James Harden
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets’ big two game to play on Sunday night.

Things look like they’re starting to fall into place for the Nets as they extended their modest winning streak to five with a 116-103 victory over the Raptors.

For the second straight game, Brooklyn followed up a mundane first half with an explosive third quarter. The Nets outscored Toronto 35-17 which carried them to a convincing double-digit win.

Even without the services of Kyrie Irving the Nets still boast some serious firepower as evident by their performance after halftime. Kevin Durant (31 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) was the catalyst behind the offensive assault as he tallied 13 of his 31 points in that frame.

It must be something about coming out of the locker room because Durant also started the game hot, scoring 12 points in the opening frame.

When the Raptors went on an 8-0 run to trim the Brooklyn lead to two, Durant buried a three from the wing, thus sparking an 11-2 Brooklyn run to end the quarter. This was also Durant’s first game in Toronto since his catastrophic injury during the 2019 Finals.

Offense aside, what really stood out about the team’s third-quarter turnaround was the defense. The defensive rotations were sharper, strong contests on the inside and an increased sense of urgency on the boards.

Aside from Toronto’s mini-run in the middle part of the quarter, their offense was stifled by Brooklyn’s defense. Not something we’re used to hearing but this iteration of Nets basketball may just shift the narrative of the Nets treating defense as a second thought.

As if dealing with a hot KD is bad enough, things start to get scary when you also have to deal with James Harden (28 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). In arguably his best performance of the year from an aggression standpoint, it’s clear an aggressive Harden is a happy Harden.

Even though he wasn’t getting foul calls early on, Harden continued to be aggressive, getting excellent dribble penetration which collapsed a stingy Toronto defense allowing for open looks for teammates.

The Beard carried the Nets to the finish line, dropping 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, including the team’s final 8 points. After a last-minute push in the fourth by Toronto which cut Brooklyn’s 15-point lead to 7, Harden was there to save the day with a tip-in off a missed shot and then a dagger three-pointer with under a minute left.

Not to be forgotten amongst the standout play from the Nets’ stars was the performance from their role guys. DeAndre’ Bembry in particular gave Brooklyn a strong 21 minutes off the bench. Although he only scored 5 points, including a rim-rocking dunk, his activity on the defensive end and ability to keep the ball moving in the second half is a big reason why he was on the floor in the final minutes of the game.

Blake Griffin, leader of the “Blue Collar Crew” followed up a strong performance Friday with an even stronger one Sunday afternoon. Blake was active on the boards early as he pulled down 6 of his 11 rebounds in the first quarter. He also knocked down two three-pointers and would hit four in total en route to a 14-point double-double. Patty Mills and Joe Harris also held it down from distance, each hitting on a trio of deep balls and Bruce Brown did his work in the paint.

Brooklyn can’t get complacent as they’ll have another test Monday on the second half of this back-to-back against the new and improved Chicago Bulls.

Other Nets Notes

  • The win snapped Brooklyn’s 10-game losing streak in Toronto. The team had not won a game since February 4th, 2015
  • The Nets’ 7-3 start is tied for the best 10-game start in franchise history