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Nets showed all that they can be in rout of first-place Bulls

James Harden #13 and Kevin Durant #7 of

James Harden #13 and Kevin Durant #7 of the Nets celebrate after a score during the second half of a game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center on January 12, 2022 in Chicago. Credit: Getty Images/Stacy Revere

After going 0-8 earlier this season against the top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences, the Nets finally put together what could be described as a "statement win" as they crushed the Bulls, 132-112, Wednesday night at United Center. The Nets narrowed the Bulls’ Eastern Conference lead to 1 1/2 games, their 132 points were a season high and they led by as much as 38 points.

But Kevin Durant didn’t want to hear about sending a message to the league. "We don’t make statements to the league," Durant said. "Who cares what they think? We know what we bring to the table, and it’s all about us. I’m sure people were watching that game."

Indeed, it was a nationally televised game and marked only the third game together for the Nets’ "Big 3" since Kyrie Irving was allowed to return as a part-time road player to join Durant and James Harden. Irving only scored nine points, but the Nets’ offense was much better with him. Durant had 27 points and nine assists, and Harden added 25 points and a season-high 16 assists. They shot 53.1% from three-point range (17-for-32).

The best thing was that the "Big 3" all spent the bulk of the fourth quarter on the bench enjoying the blowout. "You’ve seen me there, but we’re taking an 'L' and down 20," Durant said of his previous early exits. "It’s good to be on the bench and cheering guys on as you are winning the game. It’s been a rough five or six games for us. One of these games is good for the team in general . . . When we all click in and all are knocking down shots like that and play off each other, we play a great brand [of basketball]."

The Nets were 2-5 in their previous seven and struggling mightily with four of those losses coming at home. They were facing a Bulls team that was 10-1 in their previous 11. So the statement they really needed to make was to themselves about who they are and whether their championship goal is realistic.

"You definitely want to play great against the best teams in the league for sure," Durant said. "Especially after losing the last game [in Portland], we want to bounce back no matter who it was against. It’s good to come in here in a tough environment and get a 'W'. This team has been extremely hot lately and their crowd is beginning to rally around them . . . For us to come in here and win in this fashion, it meant a lot to us."

Now, the important thing is for the Nets to sustain the momentum without Irving, who is ineligible to play at home because he has not complied with the New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Nets (26-14) were set to complete a stretch of four games in five nights, not to mention the first half of the season, when they faced the Thunder (13-27) Thursday night at Barclays Center. They announced before the game that Durant and Patty Mills would be rested and not play in the game.

Coach Steve Nash was hoping to see some carryover from the best game of the season to a home court where the Nets have been a disappointing 11-10. "These games can definitely give a team confidence, give them mojo and something to build on," Nash said. "We’ve shown we can perform this way. We’ve shown the type of spirit and energy we can bring to the game, the purpose. Now we’ve got to build on it. We’ll probably get home at five in the morning [Thursday] for four in five.

"Great performance, it’s in the bank, we raised our level, we competed, we rose to the occasion, and we move forward. Hopefully, it is a moment in time that helped get us to another level."

New York Sports