The Brooklyn Nets should start first quarters the way they start thirds.
That could be the cure-all for a team that looked lifeless in the first half before bouncing back from down 21 to beat the Nuggets, 125-119, in Denver on Saturday. The win snapped a four-game losing streak, Brooklyn’s longest of the season, and tested the resolve of a team that considers itself a championship contender but has not finished the season with a championship-caliber resume. It is the Nets’ second-largest comeback of the season, behind only their 24-point comeback in Phoenix led by James Harden.
And after the first quarter, a win was the furthest thing from reality.
The Nets came out with their guard down and got rocked in the opening minutes. The Nuggets ran off with an early 13-5 lead and never looked back. They shot 65% from the field through a large chunk of the second half, led by Michael Porter Jr., who finished with 28 points against his idol, Kevin Durant.
“They got hot,” Durant said postgame.
Durant one-upped him with 33 points on just 14 shots. It was an effort needed in the face of adversity after a poor start to the game. Durant hit a one-legged step-back to start his night. The shot, which swished through the net, quelled any notion that his cold shooting would carry over after missing shots to win against the Milwaukee Bucks, then putting up a dud against Dallas.
The Nets, though, played undisciplined basketball in the first half. They gave the ball away 17 times on the night. That’s not the type of ball that will win them a ring at the end of the season.
But stars win rings, and on Saturday, the Nets had more stars. While it was the Nets’ second unit, led by Blake Griffin, who scored 16 points and hit four threes in the third quarter alone, Durant and Kyrie Irving carried their water, and then some, in the fourth.
“They just played hard as hell. They fought, scrapped,” Nash said. “A lot of things have to go right, but when you play that hard, you cover up mistakes and you give yourself an opportunity.”
The Nets wouldn’t have had to cover their mistakes had they approached the game a little sharper. Brooklyn allowed 37 points in the first quarter, one game after the Mavericks hung 37 in the first in Dallas.
“The benefit of being down is you don’t have time to analyze,” Nash said. “You just have to play and play hard.”
The Nets have exited the gauntlet, finishing just 1-4 against playoff teams angling for a championship in matchups against the Trail Blazers, Bucks (twice), Mavericks and the Nuggets on Saturday. Nash called that five-game rundown “murderer’s row” because of the superstar talent each team had.