Dive into the Nets’ record this season, and it’s easy to see the quirky dichotomy that shows how well they rise to the challenge against the NBA’s best teams and how easily they lose interest against inferior teams.
They are 9-3 against teams with a record of .500 or better, which is an NBA-best mark, and only 5-6 against teams with losing records. Since the arrival of James Harden to form the Big 3 alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they are 3-0 against the .500 or better teams and 4-3 against losing teams, including their horrific loss to the Wizards on Sunday when Harden rested.
But their love of the spotlight was reinforced when they came back in the fourth quarter to beat the Clippers, who arrived Tuesday night at Barclays Center with the league’s best record. Their 124-120 victory ran their record in national TV games to 6-0.
The Big 3 combined for 90 points, including 29 in the fourth quarter on combined 9-for-12 shooting, including a 4-for-5 effort from three-point range. As Clippers star Paul George said of the Nets’ fourth quarter, "They have some of the best [isolation] players in the world. There was a stretch where we played great defense, and it was like each one of them took turns making a shot."
Asked following the big win if that was how he envisioned the Big 3 performing in a season when the Nets have made no secret of their championship aspirations, Durant said, "Yep, yep. I mean, you’ve got guys who can do multiple things on the floor late in the game.
"Any coach in America wants the ball in their best players’ hands, and I think we’ve got three guys that are unselfish, that know how to play and I think we made the right plays down the stretch, especially Kyrie and James controlling the ball. I feel like, when those guys got it out top, they have the defense at their mercy."
Harden, who recorded his fourth triple-double in nine Nets appearances, described this season as a "buildup" process for the Big 3 to develop chemistry with each other and the rest of the roster in a condensed season with little practice time. The difference between playing great and letting down against inferior teams comes down to effort on the defensive end.
Because the Clippers came in riding a 10-1 streak, Harden said, "We have to come out and not embarrass ourselves, and we played like that on both ends of the ball. I don’t think we have that mindset every single game. Once we get that, you’re going to see a different Nets team.
"Once we get that down pat, you’re talking about blowing teams out because, offensively, we’ve got it. Defensively, we have to figure it out. That’s what it has to be for us to be playing at the end[(in the Finals]."
Irving agreed with Harden’s assessment, saying, "We have to build that consistency. We don’t have any practice time. None. We’re doing our best trying to put something great together here in a short period of time, so be patient with us."