James Harden led the way with 23 points, 11 assists and five rebounds to give the Brooklyn Nets a 109-98 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, as the Nets have won a season-high five straight games and improved to 4-0 on their current West Coast trip despite missing Kevin Durant for their last three games with a strained left hamstring.
Five of Harden’s 11 assists came in the second quarter of this game, as “The Beard” found his guys in their sweet spots that would help give the Nets a lead as many as 19 points in the period, as that ultimately helped set Brooklyn up with a comfortable enough cushion to work with the rest of the way.
On pretty much each and every play that Harden got an assist on in this game, it seemed like the Lakers defense was too focused on trying to shut down a lane for Harden to get inside, as multiple defenders were looking right at him, which opened up opportunities for him to find guys like DeAndre Jordan, Bruce Brown, Harris and Luwawu-Cabarrot in spots that they can do some serious damage.
Defense has been talked about as a huge problem for the Nets all season long. However, the Nets limited the Lakers to under 100 points in this game and held them to just 8-of-30 shooting from 3-point land. In a pivotal third quarter, the Nets allowed the defending champs to put up just 21 points and forced them into nine turnovers that ultimately led to 11 points off turnovers.
In the modern NBA, it is very hard to hold a team to under 100 points, especially against a LeBron James-led team.
“It’s about time. It’s about time we turn the corner defensively,” Irving said. “No team is gonna win anything in this league if they don’t get stops. It’s about time. We heard them loud and clear the last couple of games. And it is one of our points of emphasis when we go into games is just stay connected no matter what. Stick to the gameplan. We trust it. We’ve talked about it. So just go out there and play, and play free and execute it. But we’re going to hold each other accountable.”
“I know you see on TV or when you’re watching: We’re pointing at each other. But that’s what we need to stay engaged for certain guys. We need that level of grit. It’s okay to get angry on the defensive end and be physical in the league. We’re not friends with these guys trying to win. So, let’s just keep going.”
As time goes on, while this group won’t be ranked among the best defenses in the league any time soon, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the Nets are capable of holding their own on the defensive side of the ball and getting stops when they need to, which is all they’re going to need to worry about as long as their offense is there for them.
If both Durant and Anthony Davis were able to play Thursday, then we would’ve been able to get a much better indication of how a potential Finals matchup between these two teams would play out.