For the first time in more than three months, the Nets’ Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played together, and their rust and lack of familiarity showed as they totaled just 39 combined points. It didn’t matter because they played well enough defensively to contain the Bulls in a 105-91 victory Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center, but it was not a promising preview of their playoff preparation.
Harden had a season-low five points, Durant totaled 12 on 4-of-17 shooting and Irving finished with 22 but had only two second-half points and a glaring zero in the assist column.
"I think the fact they were on the court together is positive," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "They had a chance to feel it so it’s not so brand new when we start (the playoffs) next weekend. But I thought we were just flat to start the game frankly. I don’t know that we could blame it on the fact that we haven’t played together for awhile.
"I just thought we weren’t ourselves. But we got it out of the way. That’s the way I look at this game. It wasn’t great, but here we are with one game left and in a good position to be the second seed."
The Nets (47-24) are in second place in the Eastern Conference, but the third-place Bucks (45-25) were close behind prior to their home game against Miami Saturday night plus a finale Sunday at Chicago. The Bucks have the tiebreaker, but the Nets now know they can clinch the second seed with a win over the Cavaliers Sunday night at Barclays Center.
Nash said the Big 3 would play the second half of the back-to-back if they still needed to win. "If we need that win tomorrow, we’re not adverse to those guys playing," Nash said.
The Nets led by as much as 14 points early in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls put together a 10-0 surge to cut their deficit to 85-81 on a layup by former Net Thaddeus Young with 8:48 left to play. A pair of threes by Jeff Green triggered a 20-4 Nets run for a 105-85 lead with 2:29 remaining, and that was the game.
The Nets got 19 points from Green plus 16 points and 12 rebounds from Bruce Brown, and the Nets had big leads in fast-break points (27-5), paint points (50-36) and bench points (48-21). Patrick Williams topped the Bulls (30-41) with 24 points, and Young added 19 plus 13 boards.
Durant, Irving and Harden were playing just their eighth game together and their first since a Feb. 13 win at Golden State. "It didn’t feel weird at all," Harden said. "It’s just a matter of us getting more minutes together. We’re all elite. We know how to play the right way. So it’s just about the amount of minutes that we can play together. This week, practice and scrimmaging is going to help us."
The Big 3 drew no respect early as the Bulls jumped out to a 12-0 lead on 5-of-7 shooting. But Irving had 13 first-quarter points as the Nets gradually worked their way back into the game to trail by 29-28 at the end of the opening period. The Nets put together a 15-4 second-quarter run, including five points from Irving, to build a 12-point lead they never lost.
"They started off the game hot, but we held them to 34 percent shooting after that," Durant said. "We were on the same page offensively and defensively. We missed some looks, especially me, but we moved the basketball. If I would have made some shots tonight, it would have looked better overall. But I think we were in a solid groove."