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The Nets pulled out a much-needed, 128-124 escape against the shorthanded Heat, snapping a two-game skid and showing they could at least play just enough defense to win.
It also marked the first win for the Nets with all members of their Big 3 — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving — on the court together.
It wasn’t pretty or easy, but it was enough to improve to 10-8. For a team whose defense had imploded over the past five games, it was progress.
“We haven’t communicated enough, we haven’t made second efforts. At times it feels like we want a solution rather than a fight,” Steve Nash said. “So we’ve just got to make sure our mentality is strong and we stick together and we keep pushing to refine those details, and then we can improve defensively.
“I don’t think there’s a magic answer. No matter what scheme you go to, you have to [fight]. It has to be five men in concert, defending actions with intelligence and passion. So it’s more getting on the same page and the passion that we need to double down on before we start thinking about its the rotations or it’s the schemes.”
Durant had a team-high 31 points, his fifth straight over 30. Irving scored 28, including 18 in the fourth quarter, and Joe Harris added 23 against Miami’s zone. Harris matched his career-high with seven 3-pointers, and Irving took over in the final minutes while Miami was making a late push, erasing virtually all of what was a 14-point Nets lead heading into the fourth.
Though Brooklyn couldn’t slow center Bam Adebayo (41 points), their beleaguered defense did just enough.
The Nets defense has taken a nosedive after dealing Jarrett Allen, their field goal defense falling from sixth pre-trade to 26th in the next five games since. But they held the Heat — playing without Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley and Tyler Herro — to 13-of-45 from deep.
“This is an organization that just keeps going and going and going,” Nash had warned. “No matter who’s in the lineup they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play smart, they’re going to ask a lot of questions of your defense. They’re extremely well-coached and no matter who’s over there, they’re going to cause problems.”
Nash was proven right. The Nets got off to a quick start, and needed every bit of that cushion to hold on for dear life.
Brooklyn took an 11-2 lead out of the gate on what was left of the Heat.
Coming off his two lowest-scoring two games of the season — six points and eight points — Harris drilled a pair of 3s in the first minute. Harris’ fourth from behind the arc spotted the Nets to a 23-12 lead they held on to. Barely.
After struggling at times with Cleveland’s zone, the Nets saw some from the Heat. And they cut up the Miami zone with 11 first-quarter assists. They padded their cushion to 60-42 on Bruce Brown’s free throw with 2:28 in the first half.
Brooklyn spent the second trying to hold off the spirited Heat.
The Nets led 96-80 on a Durant 3 with 9.6 seconds left in the third quarter; but coughed up 15 unanswered points in a run that spanned the periods. They saw the lead shrivel to just one on Duncan Robinson’s layup with 9:27 to play.
But the Nets never let Miami over the hump, responding with eight straight of their own in a one-minute blitz.
Irving’s 3-pointer staunched the bleeding, and after the Nets forced a miss, Harden’s driving and-one padded the lead back to 102-95.
Durant’s 12-foot turnaround made it 104-95 with 8:25 in regulation. They closed it out to ensure there would be no overtime.
Miami kept coming, and Irving kept having to answer. At 106-104, Irving hit a 3 for breathing room. Then Nunn’s 3 cut the lead to 111-110 with just 3:18 remaining, but Irving responded again with a baseline jumper.
At 113-112, he hit a 3-pointer to give them a four point edge. Durant’s 15-footer extended it six, and Irving’s layup to make it 120-112 with 51 seconds iced it.
Irving had 10 points in the final 2:41, and a 15 in the last 6:18.
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