It’s only taken a month for Kevin Durant to spoil Brooklyn fans. But when he’s not playing like Superman, somebody else had to step up for the Nets.
That’s exactly what James Harden and Kyrie Irving did in the fourth quarter Monday night, taking over what had been a tight game and turning it into a 98-85 blowout of Miami at Barclays Center.
With the Nets clinging to an 81-80 edge that was tenuous at best, Harden and Irving sparked a 15-0 run that put the shorthanded Heat away.
Harden finished with 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds, while Durant added 20 and 13 boards. While Harden hasn’t been quite his aggressive self since arriving from Houston in a four-team mega-deal, with Durant struggling from the floor the three-time scoring champ was needed and came through.
“Would I like James to be more aggressive? Yes,” Steve Nash said beforehand. “Will he be more aggressive in time? I think so. Once he gets more comfortable with his teammates, when he gets in better shape, when he’s adapted to this whole new environment, we’ll see an improved James scoring the ball.
“But I’m not worried about him. And by the way, without scoring he brings such a great profile to our team with his playmaking and the way he’s able to distort the defense, manipulate the defense. In an ideal world, he’s doing both for us, but he’s been really big for us in the way he can, even without scoring, impact the game.”
The Nets needed Harden’s late impact.
Durant struggled through 6 of 21 shooting, including a 2 of 13 start. But the Nets (11-8) still found a way to win for the sixth time in their last eight.
The Heat (6-10) played without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro; but they defended and scrapped like all Erik Spoelstra teams do. And they tested the Nets severely.
Brooklyn had topped 110 points in 12 straight games, but saw that streak snapped.
And Durant had come into the night second in the league in scoring (31.2 ppg), looking every bit the MVP in his return from Achilles surgery. He’d scored at least 25 in a franchise-record 12 straight, and 30 in four in a row.
But on Monday he got off to a slow start, facing 2-3 zones, 3-2 zones, Duncan Robinson and a string of other Heat defenders.
Brooklyn came out colder than the weather. The Nets missed their first five shots to fall into a quick 8-0 hole, 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 left in the half.
The Nets still trailed 45-38 with a minute before the break — and 61-56 in the third — before they finally started to get some traction.
Durant was 2-for-13 at that point and 0-for-6 from deep — before his pull-up and Harris’ corner 3 knotted it and sent Miami scurrying into a timeout with 4:28 left in the third. Then Durant’s tough contested 3 broke the deadlock.
The rest of the night was tooth-and-nail, a seesaw affair.
Down 74-73 after an Andre Iguodala layup, the Nets edged back ahead. Irving hit a pair of free throws, and after forcing misses by Iguodala and Precious Achiuwa, Durant drilled a 3 off a Harden feed to make it 78-74.
He hit another to snap a 78-all tie.
Clinging to an 81-80 edge, Harden drilled a step-back 3 with 4:59 left, and then a layup to push the lead to six. After Harden’s much-maligned defense came up big on the other end, blocking Kendrick Nunn, Irving’s bucket made it 88-80 with 3:54 to play.
Harden and Harris added 3-pointers to pad it to 16, sticking a dagger in Miami.