyn, but the Nets were able to get stops and Jeff Green made a pair of free throws to seal the deal. 

It was clear from the start that this game would see little resistance from either team on the defensive end as some of the best backcourt talent in the NBA got to work. The Trail Blazers were hot early with 41 first-quarter points and poured in 19-of-55 three-pointers while the Nets shot 49.4% from the field on the night.

Brooklyn’s defense improved as the night went on, holding Portland to 71 points in the latter three quarters on 40% shooting. The Nets particularly locked down in the fourth quarter as the Trail Blazers recorded just 21 points in the final frame.

The Nets struggled to find their three-point shot again after a hot start (9-of-30) but established themselves as a threat in the paint with a dominant 64-28 point advantage inside. Nic Claxton and Green were the stars of the show as they combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds on the night.

Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets had to get creative. That meant getting Blake Griffin more minutes, which paid off with good activity on both offense and defense — including good hustle and a three-pointer.

Though Portland got to a hot offensive start and led by as many as seven points, it was Harden who rallied his team through the latter three quarters. His offense may still not be at full force, but there were lobs and dishes aplenty to get Claxton, Green and Griffin going to build momentum.

The bench came up big for the Nets as they combined for 43 points and helped upkeep the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. In addition to Claxton and Griffin, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Tyler Johnson also came to play and provided timely buckets. 

Five Nets reached double figures in scoring as they pulled away by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter. It was another game that came down to the wire, but the Nets stepped up their defense late and were able to get the necessary stops, rebounds and offensive answers to close out the victory.

Enes Kanter once again got whatever he wanted against the Nets with 19 points and 19 rebounds on the night. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 38 points as seven Trail Blazers reached double figures in scoring.

This mini road trip was already going to be a test, and Irving’s absence added to the difficulty. But Harden stepped up to rally the squad, and his teammates fed off his energy.

The win extends Brooklyn’s road winning streak against Western Conference teams to nine with an opportunity for 10 against the Jazz on Wednesday. Another test for a shorthanded team, but it has proven it can adjust and succeed with Harden at the helm and Claxton blossoming before Nets fans’ eyes.

James Harden

B+

The stats: 25 PTS, 7-24 FG, 0-7 3PT, 11-13 FT, 7 REB, 17 AST, 2 STL, 4 TO, 40 MIN

James Harden’s chemistry with his teammates continues to blossom.

Harden’s shots were not falling, so he went to the next best thing and fed his teammates. The assists kept adding up as he commanded the court and provided on-point lobs and passes to Claxton, Green, Griffin and more.

It is growing a bit concerning that Harden’s three-point shot is still missing in action, but his passing is just as valuable. Harden’s neck may still be bothering him, but he brought the energy out of the gate to help lead to the win over Portland.

Jeff Green

A

The stats: 20 PTS, 7-14 FG, 2-6 3PT, 4-5 FT, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO, 35 MIN

Uncle Jeff burst out of his recent quiet streak in a big way.

Green was Brooklyn’s offensive motor early with seven points in his first eight minutes and went on to keep up that pressure throughout the night. He was able to stretch the floor a bit with his three-point shot while also helping to dominate the paint.

Green was in constant attack mode, and he drained the game-sealing free throws to avoid late-game drama. This is the Uncle Jeff Nets fans love to see.

Joe Harris

A-

The stats: 17 PTS, 6-12 FG, 3-6 3PT, 2-2 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 32 MIN

Kyrie’s absence gives Joe more offensive opportunities and he delivered against Portland.

Joe made a pair of threes early and went on to switch up his game by opting for some mid-range jumpers. On another night where the team as a whole struggled from three, Joe helped the Nets keep up from distance as Portland poured in the three-pointers.

Joe has continued to add different facets to his game, and his assertion to be more than a three-point shooter continues to keep defenses on their toes. The Nets need his three-point shot, but they benefit just as much by his dynamic offensive presence. 

Nicolas Claxton

A

The stats: 16 PTS, 8-10 FG, 9 REB, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 22 MIN

If a lob is thrown, chances are that Claxton will be on the other end of it.

Claxton’s length and speed allow him to be pretty much anywhere at any time. He is constantly on the move as he waits for his moment inside. 

Even if his shot misses, Claxton is there to grab the offensive rebound. The energy Claxton brings continues to be palpable, and his growing chemistry with Harden means only good things for Brooklyn to come. 

Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot

B+

The stats: 11 PTS, 4-7 FG, 2-5 3PT, 1-1 FT, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 27 MIN

TLC got early minutes after Bruce Brown got poked in the eye, and he had an immediate impact.

It has been a while since TLC has made some noise, but he stepped up early with his three-point shot to help Brooklyn keep up with Portland’s quick start. He went on to earn more minutes and helped out on the boards and with play-making.

The bench as a whole stepped up, from Griffin to TLC to Johnson. It was good to see TLC get some momentum again to help lead the way for the second unit.