ATLANTA — If nothing else this season, the Nets have learned how to play from behind no matter how big the deficit. For the third time in as many games on their current road trip, they dug a double-digit, second-half deficit. Nic Claxton came off the bench to help shut down Hawks star Trae Young, and with the game tied at 95, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined to score 14 of the Nets’ final 18 points in a 113-105 victory Friday night at State Farm Arena.
After trailing by 11 in the third period, the Nets fought back within two at the end of the period and gained a 95-93 lead on a Claxton dunk with 9:43 left. The Hawks tied it, but the Nets responded with an 8-0 surge to push their lead to a game-high 103-95 with 5:24 to go. When Young finally scored five straight points, the Hawks pulled within 103-102 at the 3:35 mark but couldn’t gain the lead.
Claxton entered with 5:22 left in the third period and held Young scoreless for more than 13 minutes in combination with Durant. After Claxton entered, Young shot 2-for-7 with three turnovers in the final 17:22 of the game.
"They did a great job," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "The effort and just the kind of desperation we played with in the fourth quarter was unbelievable. Really proud of the defensive effort. It obviously was a crazy third quarter but the fourth quarter they turned up the screws and were great."
Durant paced the Nets (18-8) with 31 points and Harden had 20 points and 11 assists. LaMarcus Aldridge and Bruce Brown each scored 15, and Patty Mills and Cam Thomas each had 11. Young led the Hawks (13-13) with 31 points but shot only 10-for-27. John Collins added 20 points and Kevin Huerter scored 19, including 5-for-7 three-point shooting.
After resting two nights earlier in Houston on the second game of a back-to-back, Durant and Aldridge returned to the lineup. After that loss to the Rockets, Harden expressed some frustration about being undermanned and, in his own case, having to play 85 minutes in the back-to-back.
Harden said he would have to see how he felt on game day before deciding whether he would rest or not, but when the time came, he was not on the injury report. He wound up playing another 40:31.
When asked how much he played, Harden exclaimed, "Forty! Three times in a row, 40!
"I want to win, man. I don’t care about nothing else but winning. Try to be in attack mode, try to find open players and just play the game the right way, but whatever it takes to win."
After taking a 55-52 halftime lead, the Hawks were in attack mode in the third period, creating separation with a 14-4 run that included six points from Young to build their biggest lead to that point at 73-62. But the Nets put together an extended 27-15 run that included a trio of threes from rookie Thomas to take a brief lead before setting for a 91-89 third-quarter deficit.
Claxton didn’t play at all in the first half, but when he entered and started switching out to cover Young on the perimeter, the complexion of the game changed. "We had to change something in that second half," Nash said. "We thought bringing Nic on for his activity and length at both ends of the floor, but in particular when he switches on guards, he’s excellent. So putting him and Kevin in a switching defense where they can cover multiple positions was a nice change-up for us and something we’ve gone to obviously many times this year, but that’s where Nic is a special player is he can guard multiple positions."