In one of their most desperate nights of the season, the Nets came through with one of their most stirring comebacks of the year. They stormed back to a 125-119 victory over the Nuggets on Saturday before 4,044 at Denver’s Ball Arena in a game they had to have.
The Nets snapped a season-high four-game losing skid. And they rallied from a 21-point hole to do it, the second-biggest deficit they have overturned this season.
“They just played hard as hell,” coach Steve Nash said. “They fought, scrapped. Lot of things have to go right, but when you play that hard you cover up mistakes and you give yourself and opportunity.
“First half there’s a little bit of paralysis by analysis, a little loss of composure. In the second half, just dug deep and fought. Really proud of the effort they put in. They proved something to themselves.”
Kevin Durant had a game-high 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Kyrie Irving scored 31 points, while Blake Griffin added 20 — including 16 in the third quarter on 4 of 5 from deep — while dealing with MVP favorite Nikola Jokic.
The Nets trailed by 21, and were still down 108-100 in the fourth quarter. But that’s when they used a 13-2 run to go ahead by three, and never trailed again.
After dropping four straight to Portland, Milwaukee (twice) and Dallas, the Nets (44-24) bounced back and climbed to second in the East, half a game ahead of the Bucks.
“The energy in the locker room, its changed drastically since we started the game, I tell you that,” Irving said. “Just coming out being embarrassed for what is it, a third consecutive game, giving them 30-plus points in the first quarter. Then climbed out of a hole, and then coming out of halftime and then we just intensified our effort on both ends of the floor and we just started playing good basketball.”
With the Nets clinging to a one-point lead, Jokic (29 points) had two great looks at potential go-ahead baskets on consecutive possessions, but first Joe Harris forced a missed layup and then Durant induced a missed hook shot. Durant sank a pair at the line on the other end with 21 seconds remaining to put the Nets up 122-119.
Finally, Nic Claxton harassed the MVP favorite into a final missed bank attempt with 10.9 seconds left. The Denver star got hit with a technical for protesting the no-call, while Durant hit three straight free throws to ice the slump-busting comeback.
“The last week or so we’ve emphasized a few things that we showed in the second half: Playing great 1-on-1 defense, boxing out, getting rebounds and flying off the court,” Durant said. “If we consistently do that, we’re in good shape. That second half was who we are and hopefully we build on it.”
It took a while for the real Nets to show up. Despite facing a Denver team that was on the tail end of a back-to-back, and missing injured Jamal Murray, they dug themselves into a 13-5 hole right out of the gate.
The Nets fell behind 71-50 with 1:22 left in the half, and went in the locker room down 71-56.
But the Nets stormed out of the locker room on an 18-6 run. They hit their first seven shots, the last a Durant pull-up 3 to cut the lead to 77-74.
And down 108-100 in the fourth, the Nets mounted the game-changing 13-2 run. An uncontested Durant dunk capped it and put them up by three.
Irving’s free throw made it 116-112 with 3:51 to play, and the defense closed it out. They held Denver to 15 points in the fourth on 6-of-23 shooting to win.
“We were just way more aggressive,” Griffin said. “We were more aggressive defensively, spaced the floor well. … We didn’t play well in the first half. But one of the best parts about this was how we just stuck together, came out of the locker room at halftime and had a different air about us. That’s what good teams do.”
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