If Saturday’s 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers was what the Nets looked like while still missing a large swatch of their lineup, then one can only imagine how they’ll look when everyone is back.
The Christmas Day win — Brooklyn’s first game in a week — had its ups and downs, but when it came to an end, the Nets had gutted out a win over the LeBron James-led Lakers in a fashion that has come to encapsulate their play during the COVID outbreak.
And when the Nets have needed it the most, someone has stepped up to lead the charge.
Kevin Durant assumed those duties earlier this month before COVID eventually sidelined him and on Saturday night, James Harden took the reins. In his first game back from COVID protocol and just one lone practice under his belt, Harden put up 36 points, 10 boards, and 10 assists in nearly 40 minutes of work.
Not to be outdone, Patty Mills added 34 points with Bruce Brown adding 16 and DeAndre’ Bembry contributing 15. Nic Claxton finished the tiebreaking alley-oop in the fourth quarter that helped Brooklyn rally after they let their lead slip away.
“Just a great performance from everybody,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “It’s not easy to play after a week off. They were competitive and stuck to the game plan for the most part except for a few patches. James carried us for long stretches, and the team, in general, all came together defensively and made enough plays at both ends when things were becoming a little bit doubtful at times they were resilient.”
That seems to have become the character of the Brooklyn Nets as they’ve battled through their toughest challenge of the season. Through it all, the Nets managed to win games against the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers before a holiday triumph over the Lakers.
An impressive feat considering the circumstances that Brooklyn had been in before their schedule was paused. Even on Saturday, the Nets were playing shorthanded, despite getting some players back from protocol.
When the Nets stepped onto the court, it was only the second time as a team that they had done so in a week. For some guys, it had been longer.
“Until this is over, until we can get our full roster, I think the motto is, ‘find ways to win,’ and we’ve been doing that,” Harden said.
Simply put, the Nets’ next-man-up mentality has spurred them through a point in the season that looked as though it could have derailed them a bit. Instead, it has seemed to bolster their resolve.
“We’ve been kind of handling adversity throughout the whole season,” Mills said. “Different types of things. Guys being in, guys being out, next-man-up type of mentality, so I think this was no different. Obviously, the last past week that we’ve had, it was exciting to get some guys back. There was good energy there. I think nothing has changed mindset-wise from what we’ve been doing up until this point, being able to step up and deliver.
“Tonight I think was a good example of just having fun and figuring it out as we go. Nothing is ever going to be smooth sailing, but whatever it takes kind of thing. … We’re all about the big picture here and where we want to be at the end of the season, and I think that’s really what’s keeping us moving through all of it.”