It was just five games earlier that the Nets gave up 48 points in the fourth quarter of a loss to the lowly Wizards, and they had allowed 10 of their previous 11 opponents to score at least 120 points.
But they finally dug down and found some resolve and tenacity that produced their finest defensive performance of the season in a 104-94 victory over the Pacers Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
Their win wasn’t without some late drama as the Pacers came back from 36 points down in the third quarter to get within 14 with 5:42 left to play, but they pushed it back to 20 before letting it shrink to the final margin in garbage time as they snapped a three-game losing streak.
Kyrie Irving led the Nets (15-12) with 35 points, James Harden added 19 plus 11 rebounds, Joe Harris totaled 17, and DeAndre Jordan contributed 12 points, his season-high 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in 37 minutes. Domantas Sabonis topped six Pacers (12-13) in double figures with 18 points and nine rebounds, but the Nets held them to 39.1% shooting (36 of 92).
The Pacers’ traveling party included former Net Caris LeVert, who was not in uniform after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his kidney after it was discovered when he joined them as part of the Harden trade. The Nets honored him with a tribute after the opening quarter.
Playing the second game of a back-to-back set following a brutal loss Tuesday night in Detroit, coach Steve Nash said he was happy the whole team had a chance to get right back to work and flush the Pistons loss out of their systems. Before the game, Nash sent a stern message to his team about improving their compete level. "For us — win or lose — I want to see a lot more compete and grit and toughness and togetherness, frankly," Nash said. "Results will come, but that’s the first step."
Nash said veteran Jeff Green spoke to the team in Detroit and again was a vocal leader during the third quarter when the Pacers put together their comeback. He was especially pleased with the play of Jordan and admitted they had an angry exchange in Detroit.
"It was an emotional night last night. DJ and I got upset with each other," Nash said. "So the fact he came back tonight to be a veteran lead and presence with that kind of energy against an All-Star center [Sabonis] in big minutes was outstanding."
The Nets guarding ferociously from the start while building a 27-18 first quarter lead. As impressive as that showing was, it got even better in the second period. The Nets had a seven-point lead midway through the quarter when they launched an extended run 30-5 run, including 10 points by Irving and seven by Jordan, to take a 62-30 halftime lead. The Pacers shot 1-for-12 with two turnovers in the span.
Jordan was especially impressive in the middle, piling up 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first half in his best showing in quite some time. He provided the rim protection that had been missing in the paint.
The Nets’ 32-point halftime lead was the third-largest in franchise history and the largest since their move to Brooklyn. Early in the third quarter, the Nets’ lead grew to 36 points. But the Pacers fashioned a 28-7 run that included 10 points from Sabonis to cut the Nets’ lead to 14 points before a 6-0 spurt pushed it back to 82-62 at the end of the period.
Reflecting on the improved defensive effort, Nash said. "They gave us everything we asked for — effort, fight, connectivity. I’m proud of them for bringing it. It’s something to build on."