The Nets’ Big 3 were finally back together for the first time in three months. The reunion started off rusty and ended up raucous.
After spotting the Bulls a big lead right out of the gate, the Nets settled in, then pulled away for a 105-91 rout in front of 1,773 fans at Barclays Center, who were finally getting to watch the Big 3 for the first time live.
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden started together for just the eighth time all season, and for the first time since Feb. 13 — long before crowds had been allowed back in Barclays Center to watch the Nets (47-24). The fans got to see a treat, though they had to wait a while — both this season and Saturday.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a great opportunity for us to just get some reps in together,” coach Steve Nash said beforehand. “I think that’s kind of all it is.
“You can’t ask for anything super-specific. You just want them to feel it, and to kind of grow into it and just kind of start that process of jelling and finding cohesion and an understanding that’s been so truncated this season. So it’s good in that respect. But I don’t know how much you can get out of one game, but it’s better than no game. So we’re excited to see them out there together.”
It’s no shock the Nets took some time to jell, though perhaps the amount of rust was jarring. They allowed the first dozen points of the game before finding their footing, and they eventually led by as many as 14 en route to a must-have win.
It came in a penultimate game of the schedule, and left the Nets 1 ½ games ahead of Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference standings, pending the Bucks’ game later Saturday versus the Heat. The Nets can clinch the No. 2 seed in the East with a win Sunday against the Cavaliers.
Irving poured in a team-high 22 points, including 13 in the first quarter to try to keep the Nets afloat while they searched for their rhythm.
Limited to just 25 minutes in his second game back after being out for five weeks with a hamstring injury, Harden had five points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Durant, who had 12 points and nine boards, has so spoiled onlookers that a rare off-game seems shocking. He shot just 4-for-17 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
But Bruce Brown chipped in with a double-double (16 points, 12 boards), and Jeff Green added 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 5-for-6 from deep.
The Nets came out ice cold. They were already down 12-0 just 2:12 in after Bulls guard Coby White drilled a 3-pointer. But it turned out to be his only bucket of the game, as the Nets eventually settled in.
The Bulls hit five of their first seven shots before Nash called a timeout. Whatever he said worked.
Once the Nets settled down, the Bulls — playing without Zach LaVine, who had torched the Nets for 41 points in their previous meeting — managed little offense. The Nets held them to 34.7 percent shooting overall and 11-for-41 from 3-point range.
After falling behind 29-22, the Nets reeled off an 8-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters. Harden found Green for a cutting dunk and the Nets’ first lead of the game, at 30-29
Still clinging to a 46-45 edge with 3:46 left in the half, the Nets mounted a 15-4 run to open the game up. The surge was highlighted by Brown fighting among the trees for an offensive rebound, off a Durant miss, and making the putback through contact. After the shot, he flexed and received and celebratory shove from Durant.
Brown’s layup on the next possession made it 61-49, and the Nets took a two-point lead into the locker room.
The Nets’ advantage eventually swelled to 105-85 on Mike James’ running layup with 2:30 left.