The Nets got a scare Friday in New Orleans when they lost a 21-point lead and trailed late in the fourth quarter before James Harden and Kevin Durant combined down the stretch to lead a late comeback. But after surviving that low point against the NBA’s worst team, the Nets arrived in Oklahoma City for Sunday night’s game against the Thunder with a chance to complete a season-high six-game road trip with a 5-1 record.
After a slow start to the season, the Nets (9-4) were within a half game of the first-place Wizards in the Eastern Conference entering their game against the Thunder (5-6).
Reflecting on the progress of a team with 10 new faces on the roster this season, Durant said, "More so than about our record, it is about how we’re playing. Obviously, we want to win every game, but we’ve got a bigger goal in mind and it is about the habits we build.
"Throughout this road trip, we did have some solid games, we did have those games where we played great offensively and bad defensively like [in New Orleans], and we had games where we played solid defensively but bad offensively. You see us trying to put games together, and I think that is the good part about it. We are figuring out what works on both ends, and now it is on us to do it for a full 48."
When the Pelicans put together a shocking 32-8 run spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth periods to take a 104-101 lead with 4:36 left, the Nets pulled it together to finish the game on a 19-8 run that began with a Bruce Brown three-pointer and included six points each from Durant and Harden.
"I think we just had to be a little more patient," Durant said. "They were trying to speed us up and get back in the game. When you’re down 20 points, you want to get quick offense, get some steals and get out in transition, and I think they did a good job of that.
"But it was also good that we were able to take that nice little haymaker and keep pushing. Bruce hit a huge shot that really kind of set the tone for us to finish the game, and we just cruised on."
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the win over New Orleans was that Harden had his best game of the season with 39 points and 12 assists. After getting off to a slow start through the first five games while coming back from a summer spent rehabbing a severe right hamstring strain, Harden has excelled in a 7-1 stretch while averaging 21.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.6 assists.
"He was aggressive all night," Durant said of Harden. "He was getting downhill, going to the free-throw line, 11-for-18 [shooting], highly efficient. Twelve assists. I mean, he looked incredible. We need everyone to build off this offensively. Defensively, we can make some adjustments, but I also thought we got stops when we needed to. But James just did a great job of controlling the game."
Earlier on the trip, Harden said he knows some might wonder why he hadn’t had any 30-point games, so he was asked if he broke through a mental barrier after recording his first one. "No, I can score," Harden said. "I know that. I felt like [the previous game] in Orlando I know my pace was good, I was getting to the basket, I was finding my teammates and I just had that burst. Tonight, it was the same thing. I’ve just got to continue to compound that feeling and just keep going."