On paper, a team led by James Harden and Kevin Durant has all the makings of an offensive monster, but the Brooklyn Nets are hanging up their hats on elite defense this season.
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The Nets rank sixth in defensive rankings, allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions, with only the Warriors, Suns, Clippers, Cavaliers and Bulls ranked ahead of them.
It’s a marked improvement on Steve Nash’s second year at the helm, though 2020-21 was plagued with injuries and lineup inconsistency, they were a below-average defense, and they managed thanks to their best offense in the league.
Last season, the Nets ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, giving up 113.1 points per 100 possessions.
The absences of Kyrie Irving and most recently Joe Harris (ankle), two players not exactly recognized as elite defenders, have seen Patty Mills injected into the starting lineup, along with DeAndre ‘Bembry, while Nic Claxton, Bruce Brown and James Johnson put up even more punch on that side of the ground.
“Last year, we were historically one of the best offensive teams of all time,” Nash said. “So when you lose [Kyrie]It really changes the composition of the team and the defense becomes much more fundamental. “
In their 102-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Nets came back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter, suffocating their opponents down the stretch when they outscored them 27-13 in the fourth quarter, maintaining to Dallas just 4-of-21 shots from the field.
The Nets posted their eighth comeback win with more than 15 points since the start of last season, tied with the Trail Blazers and Thunder for the most in that span.
The Mavericks were 24-0 since the start of last season when they entered the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead. pic.twitter.com/r7VaCWqRx2
– ESPN statistics and information (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 8, 2021
By Nets PR, the 13 points is the fewest allowed by Brooklyn in any quarter this season and the fewest allowed in a fourth quarter on the road since 2015 (13 points against the Denver Nuggets).
The Mavs’ fourth-quarter shooting chart paints a picture.
The Mavs had plenty of opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, but the Nets ‘massive perimeter defense closed it off, rushing through every rotation and nullifying Kristaps Porzingis’ size advantage at the rim with great effort.
In the Mavs’ last possession of the game, the Nets survived two late shot attempts to seal the victory.
THE NETWORKS RETURN FROM A DEFICIT OF 17 POINTS TO BEAT THE MAVS‼ ️ pic.twitter.com/1zw4hCEB09
– SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 8, 2021
James Harden led the Nets with almost a triple-double, scoring 23 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 24 points, seven rebounds and an emphatic rebound over Reggie Bullock in the fourth quarter.
While Luka Doncic finished with a solid 28-point line, nine assists and six rebounds, the Nets held him to just 2 of 9 shots from the field in the second half. Doncic shot just 3 of 11 from beyond the arc, while Tim Hardaway Jr. missed all seven of his attempts from deep as the Mavs finished just 9 of 46 (19.6 percent) from long range.
With tonight’s win, the Nets have won six in a row on the road and their 9-2 record away from Barclays Center is tied with the Phoenix Suns for the best road record in the league.
“I am extremely proud of our group. We already faced a lot of things this year and we are at the top of the East.” Nash said after the game.
“… I am proud of the way they defended, I am proud of the way we have been able to find solutions and win games.”
With a 17-7 mark atop the East, the Nets look like championship contenders and it starts with their defense.