The Nets had just enough scoring and just enough star power to squeak by Detroit 130-123. But that defense needs work, and they know it.
Kevin Durant poured in 41 points and 11 rebounds, sparking a 7-0 run to snap a late 108-all tie. And the Nets needed every iota of that offense to overcome a 12-point deficit and second straight sorry defensive outing.
“Yeah that’s something that we have to work on. We can’t hang our hat on a second half. We have to play a complete game, because it’s not always going to be that easy to make that turnaround against great teams,” Andre Drummond said. “Not that the Pistons aren’t a great team, they played a hell of a game. We just turned it up in that second half and we can’t play like that. We have to do that the whole game.”
Let’s be frank: Not only are the Pistons not great, they’re not even mediocre. They’ve played better of late, but Detroit (20-56) is tied for the worst record in the league. And the Nets couldn’t buy a stop against the Pistons in the first half.
Brooklyn trailed by 12 in the second quarter and by 64-58 after a first half that saw them allow 51 percent shooting, and 9 of 17 from deep.
But the Nets (40-36) held Detroit to 7 of 21 after the break, that and Durant’s excellence barely enough to outlast the NBA’s worst team. The Nets climbed within 2 ½ games of idle seventh-place Cleveland, and 3 ½ of both the fifth-place Bulls and sixth-place Raptors. They pulled a full game ahead of the No. 9 Hornets.
“We were more physical. In the first half we cut some corners. We weren’t on bodies and they could go where they wanted to go and it was easy,” coach Steve Nash said. “It really comes down to how much edge we play with. … When we play with edge we’re a much better team defensively. When we take our foot off the gas, we’re not good enough to just roll out there and shut people down.”
The Nets coasted, relying on offense. Drummond had 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Kyrie Irving scored 24, albeit on 7 of 18 shooting.
After trailing by 60-49 with 3:32 to go in the half, the Nets used a 23-7 run that spanned intermission.
“It just comes down to trust and Steve’s right in terms of the edge and playing with that consistently,” Irving said. “We’re going to have to make our staple as a team on the defensive end. If we’re going back-and-forth in a shooting contest, we’ll still be in the game but sometimes those games could be back-and-forth and lead to mistakes on our end. We don’t want to put our heads down too often when we get down in games. We have to make it our emphasis on the defensive end.”
The Nets saw Cade Cunningham torch them for 34 points, while Isaiah Stewart had 10 of his 15 points midway through the first.
By the time Killian Hayes drilled a 25-foot step-back with eight minutes left in the half, Detroit led 53-41. The Nets were allowing 62.5 percent shooting and 9 of 13 from 3.
The Nets got back in it with a 23-7 run that spanned the second and third quarters. Irving found Bruce Brown for a 3 and 72-67 lead with 9:19 left in the third.
The rest of the game was tooth-and-nail, and Cunningham knotted it at 108-all with 5:09 to play. But that’s when Durant hits a midrange pull-up and followed with a pair of free throws. After a Cunningham miss, Seth Curry hit a huge 3 to give the Nets a seven-point lead with 4:01 to play, and they held onto it.
Detroit coach Dwane Casey opted to foul Drummond down the stretch but the ex-Piston went 4-for-4 to help beat his old team. After shooting Casey a look on the bench, Drummond admitted it was extra sweet.
“Yeah for sure. That was for Casey for sure. That’s my guy but I had to make those for him,” Drummond said. “Yeah that was at him for sure.”