The most impressive aspect of the Nets’ victory over the Pelicans Tuesday night in New Orleans was the box score.
Not just the bottom line that gave the Nets a 134-129 edge, but the dimension of the contributions they received from top to bottom.
The Nets had only nine healthy bodies, and seven scored in double figures while an eighth, De Andre Jordan, added eight points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Kyrie Irving led the way with 32 points and eight assists, Joe Harris added 24 points, Landry Shamet had 18 with a career-high eight assists, Jeff Green totaled 15 plus nine rebounds, Blake Griffin had 16 and eight rebounds, Bruce Brown had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot chipped in 10 points.
In other words, the Nets had all their oars in the water. But there is no rest for the weary. They had to play the second game of a back-to-back set against the Raptors on Wednesday night in Tampa, which is home for the team from Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was great," coach Steve Nash said of the group effort. "When Ky was out of the game, I thought we played very well, and it’s so important. When you’re going into a game with nine men, you’re down a couple of superstars (injured Kevin Durant and James Harden), you definitely have guys that are playing with more responsibility and more minutes. If they don’t play well, you can find yourself in a big hole, but tonight, they played really well.
"I’m really proud of the way guys have responded to adversity this year. They fought and had that connectivity to win games maybe people didn’t think you could win. I think we started slow because it was so new – new lineup, new combination – and then found it there after five minutes or so and looked much better."
Shamet is one player in particular whose role has expanded during the recent absence of Harden. He started in the backcourt next to Irving against the Pelicans and played a pivotal role with his playmaking and 7 of 12 shooting that included a 3 of 7 effort from three-point range, where he has been shooting close to 50% since the All-Star break.
"That’s kind of part of this season," Shamet said of the necessity for many teams to adapt to key injuries during a schedule crammed with games, such as the three-games-in-four-nights stretch the Nets concluded against the Raptors.
"It’s just an opportunity for guys to step up, so that’s how we viewed it. Regardless of who we have on the floor, we still have the same goal in mind. We’re trying to get better heading into the playoffs, be the best we can be. I’m happy with how we closed the game for sure."
After struggling in the final three minutes of Sunday’s loss to the Heat in Miami when he missed his last three shots, Irving came up big against the Pelicans with 15 fourth-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting. Nash said the Pelicans’ defense wasn’t as tough as the Heat’s defense, but Irving still had to make difficult shots.
"Ky was spectacular tonight," Shamet said. "He made shots down the stretch, some really tough ones. We executed our game plan down the stretch those last couple possessions. Offensively, I didn’t feel like there was a point where we got bogged down or really stagnant."
To top it all off, Irving made a great play on the Pelicans’ final offensive possession, swiping at the ball and forcing a turnover by Zion Williamson.
"It ended up being a great play," Nash said. "He had the option to foul him on the catch. He made a heck of a defensive play, and we didn’t have to guard another possession."