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Steve Nash warned his shorthanded Nets about getting bored and complacent.
After sleepwalking early and digging themselves a huge hole, the Nets stopped resting on their laurels and stormed back for a 124-115 victory over the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
After playing a third straight ugly, grind-it-out affair, the Nets (28-13) have won a team-record eight straight road games. But it wasn’t pretty or easy, and the Nets needed a monster triple-double effort from James Harden to rally back from a 16-point deficit.
Without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, the Nets’ Big 3 was down to a Big 1, with Harden the last man standing. And Harden was spectacular, with 40 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds — the final one icing the game and earning yet another triple-double.
The Nets improved to 2-2 with Harden playing without Durant or Irving. In the other win, Harden poured in 38 to lead the Nets back from 24 points down in a win at Phoenix. He pulled off an encore Wednesday, lifting the Nets into a tie atop the Eastern Conference with the 76ers.
Nic Claxton added 11 points and eight boards.
“It felt good to come out here to Indiana and get the W. It’s always nice to get these road wins. … We just had to turn it around on defense,” Claxton said in a TV interview.
“We definitely nitpick. We definitely want our guys to not get complacent, to not be bored of winning,” Nash said beforehand. “We reminded them [Wednesday] that we haven’t played our best the last couple of games and were able to win, so let’s not think that’s just the way this goes. We need to continue to get clean with our defensive assignments, connectivity, all the little details, go through it with them, and we want to get back to a level pre-All-Star break there.
“We’re still regaining our sharpness and confidence after the break, and the last thing we want is for this team to feel any sort of arrival or complacency. We’d like to try to win every single game, but more important than that is the way we approach the games. Are we locked in? Are we competitive? Are we fighting? Are we not taking anything for granted?”
The Nets were still trailing 96-92 in the fourth quarter when Harden and Claxton played huge roles in a 17-4 run to seize command. Harden’s finger roll capped the spurt and put the Nets ahead 109-100 with 5:23 left to play. By the time he found Claxton for an alley-oop, it was 115-106 with 1:12 to go.
Caris LeVert, facing the Nets for the first time since being traded for Harden in mid-January — and subsequently undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous mass in his left kidney — scored 19 points for Indiana. The Pacers have lost six in a row at home for the first time since 1985.
After the Nets ever so briefly held a 15-9 lead, they promptly imploded on defense. The Pacers closed the first quarter on a 31-10 run, hitting 13 of their last 18 shots in the quarter while the Nets went just 3-for-14.
The Nets fell behind by as much as 43-27 after an Edmond Sumner finger roll a minute into the second quarter.
They tried to rally, mounting an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to seven on a Claxton dunk. Coming out of the break, the Nets pulled within a point at 61-60 on Harden’s finger roll, and again at 64-63 after his driving layup.
After knocking on the door over and over, the Nets finally pulled even at 96-all on a Harden putback with 9:16 to play. And when he threw a long touchdown pass to a streaking Claxton for a fast-break dunk, the Nets had their first lead since 18-17.
Claxton’s long-armed defense forced TJ McConnell into a miss, and on the next trip down, the Nets crashed the glass for three offensive rebounds before Harden capped the possession with a 3-pointer for a 103-98 lead.
Jeff Green’s elbow jumper padded the lead to seven, and the Nets held it.
“We give them as much space as we can, because this is a tough schedule and grind. But at the same time, we do have to nitpick just to make sure we’re getting the best out of them,” Nash said. “We want to see them succeed and perform and do it collectively and individually and that takes perseverance.
“So we try to walk that line and that balance of allowing them to have enough space and time to decompress and away from everything being basketball and at the same time, make sure they’re aware where we’re going, where we’re lacking, where our deficiencies are, where we can improve and all those different parameters that go into being a better basketball team by the end of the year.”
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