brooklyn nets james harden
(via Brooklyn Nets Instagram)

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden combine for 29 fourth-quarter points to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a win over the Clippers.

Danny Small

Don’t look now, but the Brooklyn Nets are back. Two days removed from their dumbfounding last-second loss to the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn answers with a statement win over Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.

This game had everything that NBA fans could want — two championship contenders, plenty of star power, and a close fourth quarter. Leonard went for 33 points, five boards, and five assists, but he didn’t have enough backing from his teammates to slow down the trio of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant.

On any given night, any of those three guys can erupt offensively. Tuesday night happened to be Irving’s turn.

Julius Erving wore No. 32 when he played for the Nets in the ABA. Let’s take a look at three highlights and two observations from Brooklyn’s 124-120 win over the Clippers.

Highlight 1: Kyrie Irving Slices Up Kawhi Leonard

Highlight 2: Kyrie Irving Corkscrew

Highlight 3: Kevin Durant Killer

Observation 1: Small Ball Early Pays Off Late

The Nets tinkered with the starting lineup by moving DeAndre Jordan to the bench. This matched him up with Ivica Zubac on the second unit while Jeff Green had the assignment of Serge Ibaka in the starting lineup.

Early on, the swap looked like a disaster. Kawhi and the Clippers were slicing up Brooklyn’s defense. Los Angeles had an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter.

But the second unit wouldn’t let the game get out of hand. Nets head coach Steve Nash likes to start out second quarters with that Harden-led bench unit and it’s paying off.

Although Nash has made his fair share of coaching blunders this season, moving Jordan to the bench for this game was a smart move.

Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, Los Angeles matched Brooklyn by playing without a center. The Nets had more firepower when it was all said and done.

Observation 2: Playoff Preview

This might not end up being a preview of the NBA Finals, but it certainly had all the feel of a playoff game from start to finish. The stars on each side were going shot for shot in the first half, the outcome came down to the final minute, and there were plenty of replay reviews to slow the game down. The only thing missing was thousands of screaming fans.

Nets fans would love if this fourth quarter was a preview of what’s to come in the playoffs. Irving went for a season-high 39 points, scoring 10 points in the fourth with Leonard matched up on him for most of the time. Harden added 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists while playing in all 12 minutes in the final frame. And ho-hum, Durant scored nine on a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line.

The cardiac Nets couldn’t quite put the Clippers away, but they were able to make enough plays to pull out the win. Although Nash’s decision to foul up three points in the final seconds almost backfired on a clear-path review, it was the right call by the first-year head coach.

It was a bounce-back kind of night for Nash, Irving, Harden, Durant, and the rest of the Nets after their last-second loss on Sunday.

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