Stellar defense propels Nets over Hawks

Nets All-Star Kevin Durant guards Hawks point guard Trae Young.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets lockdown defense, along with Kevin Durant’s 31 points propelled Brooklyn to a bruising victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, keeping the squad from Barclays Center atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference. 

The matchup came as the third of four games on the Nets recent road trip, which had seen a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday and a loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. 

Along with his impressive point total on 12-22 shooting, Durant, who missed the team’s previous game for rest, added six assists and five rebounds, while putting on a defensive masterclass on the other end of the floor.

Meanwhile, James Harden continued his work as the team’s ball dominant guard, dishing out 11 assists to go with his 20 points and five rebounds.

While those two box-stuffing future Hall of Famers grabbed much of the spotlight with their highlight reel-esque play, 22-year-old Nick Claxton’s defensive game helped anchor the team’s efforts to neutralize the explosive Hawks offense. 

“He’s such a versatile defender. He’s guarding Capela one minute, he’s guarding Trae Young the next,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash “When he’s able to guard like that, it makes it very difficult for the other team.” 

On the Hawks side, Trae Young matched Durant’s 31 points, while power forward John Collins added another 20. 

But those performances weren’t enough to stop the Nets fourth quarter onslaught, as Brooklyn pulled away from the 95-95 game with seven minutes left and never looked back — letting the Hawks score on only five possessions in the second half of the fourth quarter. 

“We had some lapses here and there, but the effort, and the desperation we played with in the fourth quarter is unbelievable,” said Nash. “The fourth quarter, we really turned up the screws.”  

“We’re a very solid defensive team. I wish we could play like that for four quarters,” said Harden. “We understand it’s a long game, playing against some really good talent. But when it’s time to win the game, we do whatever it takes to win. Tonight was another example of that.”

Turnovers remain a problem for the team, as they gave away the ball 13 times — including six turnovers from Harden, and five from Durant.

“Some of the turnovers come because our spacing isn’t great, so we’re trying to figure that out through the course of the season,” said Harden during a postgame interview with YES Network. “And we’re getting better every single game.”

Still, Brooklyn proved once more that, when healthy, they are a force to be reckoned with.  

The team now moves to an 18-8 record, besting the second place Chicago Bulls by one game, and the third place Milwaukee Bucks by 1.5 games. 

Next, they’ll head to Detroit on Sunday to play the flailing Pistons, who boast a wretched 4-21 record, which will end the four-game trip on the road, before they return to Barclays Center on Dec. 14 for a contest against the Toronto Raptors.