The Nets sleepwalked on defense during the loss that gave them their first three-game losing streak of the season Tuesday night in Detroit. At one point in the second half of their lackadaisical effort, television cameras caught coach Steve Nash engaging in an animated, prolonged sideline conversation with DeAndre Jordan, who was struggling to protect the paint.
One night later, after Jordan’s inspired play led the Nets’ best defensive performance of the season in their 114-104 victory over the Pacers at Barclays Center, the first-year head coach admitted he and the center butted heads in Detroit.
"If I’m honest, it was an emotional night," Nash said. "DJ and I got upset at each other for a minute. I know DJ got upset a few times during the game, so I’m proud of him because he bounced back with an incredible attitude, effort, performance [against the Pacers]. For him to come back and be a veteran leader and presence, that type of effort and energy in extended minutes against an All-Star center [Domantas Sabonis] was outstanding."
Jordan had 12 points, a season-high 13 rebounds and three blocked shots while banging in the paint with Sabonis, who had 18 points but shot only 7-for-20. The Nets held the Pacers to an incredible season-low 30 first-half points on their way to a 62-30 halftime lead that was the largest for the franchise since the move to Brooklyn.
Each Net committed to guarding his man, but it was Jordan who unmistakably set the tone. After the game, he downplayed his clash with Nash.
"We’re competitors, man," Jordan said. "All the coaches, a lot of those guys have played in this league before, and we’ve got a lot of veteran guys who ultimately want to reach the pinnacle of this game of basketball. Emotions fly. We want to win.
"It’s just trying to find the right schemes during the game and different adjustments, and that’s where I think our conversation went. A lot of things get blown out of proportion . . . but every conversation people have, we can’t judge by their facial expressions. A lot of that is how we talk during the heat of the game. It’s not anything negative."
As for the role he played against the Pacers, Jordan deflected credit to his teammates for taking more pride on the defensive end. "Bruce [Brown] did a great job on Malcolm Brogdon, so did Tyler [Johnson],’’ he said. "Kyrie [Irving] did a great job. We just wanted to be physical and show our presence defensively first, and our offense will take care of itself."
James Harden praised how well the Nets guarded pick-and-roll plays run by Pacers point guard Brogdon with Sabonis. That takes communication, and it began with Jordan.
"His energy, defensive intensity," Harden said of Jordan. "Our team is great when he is talking, communicating, defends like he did tonight, rebounding, blocking shots and just doing all the intangible things we need him to do every single night. Tonight he was DeAndre Jordan. He was great."