The Nets' Kyrie Irving and James Harden celebrate during the second half...

The Nets' Kyrie Irving and James Harden celebrate during the second half of the team's NBA game against the Pacers, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 in Indianapolis. Credit: AP/Darron Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS – In the fourth quarter Friday night in San Antonio, Kyrie Irving and James Harden combined to score 26 of the Nets’ 38 points in the period as they pulled away to beat the Spurs by 13 points. It was the 22nd game those two have played together without Kevin Durant, who currently is out with an injury, and it demonstrated what an effective backcourt pairing they are because their record is 18-4 under those circumstances.

Following the game, Irving, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, was asked about his chemistry with Harden this season. It was only their sixth game together since Irving was allowed to return as a part-time player because he is not eligible to play in New York since he has not complied with the city’s vaccine mandate.

"I think we have a decent rhythm between one another of kind of getting out of each other’s way but also demanding each other to play at that level," Irving said. "We’ve had experience together playing in USA (national team basketball), and the mutual respect we have for each other is out of this world. We just try to stay active, put our imprint on the game and go on some runs individually that will help our team. When it’s us doing it as a tandem or duo, it just opens up space for everyone.

"When we’re playing with the unbelievable pace we had in the fourth quarter, I don’t see too many teams keeping up with that. You’ve got to go shot-for-shot with us, and if we get an eight-point lead, a 10-point lead, we’re going to make it tough."

The Nets (29-16) had one more chance on the final game of their four-game road trip to take advantage of that pairing against the tough Timberwolves (22-23) Sunday night at Target Center.

Harden, who had 37 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against the Spurs, made it clear how much he values the opportunity to play with Irving. He called Irving’s fourth-quarter performance a "breakthrough" in terms of building their chemistry at a time when Irving only is available for road games.

"For sure, it was a breakthrough," Harden said. "He’s capable of doing that at any moment in any game. That’s one of the reasons we need him every game, especially with everything that’s going on with our team (in terms of injuries). He’s a special talent."

Patty Mills, who also has been starting in a three-guard lineup with Harden and Irving, also praised the pace the Nets played with during the second half of their win over the Spurs. He said it had a positive influence on the Nets at the defensive end as well.

Asked if Harden looked as good as he has all season, Mills said, "I mean the pace that we played with offensively, I think so. He got into his groove, he felt he can make an impact on the game, got into the paint. Obviously, he shot it well, as well, from three, and I think when he has that variety, he gets it going pretty quickly and pretty easily.

"But I think what helped that was just the pace we were able to play with. I think that came from our ability to play defense first and get stops, get defensive rebounds and run downhill the other way, which we haven’t done the greatest job of being consistent with it, but tonight I think was a good example of what we’re trying to get to."

Following the end of this trip, the Nets have a back-to-back at home against the Lakers on Tuesday and Nuggets on Wednesday. Then it’s back on the road with Irving for a five-game West Coast trip.

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