SALT LAKE CITY — Kyrie Irving kept up the red-hot form he found Thursday against the Suns — and he showed the Nets actually can win a game without Kevin Durant.
Irving poured in a game-high 48 points and the Nets pulled out a 117-106 victory over the Jazz before a sellout crowd of 18,206 at Vivint Arena. And unlike a night earlier at Phoenix, this time Irving’s brilliance was more than enough.
He scored the most points by a Net this season, hit a season-high eight 3-pointers, tied his season high with 11 rebounds and added six assists. In short, he did it all, and he did it when the Nets needed it most — pouring in 21 points in the fourth quarter alone.
The back-and-forth affair was knotted at 102-all after a Jordan Clarkson basket with 3:18 left, but Irving responded with a 3-pointer just 17 seconds later to give the Nets a lead they never surrendered. Center Nic Claxton (20 points, five rebounds) then blocked Clarkson on Utah’s next trip downcourt, and Seth Curry hit another 3-pointer to make it 108-102 with 2:18 remaining.
The Nets (28-17) finished the game off and made sure it didn’t get to overtime. The win snapped an 0-4 skid since Kevin Durant went down on Jan. 8 in Miami with a sprained right MCL. Durant is still in a knee brace, and won’t be reevaluated until early next week.
On Thursday in Phoenix, the Nets clearly hadn’t been even moderately focused at the start, spotting the Suns a 24-point lead in the third quarter before Irving scored 21 in the fourth. They ended up losing that game 117-112, but Friday they won.
The Nets didn’t fix their flaws, as much as overcome them against the Jazz. They still got battered on the glass, and committed entirely too many fouls. But they found a way to win, with Claxton and a couple of timely stops proving to be enough.
The game was a seesaw affair.
Irving scored seven points in a 14-0 Nets run, and his 15-foot jumper put the Nets ahead 16-5 with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
A Clarkson bucket snapped the run, but Royce O’Neale drilled a 3-pointer to put the Nets up 24-11 with 4:37 left in the first.
Their lead was at 12 early in the second, when Claxton sailed in unopposed for a tip dunk. That gave the Nets a 36-24 cushion with 10:07 left in the half. Naturally, they couldn’t hold it, their familiar recent frailties still on full display.
The Nets got mauled on the offensive glass and faced a huge disparity at the free throw line, not taking a single foul shot until there were nearly four minutes left in the first half. When they went ice-cold from the floor, the Jazz went on a 14-0 run of their own.
The Nets missed six straight shots and committed a couple of turnovers. And by the time they let Collin Sexton get free for a reverse layup, they trailed 38-36 with 5:34 to go in the half.
They trailed 67-61 early in the second half after an all-too-easy Walker Kessler dunk.
But the Nets responded with a 17-5 run to swing the momentum again. O’Neale found Yuta Watanabe for a huge 3-pointer to cap the spurt and put the Nets ahead 78-72 with 2:55 left in the third.
It was knotted at 83-all going into the fourth.
It was still tied at 92-all after a Sexton reverse with 8:27 to play, but that’s when the Nets edged ahead with seven unanswered points.
Two Curry free throws 17 seconds later gave the Nets the lead. Then Claxton followed with an alley-oop, and an Irving 3-pointer made it 99-92 with 7:24 to play.
The Nets never trailed again.
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