For the first time in 352 days, the Nets hosted real live fans at Barclays Center. And they didn’t disappoint them.
Brooklyn earned a 127-118 win over Sacramento — and a minor victory in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fight for at least a little normalcy.
The Nets (21-12) pulled away in the closing stages of the fourth quarter, using a 14-1 spurt to turn a one-point nail-biter into a league-high seventh straight win. And this one had some extra meaning — the extra spectators.
The last time the Nets hosted fans at Barclays, they beat the Bulls on March 8, 2020, in front of 15,916. But that seemed like a lifetime ago —with Jacque Vaughn still the interim coach, Kevin Durant still yet to suit up for Brooklyn, and James Harden still toiling in Houston. Oh, and the coronavirus still a thing that most in the U.S. hadn’t become intimately familiar with.
The pandemic saw last season suspended then restarted in the Orlando bubble. And it saw the Nets — and every other pro sports team in the area — to play in essentially empty buildings. That is, until Tuesday night, when Brooklyn welcomed 300 fans into Barclays Center — tested for COVID-19 beforehand and socially distanced during. But every journey has to start somewhere.
“Yeah, it’s nice. You know, it’s a nice change,” coach Steve Nash said. “We obviously have been playing in empty stadiums, for the most part, at least at home. And so to have some fans and a little bit of life, and energy will be nice. And hopefully we can safely incorporate more fans as we go here.”
The Nets kept pace with Philadelphia just a half-game from first in the East. They got another triple-double from Harden — who had 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, all game-highs. They also got an unexpected 29 from the defensive-minded Bruce Brown, while Kyrie Irving chipped in 21.
Brooklyn’s defense was lacking, letting the Kings shoot 51.2 percent behind De’Aaron Fox (27 points) and Tyrese Haliburton (23). But the Nets did enough down the stretch to win. Barely.
They once again showed a galling habit of playing down to the level of their opposition. It’s something they claimed to have fixed, but on their stunning 5-0 western road swing, they faced all contenders except Sacramento.
Brooklyn has the best record in the NBA against teams .500 and above, at a stellar 12-2. But its 8-10 mark against losing foes coming into Tuesday implied a lack of focus against the league’s lesser lights, and the night’s struggle against the lowly Kings signified more of the same.
After Fox hit a 3-pointer with 7:07 to play, the Nets were clinging to a 110-109 lead that was tenuous at best. But that’s when they took control with a 14-1 spurt, capped by unexpected 3-pointers by Brown.
Brooklyn did storm out of the gate to lead 42-28 after one, their highest-scoring first quarter of the season. They even handed season-debuts to Nic Claxton and Imam Shumpert, and a rare second appearance for Andre Roberson.
But the second quarter saw next to no defense played. The Nets let Sacramento hit 10 of their first 11, and saw their lead cut to 54-50 on a Richaun Holmes dunk midway through the period. They responded with eight unanswered points to retake the momentum, but couldn’t get a grip on the game defensively.
Even after a Joe Harris’ 3-pointer capped the run and padded the cushion back to a dozen, Brooklyn couldn’t take command. The Kings kept inching closer, until they took a 96-95 lead on a 17-foot jumper by Haliburton with 14.3 seconds left in the third.
But Harris answered with 3-pointers to close the third and open the fourth. They gave the Nets a 101-96 lead that they did just enough to hold onto.