PHILADELPHIA — Game No. 2 looked suspiciously like Game No. 1 for the Nets in the first three quarters Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.
The Nets once again dug a huge early hole and spent the game hanging on for dear life until they found some defensive resolve to rally from 10 down with 5:32 left to pull out a 114-109 victory over the 76ers, the defending Eastern Conference champions.
The Nets were down 10 early in the fourth quarter when Joe Harris hit a corner three. One second later, Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey fouled Blake Griffin, who made the free throw.
It amounted to a four-point play that cut the Nets’ deficit to 102-96. Could that be the play to turn the early-season tide?
The Sixers regained a 10-point lead, but the Nets put together by far their best defensive sequence of the season with eight straight stops that fueled a game-turning 13-0 run that ended with five straight points by LaMarcus Aldridge for a 111-108 lead with 16.7 seconds left. Patty Mills fouled Seth Curry, who made one of two free throws at the 15.2-second mark, but the Nets won the foul-shooting contest at the end.
"I think we were relentless with our competition, our willingness to fight for good looks, our willingness to scrap defensively," Nets coach Steve Nash said of the fourth-quarter heroics. "I don’t think there is anything that we are going to bottle up and put it in a museum from this one. It was just a team effort, guys coming in and out and not worrying about being in the right spot but fighting and scrapping and trying to compete.
"Sure we made a lot of plays down the stretch but that was more of our willingness to keep going. We were down 10, and in a very few minutes it was back to 10. Their willingness to continue to compete and believe was the reason why they won the game."
Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets (1-1) with a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, Aldridge added 23 off the bench and shot 10-for-12, and James Harden had 20 points.
Tobias Harris and Curry each had 23 for the 76ers (1-1), and Joel Embiid added 19. But the Sixers missed their final nine field-goal attempts.
The Sixers didn’t miss a beat playing without the 6-10 Ben Simmons in the lineup because of a team suspension. If anything, his absence gave plenty of opportunities to forward Harris and guard Curry on the perimeter. The 76ers hit four of the first five three-pointers they looked at and opened up a quick 20-6 lead.
It was more or less a replay of the Nets’ poor opening-night performance Tuesday in Milwaukee, when they fell behind by 19 in the opening quarter and spent the rest of the game climbing uphill. In this case, the Nets twice pulled within four points in the first half only to fall back by as many as 12 points before a three by Durant cut their halftime deficit to 62-55.
Midway through the third period, the 76ers pushed their lead back to double digits at 75-64. But the Nets finally dug in their heels and responded with a 19-10 run to cut their deficit to two with 1:48 left in the quarter. However, the Sixers hit back-to-back threes and took a 91-85 lead to the final period.
"In that first quarter, they started off fast, but I think we still got back into the game," Durant said. "We cut it to like six at the end of the first. They just kept making timely shots. By the time the fourth quarter came, I think those shots didn’t fall. We were able to stay the course and stay with it and not get down on ourselves, and we pulled it even at the end of the fourth quarter. It was all off our intensity on defense."