Nets Take First Place in East With Comeback Win Over Rockets

B

Final: 03/31/2021

W 120 108

Screenshot via YES Network

The Nets saved the best for last.

In a game where Brooklyn trailed by as many as 18 points, the Nets outscored the Rockets 63-40 in the second half in a home victory against the Rockets on Wednesday. Kyrie Irving was Brooklyn’s leading scorer with 29 points, Joe Harris added 28 and James Harden exited early with hamstring tightness.

The Rockets arrived in Brooklyn ready to pounce. Despite having just 13 wins entering Wednesday, Houston had about as hot of a start as possible, shooting 70% from the field in the first quarter while making the Nets pay from deep.

It was not until the third quarter that the Nets took a brief one-point lead thanks to a 12-0 run, and they later took the lead for good in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn used a 25-4 run to build as large as a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter while holding the Rockets to just 21 fourth-quarter points. 

It was a lineup of Irving, Harris, Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton that was the spark plug for Brooklyn. The energy was palpable as Irving took over at point guard, Claxton dominated the interior and Harris and Griffin got hot from three to switch the momentum in the Nets’ favor. 

The result was defined by defense. A poor effort on defense from the Nets in the first half allowed the Rockets to come out with more energy and quickly build a lead. Once Brooklyn was able to secure stops in the second half, it was able to chip at Houston’s lead and ultimately get more opportunities on offense.

The Rockets were held scoreless for a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, during which the Nets were able to dominate. After Houston scored 42 points in the first quarter, it had just 40 total in the second half. 

The comeback at times seemed as if it would not happen, but the Nets eventually found their groove. They outscored the Rockets 58-48 in the paint while capitalizing on Houston’s mistakes, scoring 22 points off 13 Rockets turnovers.

Houston made Brooklyn pay for mistakes as well, scoring 20 points off the Nets’ 11 turnovers. Kevin Porter Jr. led six Rockets in double figures with 20 points and six assists.

Despite the absences of Harden and Kevin Durant during the game, the Nets were able to win — and with it take over sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the East. They are 19-3 in their last 22 games. 

Steve Nash said the Nets feel optimistic that Harden’s injury will not be a “long-term thing,” but Brooklyn has a quick turnaround against the Hornets on Thursday. With or without Harden, the Nets now have the opportunity to protect sole possession of first place for the first time since 2003. 

Kyrie Irving

A-

The stats: 29 PTS, 12-25 FG, 3-8 3PT, 4-4 FT, 6 REB, 12 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO, 39 MIN

The Nets’ comeback started and ended with Kyrie.

He did not score a point in the fourth quarter, but he did not have to. Irving controlled the game while taking over point guard duties from Harden, setting the pace while tallying a season-high 12 assists.

Irving also was the heartbeat of Brooklyn’s 12-0 run in the third quarter, assisting on six of the points and scoring the other six himself. He was aggressive in scoring early and finished the night showing great chemistry with his teammates — it’s what you want to see, with his star teammates hopefully back soon. 

Joe Harris

A

The stats: 28 PTS, 10-17 FG, 7-12 3PT, 1-1 FT, 6 REB, 27 MIN

JOE. EDWARDS. BUCKETS. — Ian Eagle

(Fun Fact: His real middle name is Malcolm, according to the internet.)

The first pump was back in action as Joe broke out of his recent semi-slump. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone to help power Brooklyn’s comeback, with his last three-pointer added just for good measure in securing the win.

It is not often that Joe breaks the 20-point mark, and this time he nearly broke 30 — it was especially needed without Harden. A big night for Joey Buckets as he continued to attack the paint all while getting hot from three. More than a shooter. 

James Harden

B

The stats: 17 PTS, 5-10 FG, 0-3 3PT, 7-7 FT, 8 REB, 6 AST, 3 TO, 27 MIN

James Harden’s night was shortened with a strained hamstring in a game that quickly slowed down for him offensively.

Harden had 14 first-quarter points and scored just three in the second quarter before exiting in the third quarter. He looked a bit tired at times, and it seems as if the strained hamstring should not keep him out long. (Then again, that’s what was said about KD.)

The Nets were trailing by 11 points when Harden last checked out and ended up winning by 12. That is a good sign for chemistry forming as the team continues to play without its leading stars, one (or two or three) at a time. 

Nicolas Claxton

B+

The stats: 12 PTS, 6-7 FG, 8 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 21 MIN

Claxton was a man on a mission as his minutes increased in the second half.

Claxton was a dunking machine with lob after lob while also stepping up defensively. He added four offensive boards which proved to be valuable in Brooklyn’s 50-42 rebounding advantage.

Claxton again earned closing-game minutes, and it does not seem like Nash will put him in the starting lineup because he does not want to “overload” him. Still, he is earning his time and finding his way to be the most effective big in the lineup. 

Blake Griffin

B+

The stats: 11 PTS, 4-5 FG, 2-3 PT, 1-1 FT, 6 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 22 MIN

Yeah, Blake Griffin can still ball.

Griffin brought great energy off the bench while doing a bit of everything. He had his third dunk as a Net while coming up from distance when needed in the fourth quarter.

Outside his shot, Griffin also gave some great looks to teammates while passing out of the post. Griffin was a team-high plus-23 in 22 minutes, and he is living up to everything the Nets hoped he could contribute so far. 

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