Nets vs Clippers Recap: Harden Masterclass Leads Nets to LA Sweep
After a spectacular Christmas day victory over the Lakers, the Nets stayed in Los Angeles to take on the Clippers. Brooklyn had won five out of their last six games heading into this matchup, and aimed to continue that hot streak. Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with a myriad of role players and rookies, remained out in health and safety protocols, so James Harden would need to carry Brooklyn again. And Harden was up to the task.
Coming off a 36-point triple double, Harden was again aggressive from the tip. In the first quarter alone, Harden went on an offensive flurry, scoring 14 points and dishing out five assists in the frame. The rest of the team followed Harden’s lead, helping to combine for 38 first quarter points.
The Nets continued to break the game open with a 33-point second quarter, and they sat on a 71-55 lead at halftime.
The third quarter turned into the Patty Mills and James Harden show. To compliment Harden’s eight-point, five-assist quarter, Mills drilled three threes. The Nets’ aggressive and efficient offense helped surge their score to 101 points through three quarters, while their top-10 defense limited the undermanned Clippers to just 81 points.
With a 20-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes, it seemed likely the Nets could cruise to victory. However, similar to Christmas Day, the Nets let the Clippers chip away at the lead. LA’s athletic youngsters, taking advantage of extended run and Brooklyn miscues, brought the game within 10 points. Again, though, the James/Patty duo counterpunched, with a Harden four-point play followed by a Mills open three to balloon the lead back up to 17 again. The Nets would go on to win 124-108.
Let’s breakdown the Nets After Dark performance after their latest victory:
James Harden Masterclass
James Harden is back. Since returning from health and safety protocols, Harden has come out firing, seemingly renewed after his early season slump. Looking like his MVP form, Harden put up 39 points, 15 assists, and eight rebounds on 60 percent shooting. He also became the 10th player all time to hit the thresholds of 20,000 points, 6,000 assists, and 5,000 rebounds.
What has been a great thing to watch in Harden’s resurgence is his aggressiveness and confidence. Harden took absolute charge of the game, driving into the paint and bullying his way to the basket. When he forced the Clippers defense to collapse on the drive, it opened up opportunities for everyone on the perimeter. His downhill aggression to the basket also allowed him the space to hoist up timely threes, as LA defenders stayed on their heels all night long.
The rest of the team fed off Harden’s play. With fellow superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving returning soon, MVP-level Harden is arriving at the perfect time.
Nets Offensive Efficiency
The Nets boast one of the league’s best offenses, and tonight was no different. Brooklyn’s offense poured in 124 points, and did so in a myriad of ways. Alongside Harden, Mills continued to be a microwave from downtown, scoring all 18 of his points from three-point territory. Bembry used his specialty as a high-energy slasher to contribute a dozen, and Bruce Brown floated his way to eight points.
In the front court, Blake Griffin took it to his old squad, bully-balling his way to 12 points. Nicolas Claxton poured in 18 points, consistently catching lobs and finishing at the rim to the tune of an efficient 88 percent shooting. James Johnson, known for his defense, also kept the offense flowing with his trademark opposite-hand reverse layups along the baseline.
Overall, the biggest takeaway of tonight’s offensive showcase is what can potentially be. The offense played with increase pace and got into quick transition. This lead to an efficient 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three. With roughly a skeleton crew available, it’s pretty amazing the Nets are still able to perform and play cerebrally and efficiently. The offense will be even better once the Nets incorporate key players back returning from health and safety protocols and injury. Scary Hours will truly arrive once superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, veterans Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as rookies Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards return.
Nets Defense Continues Their Strong Form
The improved Nets defense already boasts the fifth best defense in the NBA, with a 106.4 DRTG. This continued against the shorthanded Clippers. Brooklyn’s defense was aggressive with their switching, and also hounded the offensive boards. This combined performance held the Clippers to only 108 points on 38 percent shooting.
Eleven LA turnovers that led to quick easy offense in transition. Throughout the season, the defense leading to offense has been very key in the team going on extended runs, as well maintaining the up-tempo pace of play the Nets like to play at.
The Nets defense continues to be a great development and story for this team. Much maligned last season, the team has taken great strides to become elite. Having a top-5 defense is going to be key for the Nets title-contending goals. When you combine that with their offense and star-power, it’s going to be difficult to find a team that can beat a full-strength Nets team.
Onto The Next One
The Nets return home to Brooklyn after their LA road trip. Thankfully, the Nets get a two-day break as they will not have to play until Thursday, December 30. Brooklyn will take on the Philadelphia 76ers at 7 PM EST. This will be the third Nets-Sixers matchup of the season; Brooklyn has won the previous two. The Nets have won six out of their last seven games and are currently 23-9, and maintain a 1.5-game lead as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.