Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving high fives forward Kevin Durant...

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving high fives forward Kevin Durant in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets won a game they ought to have won and reaped the biggest possible reward they could have Tuesday night. It doesn’t mean they had to like how it happened.

Kyrie Irving scored 42 points, but the Nets allowed the last-place Rockets to climb back in the fourth quarter before Irving took control again, as they held on to win, 118-105 at Barclays Center.

Both the Hornets and Hawks lost, putting the Nets in eighth place with three games to go (the Nets own the tiebreaker over the Hawks).

If they win the final three games of the regular season, starting with the Knicks Wednesday night, they are guaranteed seventh place because they also own the tiebreaker with the Cavaliers.

The Nets (41-38) led by as many as 21 points late in the third, but the Rockets got within six on the back of a 15-0 run that started with 1:06 left in that quarter and spanned nearly four minutes into the fourth. Irving, though, hit back-to-back jumpers to give the Nets the 95-84 advantage with 7:40 left. He scored 17 points in the fourth.

Kevin Durant scored 18 points with nine rebounds, Bruce Brown scored 15 and Cam Thomas added 13 off the bench.

Kevin Porter Jr. scored 36 for the Rockets (20-60) and Jalen Green added 30.

“It wasn’t a great performance,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t think anyone in the locker room feels like it was a great performance. Think we gave up too many offensive rebounds, lost too many loose balls . . . The progress opportunity is tomorrow night. Can we rebound from tonight? A little bit higher level of focus, determination and keep growing. I think the guys feel that and I think they want to play better tomorrow.”

Irving, who came into the game shooting just 36.2% over the last five games, got off to a hot start, with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the first quarter. But the Nets allowed 12 points on five turnovers in the frame, and only led the Rockets 30-25 going into the second quarter — this despite the Rockets shooting just 2-for-12 from three-point range.

The Rockets were able to tie it early in the second quarter before the Nets came alive, taking off on a 17-4 run that saw Bruce Brown (score eight points, including a pull-up three for the 13-point lead with 6:15 left in the half. Irving’s three with 44.1 seconds left gave them a 64-47 advantage, their largest lead of the game, and their biggest halftime lead at Barclays since Jan. 15.

The Nets were aided by the Rockets own struggles, though, as they went just 3-for-9 from the stripe in the first half, shot 37.7% and were outrebounded 31-24.

The Nets did what they had to against a team they should have beaten. And that’s all they can deal with at one time. And in a season that’s been marked by a special sort of uncertainty, the key is controlling what they can.

“I just kept saying that we’ve been here before, we’ve been in these lulls where we sort of [have] this back and forth where we haven’t made a shot offensively, and teams continue to score on us,” Irving said of his fourth quarter take over.

“It’s no time to hold our heads. It’s no time to look around. There’s no time to wait for the crowd to get into it. We’ve just got to really put our imprint on the game, and I felt like that was needed.

“And you’re going see it a lot more moving forward. And when the game starts to get a little bit out of hand or we have a big lead and when we let it go, it’s time to put the foot back on the gas pedal and lead by example.”

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