For the first time in 352 days, the Nets hosted real live fans at Barclays Center. And they didn’t disappoint them.
Brooklyn earned a 127-118 win over Sacramento — a league-high seventh straight, and a gut-check in a trap game they likely wouldn’t have passed a month ago.
“Certainly, that’s a fair statement. We’ve grown, we’ve come together a lot more, and you can just feel the energy amongst players. The bond is formed,” coach Steve Nash said. “That’s something you have to invest in every day. … Guys are investing that energy and support into each other every night. And that makes you tough to beat.”
They were just tough enough Tuesday. Brooklyn (21-12) pulled away in the closing stages of the fourth quarter, using a 14-1 spurt to turn a one-point nail-biter into another victory — and this one had some extra meaning.
With the Empire State Building lit up white and black celebrating the occasion, the Nets brought fans into Barclays for the first time since March 8, 2020. That seemed like a lifetime ago, with Jacque Vaughn still the interim coach, Kevin Durant yet to suit up for Brooklyn, and James Harden still was toiling in Houston.
On Tuesday, it was a dominant Harden who led the way with another triple-double (29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds). They also got an unexpected 29 from the defensive-minded Bruce Brown, who had back-to-back 3s to cap the 14-1 run.
“It feels good. It gives us more confidence than we already had,” Brown said. “So we just gotta keep pushing and try to get more wins.”
Brooklyn’s defense was lacking, letting the Kings shoot 51.2 percent behind De’Aaron Fox (27 points) and Tyrese Haliburton (23). But even without Durant, Jeff Green or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the Nets did enough to win and stay a half-game behind the East-leading 76ers.
Brooklyn has the best record in the NBA against teams .500 and above, at a stellar 12-2. But the Nets’ 8-10 mark against losing foes coming into Tuesday showed why this was a trap — one they might not have avoided before this recent turnaround.
After Fox hit a 3-pointer with 7:07 to play, the Nets were clinging to a 110-109 lead that was tenuous at best. But that’s when they took control, and Brown surprisingly led the way.
“He’s a guy that just goes out there and competes his butt off every single night and great things happen for him,” Harden said. “He sets screens and rolls to the basket, he’s an unbelievable cutter and he showed us he’s capable of knocking down the 3 ball. So he does it all. He works his butt off and when you work your tail off and keep grinding and pushing good things happen. … I’m proud of him.”
Brown hit two consecutive 3s, the second padding the cushion to 124-110 with 3:05 left. After being trash-talked by the Kings bench, he celebrated with a little shimmy and the Nets cruised to victory.
“At the beginning they were leaving me in transition, James was finding me. So once you see them go in, you feel good,” said Brown, adding of his shimmy, “They were just talking crazy, and it was my second [3-pointer] so you know how benches do when you’re not shooting it well, you know what they say. So I had to do something.”
What he did was seal the game. A Nets team that allowed 66.7 percent shooting in the second quarter buckled down to hold Sacramento to just 35 percent in the pivotal fourth.
“Fourth-quarter defense [was the key]. We turned it up, held them to 22. We had a couple late buckets and put it to bed, so I was proud of that,” Nash said. “I thought everyone contributed. And I thought this is a trap game.
“You have a winning streak on the West Coast, you fly back across the country, getting acclimated to family and friends, then time zone … and you play a team you beat a week ago. It’s a trap game. So I was proud of the focus. It wasn’t always pretty, but they wanted to win, and they got the stops when they needed them.”