Nets pull away in second half, rout Hawks
This was, more or less, the vision that was laid out years ago: a late-season game with playoff positioning at stake. That much was the same. What was different was who was on the court.
James Harden is in Philadelphia. Kevin Durant is in Phoenix. Kyrie Irving is in Dallas. Ben Simmons is sitting on the bench in street clothes. In their place were Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris.
And they did the job in the Nets’ 124-107 rout of the Hawks on Friday night at Barclays Center.
“We [are] still learning [about] each other,” said Finney-Smith (19 points), who was one of five Nets in double figures.
Bridges scored 42 points, Johnson had 16 and Nic Claxton added 14 points and 12 rebounds. Harris had 11 points off the bench.
According to the Nets, Bridges’ 461 points in March is second in franchise history. Durant’s 471 points in November is the record, and John Williamson’s 436 points in March 1978 ranks third.
“He puts in the work,” Jacque Vaughn said of Bridges. “He’s always present and he pours his soul into the team.”
The Nets shot 49-for-88 from the field (55.7%) and 45.5% from three-point range (15-for-33) in improving to 42-35. They have a two-game lead over Miami for sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both the Nets and the Heat have five games remaining in the regular season.
If the Nets clinch a playoff berth without having to sweat out the play-in round, perhaps the final regular-season matchup against the Hawks — the Nets won the season series 3-1 — will be pointed to as a key moment.
Entering the third quarter, the Nets had a 59-55 lead. Four minutes in, the advantage had expanded to 73-61 after Claxton’s one-handed alley-oop dunk off a feed from Dinwiddie. The Hawks (38-39) called a timeout, ostensibly to right themselves.
It didn’t work. The Nets continued to build on their lead. Bridges’ up-and-under layup with 4:18 left made it 91-71.
“Seeing him score 42, it’s routine now,” Finney-Smith said of Bridges, who has reached 40 points three times since being traded to the Nets. “He’s definitely finishing at the rim more. Making tough shots a little bit more. He’s showing his whole game.”
Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 21 points.
Aldridge is done. Before the game, former Nets F/C LaMarcus Aldridge announced his second retirement from the NBA in a tweet. Aldridge, the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, averaged 19.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 16 seasons with the Nets, Trail Blazers and Spurs.
He retired during the 2020-21 season because of an irregular heartbeat that was diagnosed while he was a member of the Nets. After receiving medical clearance, he played 47 games with the 2021-22 Nets.