HOUSTON — Nets coach Steve Nash smiled when asked if he consulted with Kevin Durant and James Harden about playing the entire fourth quarter to overcome a 17-point third-quarter deficit and pull out a 102-99 victory Tuesday night in Dallas before heading to Houston for the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
"I didn’t really ask them because I knew what the answer was," Nash said. "I kind of had a feel this was important to give ourselves a chance to get through this. It was one of those nights where they worked hard to stay in it when it wasn’t pretty, and you want to give them the chance to overcome. It was an opportunity for us to prove that we could tough this one out and get a win."
That’s exactly what the Nets did. They were in danger of losing two straight games for the first time this season and falling out of first place in the Eastern Conference, but after struggling to score for much of three quarters, Durant and Harden combined for 17 of 27 fourth-quarter points by the Nets, who held the Mavericks to 13 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
In the end, Harden played nearly 42 minutes and Durant played nearly 41, including the entire second half. "One thing about me and KD, we love to play basketball," Harden said. "We could play the whole 48 even if we’re exhausted. We want to stay in the game. Steve had been in that position before, so he knows and has a feeling for the game.
"When it’s go time, you’ve got to put your big dogs out there to win the game. Simple."
In the immediate aftermath of the win in Dallas, Nash was not prepared to say whether he might rest anyone in Houston. But Durant is in just his second season since coming off surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon in June, 2019. Nash said enough time has passed to suggest Durant can handle the workload, but when it came down to decision time on Wednesday, discretion was the better part of valor.
The Nets announced Durant would sit out for just the second time this season and that center LaMarcus Aldridge also would be rested. Since Nic Claxton played well in Dallas, he was in line to pick up the workload for Aldridge at center, and there was a possibility Blake Griffin might return to the rotation.
Following the win in Dallas, Durant laughed when asked if he expected to play the back-to-back in Houston. "I might play 48 tomorrow," he told reporters. "Just because. Give y’all something to talk about."
But the Nets (17-7) saw a soft spot on the schedule to rest one of their superstars against the lowly Rockets (7-16). Still, looks can be deceiving. After a horrendous 1-16 start, they actually have won six straight games
Of course, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Harden, who lobbied for the trade that sent him from the Rockets to the Nets last Jan. 14.
"I was there eight years," Harden said. "My entire family is there. I’ve got a lot of things going on there. Obviously, there are a lot of emotions, but for me, I’m trying to get a win. This is about racking up as many wins as we can.
"I think we’ve been a pretty solid team on the road [with a 9-2 record that is best in the NBA], but we don’t have the luxury of taking anybody for granted. They’ve been playing well of late, so we’re going to come in with the same mindset we came in with tonight and every other night — try to do whatever it takes to win the game."