On paper, a team headlined by James Harden and Kevin Durant has all the ingredients to be an offensive juggernaut, but the Brooklyn Nets are hanging their hats on some elite defense this season.
The Nets rank sixth in defensive rating, 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 in Steve Nash’s second year at the helm, although 2020-21 was plagued by injuries and lineup inconsistency, they were a below-average defense, getting by thanks to their league-best offense.
Last season, the Nets ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, giving up 113.1 points per 100 possessions.
The absences of Kyrie Irving and more recently Joe Harris (ankle), two players not exactly renowned as elite defenders, has seen Patty Mills injected into the starting lineup, along with DeAndre’ Bembry, while Nic Claxton, Bruce Brown and James Johnson add even more punch on that side of the floor.
“Last year, we were historically one of the greatest offensive teams of all time,” Nash said. “So when you lose [Kyrie], it really changes the makeup of the team and defending becomes so much more pivotal.”
In their 102-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night, the Nets came back from a 17-point third-quarter deficit, suffocating their opponents down the stretch as they outscored them in the fourth quarter 27-13, holding Dallas to just 4-of-21 shooting from the field.
The Nets posted their 8th comeback win of 15+ points since the start of last season, tied with the Trail Blazers and Thunder for most in that span.
The Mavericks had been 24-0 since the start of last season when entering the 4th quarter with a double-digit lead. pic.twitter.com/r7VaCWqRx2
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 8, 2021
Per 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 vs. Denver Nuggets).
The Mavs’ fourth quarter shot chart paints a picture.
The Mavs had plenty of opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead, but the Nets’ swarming perimeter defense shut that down, hustling for every rotation and nullifying Kristaps Porzingis’ size advantage at the rim with sheer effort.
On the Mavs’ final possession of the game, the Nets survived two late shot attempts to seal the win.
James Harden led the Nets with a near triple-double, posting 23 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 24 points, seven rebounds and one emphatic rejection on Reggie Bullock in the fourth quarter.
While Luka Doncic finished with a strong line of 28 points, nine assists and six rebounds, the Nets held him to just 2-of-9 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 now 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’m extremely proud of our group. We faced a lot of things already this year and we sit at the top of the East,” Nash said post-game.
“…I’m proud of the way they defended, I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to find solutions and win games.”
Sitting at 17-7 at the top of the East, the Nets look every bit the championship contender and it starts with their defense.