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James Harden and Kevin Durant total 64 points to help Nets slip past Bucks

Nets guard James Harden, forward Kevin Durant, forward

Nets guard James Harden, forward Kevin Durant, forward Joe Harris and forward Jeff Green react during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets needed every ounce of firepower that James Harden and Kevin Durant could muster as the two totaled 64 points, including the game-winning three-pointer by Durant, in a pulsating 125-123 Martin Luther King Jr. Day victory over the Bucks at Barclays Center.

The lead repeatedly changed hands in thrilling fashion before Harden rebounded his own three-point miss and got it to Durant, who buried a three from the top of the arc with 36 seconds left for a 125-123 lead. After a Bucks miss, Durant committed a turnover to give the Bucks one more chance, but Khris Middleton’s corner three at the buzzer bounced away.

Describing the heady rebound that led to Durant’s winning shot, Harden said: "That’s who I am. I’m not a one-dimensional player. I can impact the game in many, many ways."

Harden led the Nets (9-6) to their fourth straight win with 34 points and 12 assists. Durant had 30 points and nine rebounds, Joe Harris totaled 20 points and DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo topped the Bucks (9-5) with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Middleton had 25 points and Jrue Holiday added 22.

The Bucks opened the final period with a 9-3 surge to gain a 98-97 lead on a three-pointer by Pat Connaughton with 10:11 to play. But Harden turned on his fourth-quarter jets, scoring six points in a 10-2 response to restore a 107-100 Nets lead at the 7:54 mark. Then Antetokounmpo and former Net Brook Lopez each had five points in a 13-5 run that gave the Bucks a 113-112 lead on Connaughton’s three with 4:07 left.

Facing the defending Eastern Conference champion Bucks without Kyrie Irving, who sat out his seventh straight game, figured to be a stern test for the Nets, especially with former Thunder teammates Durant and Harden trying to familiarize themselves with each other again.

Asked if it was the kind of victory that underlines the promise this season holds for the Nets, coach Steve Nash said: "I think it can underline it, but we’re not having any parades. This is a new group, no training camp, new look offensively and definitely a new look defensively. So we’ve got tons of work to do.

"We’re grateful for the victory tonight, the lessons we can learn and the process we’re undertaking in games like this against high-quality opponents, but we’ve got to keep building . . . It’s a great puzzle for us to put together and for us to figure out how to be the most efficient we can be."

The Nets settled for a 57-56 halftime lead, which was decent considering some of the misfires Durant and Harden were having. Durant had 11 first-half points and shot 4-for-12, and Harden, who had nine turnovers two nights earlier, had six in the first half against the Bucks.

They cleaned up that mess in the second half, totaling 42 points after intermission, and Harden had no more turnovers the rest of the way.

In the third quarter, the Nets kicked things into gear with an extended 22-10 run that included threes by Harden, Durant, Jeff Green and Harris to grab their biggest lead of the game at 83-72. That lead got away from them, but the chemistry between Harden and Durant, who last played together nine years ago, was seamless. "We were young in Oklahoma City," Harden said. "We’re grown men now. We really know the game now."

Durant agreed, saying: "We’ve seen every defensive scheme, we’ve played in Game 7s, we’ve experienced a lot. It’s an easy transition, especially with James handling the ball a lot. It’s a solid start."

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