The Nets were in grave danger of losing consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 9, but they overcame a 14-point first-half deficit with a tough defensive effort in the third quarter.
They forced nine turnovers and allowed only 21 points to climb back into the game on their way to a hard-fought 114-112 victory Monday night at Barclays Center.
Kyrie Irving led the way with 40 points and seven assists for the Nets (35-16), who had trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half. The Nets won without James Harden, who played only four minutes before aggravating the right hamstring tightness that caused him to miss the previous two games.
“Having a poor first half and finding a way to turn the game around, it took guts, it took hustle, it took a lot of fight, and it also took a lot of guys who normally aren’t in that position to step up and play and play well,” coach Steve Nash said. “I’m proud of the group.
“These are the wins that you kind of remember because so many guys contributed and it was a game that we were in totally different rotations once again and we figured it out. We really won the game with mentality and effort.”
The Nets built an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Knicks came back to tie it at 112 on a three-pointer by Alec Burks with 25.5 seconds left. Jeff Green hit two free throws at the 3.7-second mark to restore a two-point Nets lead before Julius Randle missed a jumper that would have forced overtime.
Green had 23 points and Joe Harris added 16 for the Nets, who outscored the Knicks 26-2 on second-chance points.
RJ Barrett topped the Knicks with 22 points, Reggie Bullock added 21 and Randle had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists.
As per usual, the Nets were shorthanded going into the game. Kevin Durant (strained hamstring) missed his 22nd straight game. Blake Griffin (left knee) was rested in the second game of a back-to-back set after playing in Sunday’s loss to the Bulls in Chicago. Tyler Johnson (right knee soreness) and Landry Shamet (sprained right ankle) also sat out.
The Knicks had a 17-2 run to get their 14-point lead in the second quarter, but it shrank to 67-57 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Nets turned up the defensive heat and closed it on a 14-2 run that included six points from Green to take an 89-88 lead to the fourth quarter.
“That’s when we’re at our best,” Irving said. “The physicality definitely picked up, and it definitely propelled us to being in the lead going into that fourth quarter. But it doesn’t happen without the effort and also making them miss shots. In the first half, Reggie Bullock gets it going, a few guys get some makeable shots and they didn’t feel us at all. We made a difference in the second half and influenced some misses and we got on a run.”
Notes & quotes: Before the game, Nash was asked if Durant might return against the Pelicans on Wednesday or the Lakers on Saturday. “Kevin is getting to that day-to-day point,” Nash said. “It’s possible we could see him this week, but I don’t want to make any declarations. Hopefully he can play this week, but it’s definitely not set in stone.” Regarding Harden’s injury, Nash said, “The scan is clean, the strength tests are clean, but he feels something, so we’re going to err on the side of caution.” Nash said of Johnson’s injury, “Looks like it won’t be a long-term thing.”