No Kevin Durant? No problem.
After the Nets talked about stealing a game with their star forward resting, this one wasn’t stolen: It was earned. With their Big Three down to a Dynamic Duo, the Nets kept their momentum going with a 147-125 victory Friday night in Oklahoma City, tying their highest-scoring regulation output in team history.
Kyrie Irving had 25 points and seven assists, while James Harden had his 49th career triple double with 25 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. The league leader in assists, Harden cracked double-figure dimes for the seventh time in eight appearances as a Net, and led the way with his aggressive play.
“We’re fortunate to have a player of his caliber, and obviously his skill is historic,” Steve Nash said of Harden. “He’s led the league in scoring. I don’t know if he’s led the league in assists, but he’s right up there. His ability to read the defense is as good as it gets, and he’s an incredible playmaker and facilitator with some scoring championships on his résumé.
“I think he’s also a highly intelligent player — and that’s both ends, he’s a very intelligent defender as well. So I think we’re just fortunate to have a player of his caliber. And he’s not even at his best yet. He’s just trying to get comfortable with his new team and environment and also play his was into shape.”
That playmaking made everybody around Harden better. The Nets put a season-high nine players in double-figures in a comprehensive team win, their eighth in ten games.
Joe Harris had 20 points on 5 of 9 from 3-point range. With Landry Shamet (3 of 7) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (4 of 8) finally hitting from the outside, the Nets shot 57 percent overall and led by as much as 25 in winning their fourth straight.
The Nets (13-8) were already off to their third-best 20-game start ever, just a game off the pace of their 2001-02 and 2002-03 teams. Both of those squads reached the NBA Finals, and this one harbors similar designs.
And who’s to argue with them? Certainly not the Thunder.
Nash juggled both his lineups and rotations without Durant. He handed Harden only his second career frontcourt start alongside Harris, and defensive-minded Bruce Brown got the nod in the backcourt with Irving.
Though Harden has been getting a lot of minutes with the second unit while Durant and Irving lead the starters, on Friday against the Thunder it was Irving that spearheaded the reserves. Everything Nash tried came up aces.
The Nets came in having dropped five straight against the Thunder, and four in a row in Oklahoma City. They trailed 19-18 after an Al Horford 3-pointer with 4:43 left in the first quarter. Little did the Thunder know they’d go ice cold.
The Nets reeled off an extended 33-8 run, holding Oklahoma City without a bucket for 8:08 spanning the first and second quarters. They forced seven straight misses and four turnovers in that span, seizing complete control of the contest and never giving it back the rest of the night.
The Nets scored the first 15 unanswered points to open the second quarter. Jeff Green’s strong drive off a Harden feed made it 51-27 with 8:53 left in the half.
By the time Luguentz Dort snapped the skid, the game was all but over.
The Nets’ cushion was 76-59 at the break, the second-most they had scored in a first half in the Brooklyn era behind their 81 points on April 4, 2017 at Philadelphia. And their 115-94 lead going into the fourth quarter was their second-most through three in team history, behind the 120 they hung on San Antonio on March 6, 2020.
Brown’s alley-oop from Chris Chiozza with 1:39 left padded the cushion to 145-120, en route to matching their best regulation output ever.
“They’ve got firepower and really test you and a lot of different ways to offensively. And they do it for 48 minutes, so it’s not good enough against a team like this to do it for a period of time,” OKC coach Mark Daigneault had warned. “We’ve got to have a commitment to it over 48 minutes. Big-time challenge, and one that we’re excited to kind of see where we’re at with.”