Brooklyn Nets: Three takeaways from comeback win over Rockets (3/31/2021)

The Brooklyn Nets entered the first half of a back-to-back with a chance to claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, something the franchise hasn’t experienced since all the way back in 2003. However, it wasn’t the easy “roll the balls out” type of game everyone was expecting, as the Nets found themselves in a dogfight. And although the final score showed a double-digit victory for Brooklyn, it was anything but a walk in the park.

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Here are three takeaways from Brooklyn’s 120-108 comeback win over the Rockets.

First-Quarter Woes

There are three things that are certain in this life: death, taxes, and the Brooklyn Nets starting a game slowly. And whether it was a great pregame meal or the Rockets somehow got their hands on “Mike’s Secret Stuff,” Houston’s start Wednesday night was like a shot out of a cannon. The lottery-bound squad that has only won 13 games came out as if it was the super-team with “scary hours.” It was an avalanche of made baskets, and before you got back from the kitchen with your microwaved food and beverage, the Nets were down double digits. Houston couldn’t miss if it tried, and it didn’t appear as if Brooklyn intended to make the Rockets try, either.

Houston started the game on a 24-6 run, en route to a 42-29 lead at the end of the opening frame. Wide-open shooters and easy lanes to the basket allowed the Rockets to shoot a mind-boggling 78% from the field, which included hitting seven of their nine attempts from 3-point range. This all came without John Wall, who missed the game due to a left knee injury. Danuel House led the way for Houston, splashing three deep balls as part of a 12-point quarter.

Although it wasn’t an ideal start by the Nets as a team, it was a very good start for their two stars. Of the 29 points Brooklyn scored in the first quarter, 26 came from Kyrie Irving and James Harden, with the other three coming from Joe Harris.

Kyrie Irving or Uncle Drew?

There just has to be something about welcoming a child into the world that makes NBA players hit another gear. Irving started the game in a groove, scoring in double digits to help keep the Nets afloat with Houston seemingly unable to miss in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Irving had that point guard vision on display. Remember, just because Kyrie has assumed the shooting guard role doesn’t mean he has forgotten his natural point guard skills. Irving did a good job of penetrating and finding his teammates for easy buckets.

The second half is where Irving really flexed his muscle. He was the catalyst for a 12-0 run Brooklyn went on in the third quarter to trim the deficit. It wasn’t just what Irving was doing on the offensive side of the ball, either; Kyrie was locked in on the defensive end as well. Two plays in particular stood out. One was a long rebound Irving fought for and chased down, leading to a foul call on the other end. The other was Irving fighting for a rebound and having the wherewithal to throw it off Ja’Sean Tate before falling out of bounds. It’s plays like those that show the type of on-court leader Irving is. He ended the game with 31 points and a season-high 12 assists. With James Harden leaving the game in the third quarter with hamstring tightness, Irving literally put the team on his back and willed this team to a victory.

Blake Show and Claxton Hive

Much has been said about potential closing lineups for the Nets, and Wednesday night saw Blake Griffin and Nicolas Claxton as the frontcourt duo closing the game for Brooklyn.

At this point, there really is nothing else that can be said about the play of Nicolas Claxton. It seems like whenever he’s on the court, it’s a positive. In the first half Claxton had six points, all off dunks, which seemed to bring some life to a Nets squad that appeared stuck in the mud.

The fourth quarter is where both Claxton and Griffin shone. Claxton, at one point, was the catalyst behind a 10-0 Brooklyn run. During that run, Claxton had a layup, a put-back basket, forced a jump ball, and had a key block. Griffin made his presence felt as well. After a sick and-1 reverse layup, Griffin had himself a thunderous put-back slam and even knocked down a couple of threes to help spur the Nets to their eventual victory. In 22 minutes of game action, Blake Griffin was a +23 in the plus/minus category while Claxton was a +19 in 21 minutes. Although it was just one game, this could be a slight teaser of a potential closing lineup that could include Harden and Kevin Durant.

Notable Mention

As mentioned earlier, James Harden left the game in the middle of the third quarter with right hamstring tightness. After the game, head coach Steve Nash said the team was “optimistic” that Harden would not be out long-term. Nets fans shouldn’t hit the panic button — Harden has said before that if he feels there’s a chance he can play, he will. If anyone deserves a game or two off, it’s Harden, who has been a marathon man for this team. Perhaps it’s Kyrie’s turn to return the favor and lead this team as a one-man band for a little bit.