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Nets ended skid by tightening defense and fighting hard

Nets forward Jeff Green, left, and Denver Nuggets

Nets forward Jeff Green, left, and Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. try to get possession of the ball during the second half of an NBA game on Saturday in Denver. Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

After three periods Saturday in Denver, the Nets allowed the Nuggets 104 points, which tied their worst defensive effort of the entire season. But after giving up at least 33 points in each of the preceding three periods, the Nets won the fourth quarter, 28-15, and pulled out a 125-119 victory over the Nuggets Saturday night at Ball Arena in Denver.

The win snapped the Nets’ worst losing streak of the season at four games. The Nets (44-24) conclude their five-game road trip against the Bulls (28-39) Tuesday night at United Center in Chicago.

"They just played hard as hell," Nets coach Steve Nash said of a team that overcame a 21-point second-quarter deficit. "They fought, scrapped, a lot of things have to go right, but when you play that hard, you cover up mistakes and give yourselves an opportunity.

"The tale of the game was the first two halves. First half, there’s a little bit of paralysis by analysis, a loss of composure. In the second half, we just dug deep and fought. Really proud of the effort they put in and I think they proved something to themselves tonight."

In actuality, the Nets gave up 33 third-quarter points, but they buckled down in the fourth quarter to allow just 15. Ending their losing streak was vital.

"If we’d have lost again, it just would have heightened the angst," Nash said. "I’m happy for us to be uncomfortable right now. I’m happy for us to struggle and suffer. I’m glad we won, but suffering and building that resolve — these experiences when we’re on the mat are good for us."

Nash made it clear he could have lived with a fifth straight loss. But the truth is that the Nets utterly embarrassed themselves while yielding 104 points in the first three quarters.

"When I say embarrassing, I mean just not playing up to our capabilities," Kyrie Irving said. "Teams are just coming out and doing whatever they want and feel good. Guys that are on the opposing team, supporting guys on the team are having huge nights sometimes.

"That’s when it gets embarrassing is when you’re not doing the little things for one another. We just learn from it."

Irving likely was referring to the 28-point effort of Michael Porter Jr., who had a 6-of-8 performance from three-point range and made five threes in his 17-point first quarter. Obviously, the Nets defense got much better from that low point. Certainly, Kevin Durant recognized the improved defensive effort in the second half when the Nets allowed only 48 points.

"I think we understood what we were doing in that second half," Durant said. "We had good intentions, but sometimes, they may have been off. I think we got on the same page in the second half and just played our hardest and were able to make up for a lot of stuff we did in the first half.

"I mean, we won this game, and they shot 26 more shots than us. If we somewhat make the possession battle even, then we are in great shape. So that second half was who we are and, hopefully, we build on it."

Nuggets MVP candidate Nikola Jokic scored 29 points, but he had just six in the final quarter. Irving said the Nets have done a good job against a string of top players recently.

"I think this is the only time we’ve been really tested throughout the season in terms of having losses," Irving said. "Looking at four losses in a row, I don’t know the last time I had four losses in a row. I’m very blessed, but it’s great that we get these types of challenges. Now we go to Chicago, where we have to win. It’s exciting."

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