Nets-Clippers takeaway: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden shine in thrilling LA win


Another contender traveled to Brooklyn to face the Eastern Conference favorites on Tuesday, and another contender fell against the might of their big three. This time it was the Los Angeles Clippers trying to contain the unstoppable Nets, and they failed in a 124-120 loss at the hands of the NBA’s top offensive line. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden combined for 90 points in the victory and came back from a 12-point first-half deficit to win the game and advance to two of the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 of the Eastern Conference.

The Clippers can at least leave New York satisfied that they’ve stood their ground in the measuring stick contest. The Clippers opened the season with big wins over the Lakers and Nuggets, but have played a weak schedule since then. Now, over 20 games into the season, they’ve seen where they stand against one of the teams they might have to beat to win the championship. Here’s what they and the Nets can take away from Tuesday’s clash of the Titans.

1. The Brooklyn formula

Ignore the hiccups against Washington and Cleveland. Ignore garish opponent’s point totals, opponents’ season’s highest individual scoring numbers, and late-game errors. Brooklyn has now played three playoff teams since acquiring James Harden, and a formula is starting to show itself: keep the game in the 120s, not the 140s, get an effective three-star offense, and trust that one of them will come out with. a 40-point blast or a triple-double monster.

This is basically what happened against the Clippers. Irving led the way with 39 points, but Durant and Harden combined to shoot 64 percent from the field. Brooklyn’s defense has actually held up better on a relative basis against good offenses (ranked 20th against the 10 best units since the acquisition of Harden, by Cleaning the Glass) than it has against mediocre (last dead) and the last 10 opponents (23rd). This suggests that effort, to some extent, can elevate the Nets to skill, and it does against their better opponents.

On paper, this is what the Nets would likely want a playoffs to look like. Their offense, as a whole, is defense-proof. No team will ever block their three stars at once. They don’t need to be great at defense. They just have to be good enough to complete an attack that will give them a chance against any opponent, and that was Tuesday.

2. Big or small?

When Brooklyn played Milwaukee in his first possible look at the Harden-era playoffs, he devoted 38 of a possible 48 minutes to DeAndre Jordan in an effort to deter Giannis Antetokounmpo from the basket. It worked, but Steve Nash remained adaptable. Jordan only played 16 minutes against the Clippers while Jeff Green got the remaining 32 down center.

In theory, the plan worked. The Nets won the game, and even with Green as their little five ball, they more than held their place inside. The two teams were tied with 44 paint points each and Brooklyn won the rebound battle 44-39. The Clippers aren’t a particularly paint-oriented team. The bulk of their shots are jumpers and change tends to be the best defense against such infractions. But playing it this way allowed Kawhi Leonard to seek out ideal matches early on. He was able to find Irving and Joe Harris on multiple possessions early on as the Clippers built their first-half lead, and that strategy will be a running strategy Brooklyn should expect against elite playoff offenses. .

That’s not to say that, overall, the little bullet is a negative. Spacing advantages aside, it’s much easier for the Nets to station Harden in post defensively, where he’s most comfortable and had a huge impact on Tuesday. But the Nets won Jordan’s minutes by six points and lost Green’s by two. It’s not a huge difference, but it shows the difficulty of moving from one identity to another. If the Nets can’t master one approach, how are they going to share the difference with teams that can punish both?

3. Who’s ready for prime time?

Every Nets starter has played at least 32 minutes in this game. Four Clippers starters did, and Marcus Morris gave them 31 minutes off the bench. Both teams held on as their reserves had to play. Not a single reserve of Clippers had a positive points differential. Brooklyn’s backups outside of Jordan only attempted five shots.

The Lakers won the championship last season for a variety of reasons, but getting their minimum wage signings was one of the most important. Getting Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris and Rajon Rondo out of the junk heap allowed them to play through the entire playoff series without worrying about spending minutes on categorical responsibilities.

The Clippers are getting closer. Nic Batum was a revelation, and Reggie Jackson is slowly starting to return to his Detroit form. The Nets still have a way to go. They’ve allowed Landry Shamet to play through his struggles, but he still hovers around 30% behind the arc. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has been too inconsistent, and while Bruce Brown’s defense is badly needed, he’s shooting under 20% on Turns 3 so far this season.

The Nets only trust six players at the moment. The Clippers go further than that, but watching Luke Kennard play just four minutes in such a big game isn’t particularly encouraging. Brooklyn has the time and the tools to improve their bench. The Clippers can reasonably expect their responses to be internal. But for now, both rely heavily on their starters to win matches. It can work in the regular season, but champions need role players like Rondo and Howard to rally if they’re to last four rounds.

4. Remember who the Clippers were missing

It’s not to rain on the Brooklyn parade, but it wasn’t quite the possible preview of the finale that we were hoping for in large part due to an absence. Irving scored 39 points in that game, but the absence of Patrick Beverley, an All-Defense point guard, likely contributed to that. The Clippers are more than 10 points per 100 possessions better with Beverley on the ground (allowing 101.7 points per 100 possessions) than they are with him (111.8).

That’s not to say Beverley would shut down Irving. No one can do that. But All-Defense selections rarely allow 39 points out of 15 of 23 shots. In a game with such slim margins, Beverley forcing Irving to work a little harder, or at least giving the Clippers more versatility and limiting minutes. of Jackson on the ground, could have made all the difference. Ultimately, the Nets will face a team with three high-end perimeter strikers in the playoffs. Boston has three between Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Philadelphia has three between Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green. Milwaukee has never demonstrated their willingness to deploy their best players this way, but Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday would all pose problems for the Brooklyn stars. We still haven’t seen how the Nets would handle such defensive depth. They’ve had at least one actionable game in all of their games so far, but that will eventually change, and it will be impossible to pin down Brooklyn’s playoff potential until we see how they handle it.

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