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Without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Nets rally to edge Suns

Nets guard James Harden celebrates a three-pointer against

Nets guard James Harden celebrates a three-pointer against the Suns during the second half of an NBA game Tuesday in Phoenix. Credit: AP/Matt York

Playing without injured Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets trailed by as much as 24 points in the second quarter and gave up 75 first-half points to the Suns. They looked absolutely dead.

But coach Steve Nash, who spent more than half of his Hall of Fame career in the Valley of the Sun, must have found the right words to inspire his shorthanded team. The Nets made an epic second-half comeback by outscoring the Suns 40-24 in the fourth quarter to finish off an improbable 128-124 victory on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

"It feels great," said backup center Jeff Green, who had 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench and played a critical role down the stretch. "We stuck in and stuck together …As a collective unit, we stuck together on the defensive side, and we made some big shots."

The Nets finished the game on a 12-0 run that included seven points from James Harden and five from Green.

 

"It’s a group that’s hungry," Green said. "We’re going to battle no matter who is on the floor."

The Nets made a shocking run to within eight points late in the third period. Early in the fourth quarter, the Nets had an 18-6 run, including seven points from Joe Harris and five from Landry Shamet to cut their deficit to 108-106 on a Tyler Johnson three with 6:39 left, and they did that with Harden on the bench.

Later in the period, Chris Paul scored 11 straight Suns points as they pushed their lead to 124-116 with 2:48 left, but the Nets responded with a three by Green and a Harden bucket at 1:39 to get within 124-121.

With 1:18 left, Green was called for a foul, but the Nets made a successful challenge and won the tip, leading to a Green layup, a defensive stop and a Harden three from the top of the arc for a 126-124 lead with 29.8 seconds to go. It was nothing short of amazing.

After Devin Booker missed against tough defense by Shamet, Harden was fouled and made both for a four-point lead with 11.3 seconds to go to seal an incredible win.

Harden led the Nets (18-12), who tied their season high with a fourth straight victory, by scoring 38 points and adding seven rebounds and 11 assists. Harris totaled 22 points, Johnson added 17 points and Shamet had 13. The Nets hit 20 of 40 three-point shots, marking the first time in franchise history they have made at least 20 threes in two straight games.

Paul topped the Suns (17-10) with 29 points, and Booker added 22, but he scored only six over the final three quarters.

The Nets expected Durant to sit out his second straight game in the back-to-back set because of a left hamstring strain. But they announced Irving would sit out with lower back tightness after scoring 40 points in Monday’s win at Sacramento.

"He was feeling it during the game yesterday," Nash said of Irving’s injury. "He got treatment at halftime. But we all hope — and I think Kyrie believes — it's not a long-term thing."

There was one other undercurrent coming into the game in that it represented a homecoming for Hall of Famer Nash, who spent 10 of his 18 NBA seasons with the Suns. "I lived here for 10 years and loved every minute of it," Nash said. "To come back here and to actually be in the game, playing against them is very special."

The Nets went with their 20th different starting lineup, which is an NBA high, replacing Irving with Johnson, who was with the Suns before being waived and joining the Nets last season. It showed as the Nets trailed 75-54 at halftime before their unexpected second-half turnaround.

Notes & quotes: The Nets announced they signed free-agent guard/forward Andre Roberson, who played six seasons with the Thunder but was limited to seven games in 2019-20 while coming back from a knee injury.

New York Sports