Despite their status as one of the top favorites to win the NBA title, the Nets (14-5) stumbled out of the gate to a 2-3 start this season. But they arrived at the Thanksgiving break atop the Eastern Conference after winning 12 of their next 14 games and going 8-2 in their first 10 road games, which is the best mark in franchise history.
They face a huge challenge in their next game Saturday night at Barclays Center against the Suns (15-3), who have won 14 straight going into their game against the Knicks Friday night at Madison Square Garden, but the Nets are coming off a 123-104 victory over the Celtics Wednesday in Boston that was their most complete game of the year.
Their defense totally dominated Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who shot a combined 9-of-31 from the field for just 28 points, and the Nets shot 50.6% overall and 40.0% percent from three-point range (14-of-35) and led by 29 points in the third quarter. It was impressive.
"I just liked how we stuck to the game plan," said Kevin Durant, who scored 21 points and had a lot to do with holding Tatum to 15 points. "We went over how we were going to guard this team in shootaround, and the transfer was something we’re all proud of. I think tonight was one of those nights we took a step in the right direction."
Durant praised Patty Mills, who led the Nets with 23 points while shooting 7-of-10 from three-point range and has had a hot shooting hand since replacing Joe Harris after he suffered a sprained left ankle. Counting the game in which Harris was injured, Mills has made 33 of 56 threes over a six-game span for an insane 58.9%.
"He’s just a sparkplug," Durant said of Mills. "We’re excited that Patty has done a good job as a bench player and then come in as a starter and kept that same energy. We feed off him a lot."
The Nets have spoken about the difficulty of blending 10 new players into the mix while seeking their identity, and it has been complicated by the recent absence of Harris, Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton because of injuries or illness. But Durant sees things coming together.
"I feel like we have our identity," Durant said. "We know the formula for us to play well. We know we have to guard, we have to box out and rebound and limit our turnovers…Great teams limit their mistakes. We’ve got to get to that point, and I think we’re doing a solid job."
On a personal note, Durant moved into 25th place on the all-time NBA scoring list with 24,369 points, one ahead of Allen Iverson, who played for Georgetown and was a childhood hero for Durant, who grew up in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.
"It means the world," Durant said. "Iverson was [in] the pantheon for me, one of those guys that I emulated every time I went outside and played with my friends. It’s surreal. I pictured I would be in the league, but to do it, is pretty special."