It was supposed to be a little easier than this: the season, the game. And maybe that was part of the problem Friday night.
It’s not that things completely disintegrated — the Nets beat the lowly Trail Blazers, 128-123, at Barclays Center for their fifth win in six games. It’s just that they made it so much harder than it could have been, partially because, at least for the first half, they didn’t come to play.
"I thought we wanted it easy," a stern Steve Nash said. "We wanted to solve the puzzle with the snap of our fingers instead of playing it. Part of it is, defensively, we weren’t locked in, weren’t playing hard. But part of it is also offensively not going the extra mile, to play with pace, make our cuts, set good screens, move the ball, drive it, kick it, drive it again, touch the paint, spray it out. We wanted it easy and we wanted it quick."
But nothing is easy this season for the Nets. A team built for nothing but a championship has been burdened by injury and uncertainty. Even against the Trail Blazers (26-43), the Nets faltered, and faltered again. For a while, it looked as if they were going to stay down for good. But in what they hope is a blueprint for their postseason hopes, they delivered when it mattered most.
Led by Kevin Durant, who scored 38 points in his 19th 30-plus effort of the season, the Nets overcame an 18-point third- quarter deficit.
"We weren’t focused on their actions and they were able to get loose," Durant said. "I just had to push the game a little bit better . . . I scored all right to start the game, but I think everywhere else, I could be way better. I think my teammates feed off of me, my energy and how I’m approaching the game, so I need to have better starts, but I like how my teammates picked me up."
Seth Curry had 27 points, Bruce Brown scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Goran Dragic had nine points and 10 assists. The Nets are 37-34 and remain in eighth in the Eastern Conference, 2 1⁄2 games behind Toronto with 11 to play.
After trailing by 18 two minutes into the third quarter, the Nets got within 90-76 before Durant led a 20-4 run. His pull-up three-pointer with 2:50 left gave them a 96-94 advantage, their first lead since the first quarter.
The score was tied at 101 after three quarters, but the Nets scored the first 10 points of the fourth. The Blazers got within three with 18.9 seconds left, but Durant’s two free throws sealed it.
Though it maybe wasn’t as pretty as the Nets would have liked, it was welcome, given what they have ahead of them — seven of 11 games against teams in the playoff picture.
Additionally, with the vaccine mandate still in effect, Kyrie Irving will be available for only three of those games. Nash also said Ben Simmons, who has a strained back, is not ready to do even individual workouts yet.
"Every team that comes in here tries to kill us because we’re the Nets," Brown said. "People who can’t really make or shoot that much or like a terrible percentage come in and hit threes and play extremely well. So we’re probably circled on a lot of people’s schedule, so we just have to come out and play hard every night."