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Nets second unit's defensive shortcomings force Steve Nash to play starters big minutes

The Miami Heat's Goran Dragic heads for the

The Miami Heat's Goran Dragic heads for the net as the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving defends in the second half at Barclays Center on Jan. 23, 2021.  Credit: TNS/Elsa

If there was a cautionary note about the Nets’ 128-124 win over the Heat Saturday night at Barclays Center, it was that they blew all but one point of a 16-point lead near the end of the third quarter, and they were outscored 42-32 in the fourth period when they simply couldn’t contain Bam Adebayo, who scored 12 of his 41 points, or Duncan Robinson, who had 11 of his 18.

In the final quarter, starters James Harden and Joe Harris played the entire period and backup center Jeff Green played 11:35. But it was in that first two minutes that the second unit melted down defensively before Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving returned to the game to restore order.

Coach Steve Nash defined the issue this way: "I don't know if it's relaxing, but that second unit is just growing, trying to learn and figure it out and play together. They just struggled a little bit, and that's going to happen sometimes. They're capable; we got to develop them. The alternative is to play our starters 40-plus minutes.

"Although we lost the momentum, we still were able to win the game and keep the minutes in a relatively acceptable zone. So that that's part of our development. That's part of taking the long road here."

 

In the end, Durant, Harris and Irving all played nearly 37 minutes and Harden, who is thought to not be in prime shape, played more than 38 minutes.

"I was happy with the character and resolve we showed to make some shots, to play against a different look," Nash said. "That zone, it's not something you face every day. So trying to figure it out and stay calm, stay poised, play principles more so than sets. Most importantly, they showed the resolve after a tough week to get the win."

Indeed, the victory snapped a two-game losing streak in Cleveland. Now, the Nets face the Heat in a rematch Monday night at Barclays Center. The Heat were without stars Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Meyers Leonard as well as Avery Bradley and Chris Silva, and they are expected to be short-handed again Monday night. So these games against the depleted defending Eastern Conference champions are ones the Nets should win, but since the Harden trade, their defense has slumped without the presence of center Jarrett Allen and lengthy point guard Caris LeVert.

They were horrific in Cleveland but gave up only 82 points to the Heat through three quarters before the fourth-quarter explosion. "I thought we played with a sense of urgency," Durant said. "I think we did a good job of forcing those guys off the three-point line. They threw it to Bam, who is an All-Star in the post, and he did his thing. Jeff and [DeAndre Jordan] made him shoot tough shots all night. You’ve got to live with those. He’s such a great player that he’s going to keep them in the game with his passing and rebounding and shot-making.

"Overall we did a solid job. Duncan Robinson didn’t get as loose. He got a few late, but he didn’t get as loose. So I think we followed the game plan."

At the same time, Durant liked the progress the Nets’ Big 3 made in their second game together. "The trust is already there," Durant said. "The familiarity with each other is there already. We know each other’s games from the last decade.

"It’s just a matter of what plays we’re going to run, what lineups we’re going to have out there. I think the coaches and the players are fine-tuning everything. For the most part, our minds and our hearts are in the right place. We try to take care of business every possession."

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