DETROIT — The Nets appeared to be on the verge of a blowout win after a 39-point third quarter that gave them a 16-point lead, but they found themselves clinging to a one-point lead with a little more than two minutes left. But Kevin Durant made three key baskets at the end to give the Nets their fourth straight win, 96-90, over the Pistons on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The Nets saw their big lead shrink to 90-89 with 2:15 left when No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham ended a 14-4 surge in which he scored eight points by hitting a three from the top of the arc. Suddenly, the Nets were struggling to hang on against the lowly Pistons.
Despite scoring six straight points after the Pistons got within two at 88-86 with 4:04 left, Durant faulted himself for his 12-for-27 shooting.
"I really think I missed too many shots tonight," he said. "I feel like I got to my spots, but I’ve got to do a better job of sticking with my fundamentals once I get there. When we were up 16, that could have been 23, 24 if I made a few of those shots. I took a couple bad threes.
"It was in spurts for me tonight, but it was good to see a couple go down in the fourth and good to get a win."
Durant topped five Nets in double figures with 29 points and added 10 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 16 points, James Harden had 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his second straight triple-double and Blake Griffin also had 13 points.
Cunningham led the Pistons with 17 points but shot 6-for-17. Kelly Olynyk added 13, but the Pistons shot only 37.9% from the field.
The Pistons game was the first of a season-high six-game road trip for the Nets. They opened a 25-18 lead late in the first quarter, but the Pistons responded with a 13-3 run to grab a 31-28 lead early in the second quarter. The Nets failed to score in the period until the 7:43 mark, when Harden hit a couple of free throws.
In the second period, the Nets were victimized by poor offensive execution on their way to a 39-all tie at halftime. It was the lowest-scoring quarter of the season for the Nets, who managed just 11 points and shot 3-for-20. But the tide turned in the third quarter when the Nets scored 39 points and shot 15-for-19, including 6-for-8 from three-point range, to build a 78-62 lead.
"We just got back to what we want to do which is get into early action, get off the ball, attack the paint," coach Steve Nash said. "We didn’t get very many paint touches in the first half, especially in the second quarter. I think we had one rim attempt and we’ve got to try to get in the paint and collapse the defense and play from there, so I think we did a better job of that.
"We didn’t defend great in the fourth quarter, but I think part of that was they had nothing to lose. They started lining up shots and making them. But we weathered it. I think overall the defense was pretty solid tonight and offensively it wasn’t great, but we found a way to get it done."
It came as a surprise when the young Pistons rebounded from their terrible third quarter to make a game out of it down the stretch, but even though he wasn’t shooting particularly well, the Nets went to Durant, and he made them when he had to.
"I called sets and we executed the sets very, very well," Harden said. "Our screening, our positioning and our spacing. And I think that we just gave Kevin room to do what he does, and execution down the stretch was pretty solid.