NEW ORLEANS — This time it was the defense that was the star.
The Nets allowed 38 points in the second half on the way to a 108-102 win over the Pelicans on Friday night.
It was an important bounce-back win for the Nets, who had lost for the first time in a month on Wednesday in Chicago.
“Really impressive win, especially on the road after a loss,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “To come back from being down 11 at the half, it was a good win.”
The Nets (26-13) won for the 17th time in their last 19 games and moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, passing Milwaukee, which lost to Charlotte.
Kevin Durant scored 33 points despite an uncharacteristically poor shooting night (9-for-26) and added 10 rebounds.
Kyrie Irving struggled early but came up big when the Nets needed him most. He scored seven points in the final 1:12, including a three-pointer with 44 seconds left that gave the Nets a 106-100 lead.
“He just has a way of embracing the moment,” Vaughn said of Irving, who finished with 19 points but shot 7-for-22. “No matter what happens previously, he can do it.”
The loss was only the fifth in 22 home games for the Pelicans. New Orleans (24-15) was led by CJ McCollum’s 28 points and Naji Marshall’s 23.
“I think we did a good job of locking in on the defensive end,” Durant said. “There’s going to be a time when the shots don’t fall.”
On paper, the Nets should have had a much easier time with this Pelicans team than the one that routed them, 130-108, in the season opener.
New Orleans played without Zion Williamson, who had 25 points and nine rebounds in their earlier meeting. He is expected to be out at least another two weeks with a pulled hamstring.
The Nets, by contrast, were as healthy as they’ve been in two seasons and are coming off one of the best months in franchise history. Before opening this three-game road trip with the loss in Chicago, the Nets had won 12 straight games. They had gone a full month without being defeated, with their last loss coming against the Celtics, 103-92, on Dec. 4.
Just as they had against the Bulls, the Nets fell behind by double-digits early in the game. Every time they got close to taking the lead — they trailed by a point at the end of the first quarter — the Pelicans knocked down a bunch of three-pointers and retook control.
New Orleans led by 15 points in the second quarter and finished the half with a 64-53 lead after making 58.8% (10-for-17) of its three-pointers.
Before the game, Vaughn said he was looking forward to seeing how his team would respond to the loss in Chicago.
“Really been thinking about it all day,” he said. “I’m just excited to see how our team plays, how we start the game and our attention to detail throughout the course of the game. I said it after the last game; we responded well to wins and we learned how to win in different ways. Can we respond after not getting a win?”
This time the answer was yes.
Notes & quotes: Pelicans coach Willie Green played for Vaughn in Orlando for a season and said he’s not surprised that he has been able to send the Nets in the right direction since taking over for Steve Nash.
Said Green: “Coach Jacque is doing great. [He had] a difficult situation to start the season but he along with everybody there has figured out how to navigate it and get the team winning and going. So I’m happy for him definitely.”
Though he coached him for only a season, Vaughn said he saw qualities in Green that would make him a good head coach.
Said Vaughn: “He was extremely organized, very professional, team-oriented, knew how to talk to different guys in the locker room.”