Nets vs. Lakers Recap: Brooklyn Delivers Christmas Day Victory
Well, it wasn’t the marquee Christmas Day matchup that many pictured when the schedules were released but as they say, “the show must go on.” Despite their last three games being postponed due to COVID issues, the Brooklyn Nets were finally back in action after what seemed like an eternity. With no Kevin Durant and none of the hotshot rookies available, it was James Harden’s turn to lead the COVID-Nets. And lead them he did.
The Nets got off to a hot start, something that has been a pleasant trend over the past few weeks. Off the bat, the most notable thing was James Harden and his aggressiveness. He got his teammates involved early via the pick and roll which opened the floor up for him to attack the basket. Brooklyn would start the game on a 14–6 run and built up as big as a 15-point advantage in the opening frame. Patty Mills (34 points, seven assists) and DeAndre’ Bembry (15 points, five rebounds) got it going early from deep and the Bruce Brown floater (16 points, six rebounds) seemed to make it home in time for Christmas.
The Lakers would gain some ground in the second quarter, trimming the Brooklyn lead to four by halftime. They’d keep that momentum going into the second half as a 6–0 spurt gave Los Angeles the lead. However, Harden and the gang quickly responded and used a 16–4 run during the middle stretches of the third to regain the lead and in fact take a 20-point advantage into the fourth.
A Nic Claxton alley-oop slam and a Patty Mills three gave the Nets a 23-point lead and seemed to put a dagger into the Lakers. However, it’s foolish to ever count out the greatness that is LeBron James. LeBron helped orchestrate a furious Lakers comeback spurred on by a 15–0 run which saw the Nets go scoreless for over five minutes. Los Angeles would tie the game late on a Malik Monk layup but a Nic Claxton alley-oop slam over LeBron with 40 seconds left proved to be the game-winning basket. A few Harden free throws iced the game and Brooklyn escaped with the win.
Here are three key takeaways from Brooklyn’s 122–115 Christmas Day victory:
Happy Harden Holidays
First, it was Kevin Durant’s turn to lead the COVID-Nets, and Christmas Day saw James have that same chance. Harden’s reinforcements were a little more battle-tested than Durant’s though. This also marked the first time Harden played a game in two weeks. The rest appeared to do Harden good as he came out the gates looking rejuvenated. James got his teammates going early with the use of some screens, which allowed him to operate more freely. He had some strong takes and there was even a floater sighting in the first quarter.
Harden’s aggressiveness stayed with him for the remainder of the game, something that has been an issue for him throughout the season. There were times where Harden did seem to settle when he could have attacked but it was still an all-around great showing from one of Brooklyn’s three superstars. It was refreshing seeing Harden penetrate and try and force the action at the rim rather than hoist up three-pointer after three-pointer. The Beard attempted 17 free throws and should have had a few more as the officials missed some pretty blatant shooting fouls.
Spacing has been a big issue this season and with only one other floor spacer (Patty Mills) out there for Brooklyn, the thought was that Harden might struggle. However, James seemed to thrive out there, in fact, some of his best stretches came when the Nets had Bembry and Brown with him on the floor at the same time. He was able to get to his spots and operated fairly well from inside the arc. Harden would finish with 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists while only committing four turnovers. He was also very active on the defensive end tallying three blocks and picking up a handful of deflections.
Patty Mills Christmas Spectacular
The Nets signing Patty Mills during the offseason was basically the basketball version of an early Christmas present. Mills has been a steadying force for Brooklyn all season and even more so during this tumultuous time for the team due to COVID. Mills’ role has primarily been that of a spark plug so it’s no surprise that since his insertion into the starting lineup, the team has gotten off to some fast starts.
Patty’s Christmas Spectacular began in typical Patty Mills fashion. A quick three off a screen. The Aussie would hit the ground running to the tune of 13 first-quarter points which included a pair of threes and a couple of sweet finishes around the basket. With a roster devoid of adequate scoring options at the moment, Mills was there to pick up the slack and be the robin to James Harden’s Batman.
Patty continued his strong play in the second half, coming up with timely buckets and key plays. Toward the end of the third quarter, Patty had a sequence in which he picked up two assists and knocked down a three which pushed the Nets lead to 20 by the end of the frame.
In the fourth quarter, when the Lakers were storming back with a 15–0 run, Patty was right there with a big three to end Brooklyn’s five-minute scoring drought. And when the Lakers cut the lead to just two with under two minutes to play, there was Mills hitting a huge three-pointer from the corner to put the Nets up five.
For Patty, this was easily his best performance of the season. What Mills provides the Nets is stability. You know what you’re going to get with Patty when he’s on the court. Aside from his lethal shooting, Mills’ court vision and passing ability can get overlooked sometimes. His seven assists against LA are a season-high and his eight made three-pointers are the most ever made on Christmas. Patty Mills is the early Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
Know Your Role
Santa is nothing without his elves and this bodes the same way for superstars without their role guys. With Brooklyn’s roster being held together by duct tape and glue, the role players for the Nets have been called upon and they have answered. As mentioned earlier, Brooklyn’s hot start was fueled by the play of role guys. Bembry looked like a 3-and-D guy for most of the game and Bruce Brown looked like the Bruce of old. Brown’s 16 points were a season-high as the touch on his floater seemed to return. He even had a few strong finishes with the right hand at the basket.
James Johnson continued his solid play. There were a few sequences that left you scratching your head including an ill-advised step-back three. However, for the most part, he played within himself collecting some tough buckets on the inside and keeping the ball moving on offense.
Aside from Patty Mills the role guy who gets the biggest props is Nic Claxton. It’s becoming a positive trend that Claxton has found himself in these postgame takeaways as of late. Although the nine points and six rebounds don’t blow you away, what should impress you is the five blocks Claxton collected. If you take the rebounding part out of consideration it was another Claxton masterclass on defense. Throughout the game he did struggle on the boards, even losing some rebounds to guards. However, the former Georgia Bulldog made life a living hell for any Lakers player that he switched onto, including LeBron.
And speaking of LeBron, there’s no reason why we can’t revisit the absolute poster Nic put LeBron at the end of the game. It’s that type of freak athletic ability coupled with his defensive prowess which is what makes the potential for this team limitless when they’re completely healthy.