The Big 3 came up big again for the Nets when it mattered most Saturday night, totaling all 32 of the team’s fourth-quarter points to stave off a furious Heat comeback in a 128-124 victory at Barclays Center.
The Heat scored 42 points in the fourth quarter, but Kyrie Irving had 18 points and Kevin Durant and James Harden added seven each in the quarter to help the Nets stay ahead.
Irving’s free throw gave the Nets a 126-123 lead with seven seconds left, and Harden fouled Bam Adebayo (41 points) with 3.3 seconds left to prevent the Heat from attempting a potential tying three-pointer. With the Nets up by two, Harden hit two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to clinch it.
Durant led the Nets (10-8) with 31 points and Irving had 28. Joe Harris scored 23 points, including a 7-for-12 effort from three-point range. Harden had just 12 points but added 11 assists.
Irving was magnificent in the fourth quarter, shooting 3-for-3 from three-point range and 6-for-7 overall.
"You see how special and talented and hard-working Kyrie is," Durant said. "He comes in with that mentality, especially late in the games, that he can knock those down for us. So he’s an all-world player, he’s a great teammate.
"When the ball is in his hands late in the game, our team is so unpredictable because he can make a pass, he can score in mid-range, score from the three-point area, get to the basket, and we’ve got weapons around him. It makes us tough to guard. We’re going to need that from him going forward, and he was phenomenal in the fourth."
The return of Durant, who rested Friday in Cleveland, marked just the second game together for the Big 3. Harden had a tough shooting night, so he contented himself with a playmaking role that enabled all three to work together beautifully.
"It’s not a surprise to me," Durant said. "We’re veterans in this league, we’ve been through every situation, so we know how to handle that. For the most part, it’s getting our teammates involved early on. I think that’s what we try to do at the start of the games.
"In the fourth quarter of the game, we’ve got to go out there and be special and be who we are, make plays. But our whole team put us in position to go out there and execute in the fourth."
Both teams were in the second night of a back-to-back set. The Nets lost Friday night in Cleveland and the Heat were coming off a loss to the Raptors in Tampa. But Miami came in shorthanded without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Avery Bradley and Myles Leonard.
In the opening period, Harris hit four threes and the Nets tied their season high for threes in a quarter with seven as they rolled to a 36-25 advantage.
Harris remained hot from deep with two more threes in the second quarter and was 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in scoring 20 first-half points as the Nets pushed their lead to 18 at 60-42.
The Heat pulled within 10 at halftime and six early in the third period, but the Nets later put together a 14-7 surge with four three-pointers, including a career-high seventh by Harris, for a 96-80 advantage a few seconds before the end of the third period.
Apparently, the Nets got comfortable at that point. The Heat scored 15 straight points, including six by Adebayo, to cut their deficit to 96-95 with 9:27 left in the game. They also got within 111-110 and 113-112 but never tied it.
Before the game, coach Steve Nash said he anticipates that it will take time for Durant, Irving and Harden to not only adapt to each other but to figure out how to play with their teammates. In particular, Irving and Harden need to get comfortable playing off each other in the backcourt.
"They’re both incredible players, and to have them both be a threat at all times on the floor — whether they have the ball or not — is ideal," Nash said. "It’s getting comfortable being that it’s my turn to be off the ball and committing to that and trying to seek improvement in that role and not saying, ‘This isn’t my possession.’
"I’m not saying that’s the way guys are. I’m just saying that would be the weakest outcome of breaking these habits and trying to form this new identity. That might take some time, but it’s really more of a look and feel thing. But you can tell they are comfortable trying to work through this to make this a collective experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts."