It only took a month for Kevin Durant to ruin Brooklyn fans. But when he didn’t play like Superman, someone else had to step up for the Nets.
That’s exactly what James Harden and Kyrie Irving did in the fourth quarter on Monday night, picking up what had been a tight game and turning it into a 98-85 Miami win at Barclays Center.
With the Nets clinging to an 81-80 lead that was tenuous at best, Harden and Irving unleashed a 15-0 run that put the Heat shorthanded away.
Harden finished with 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds, while Durant added 20 and 13 rebounds. While Harden hasn’t been very aggressive since he arrived from Houston in a four-team mega-affair, with Durant struggling off the floor the triple-scoring champion was necessary and arrived.
“Would I like James to be more aggressive?” Yes, “Steve Nash said earlier.” Will he be more aggressive over time? I think so. Once he gets more comfortable with his teammates, when he gets in better shape, when ‘he has adapted to all this new environment, we will see an improved James marking the ball.
“But I’m not worried about him. And by the way, unmarked brings such a big profile to our team with its playfulness and the way in which it is able to distort the defense, to manipulate the defense. In an ideal world, it does both for us, but it’s been really great for us in the way we can, even without scoring, impact the game. ”
The Nets needed Harden’s late impact.
Durant struggled to shoot 6 of 21, including a 2-of-13 start. But the Nets (11-8) have still found a way to win for the sixth time in the last eight.
The Heat (6-10) played without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro; but they defended and scrapped like all of Erik Spoelstra’s teams. And they have severely tested the networks.
Brooklyn had surpassed 110 points in 12 straight games, but saw the strip fall.
And Durant had entered the second night in the league in scoring (31.2 ppg), watching every bit of the MVP on his return from Achilles surgery. He had scored at least 25 in a record 12 straight franchises, and 30 in four straight.
But Monday left slowly, facing zones 2-3, zones 3-2, Duncan Robinson and a number of other Heat defenders.
Brooklyn is getting colder than the weather. The Nets missed their first five hits to fall into a quick 8-0 loss, and set the tone for much of the night. The Nets shot just 4-for-21 in the first quarter, with Durant missing six of his seven attempts.
The rest of the team was no better. The Nets missed their first 11 attempts from behind the arc, until Joe Harris finally hit from deep with 9:30 remaining in the half.
The Nets went 45-38 with a minute before the break – and 61-56 in the third – before they finally started to pick up some traction.
Durant was 2-for-13 at this point and 0-for-6 from deep – before his pull-up and Harris 3 corner kicked off and sent Miami scurrying in a timeout with 4:28 in the third. Then Durant’s hard-fought 3 hit the pond.
The rest of the night was a tooth and nail, a swinging affair.
Coming 74-73 after a layup by Andre Iguodala, the Nets bounced back. Irving made a couple of free throws, and after forcing misses from Iguodala and Precious Achiuwa, Durant drilled a 3 from a Harden feed to make it 78-74.
He hit another to hit a 78-yard touchdown run.
Sticking to an 81-80 lead, Harden drilled a 3-pointer with 4:59 left, and then a layup to push the lead to six. After Harden’s very malignant defense came big at the other end, blocking Kendrick Nunn, Irving’s bucket went 88-80 with 3:54 to play.
Harden and Harris added 3-pointers to paddle at 16, putting up a fight in Miami.