Despite missing two All-Stars, the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 at Moda Center on Tuesday night. Kyrie Irving was out for personal reasons and Kevin Durant missed another game with a hamstring strain, but their absences didn’t matter.
The Nets showed their resilience by coming back from a seven-point deficit midway through the third quarter to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth. Several role players made key baskets in the final minutes for coach Steve Nash’s squad which gave them the victory.
James Harden was at his finest as a playmaker, dishing dimes to teammates for 17 assists and keeping the Blazers at bay with his drive-and-dish game. He led five players in double figures while two others scored eight points for the Brooklyn Nets.
It was a tough loss for the Portland Trail Blazers who absorbed a loss against a team that didn’t have its two highest scorers. The win kept the Brooklyn Nets at 30-14 and within striking distance of the first-place Philadelphia 76ers (30-13) in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers (25-18) had to settle for sixth place in the Western Conference, a game behind the Denver Nuggets (26-17) who won against the Orlando Magic 110-99 tonight.
Here are our five hits and flops from the exciting game:
Hit: James Harden (Brooklyn Nets)
It wasn’t a good shooting night for James Harden, but he made enough baskets to lead his team in scoring against the Portland Trail Blazers. More importantly, he distributed the basketball beautifully. He was in total control of the Brooklyn Nets offense and his teammates rewarded his trust by making shot after shot when he passed them the ball.
Blake Griffin played in only his second game for the Nets, but Harden trusted the former Detroit Piston to take and make a three in the third quarter. The former MVP racked up another assist, but Griffin was just one beneficiary of his playmaking.
Jeff Green, Joe Harris and Nicolas Claxton looked like natural-born scorers because of Harden's passing. The Brooklyn Nets guard had 25 points, 17 assists and six rebounds.
His teammates made the shots that counted, but their floor general was the one who made them successful.
Flop: Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
No one could guard Damian Lillard early in the game. He found ways to score by making unbelievable shots in the first half and got to the free-throw line by drawing fouls from Brooklyn Nets players who dared to get in his way.
Unfortunately, he cooled off in the second half and was unusually hesitant to take crucial shots down the stretch against the Brooklyn Nets. The Portland Trail Blazers coach could have also drawn some plays for the All-Star guard to heat up, especially in the fourth quarter, but Lillard was already ice-cold by then. In the end, he made just five of his 17 field goal attempts for 22 points.
Hit: Jeff Green (Brooklyn Nets)
Jeff Green was the recipient of several James Harden passes, and he made the most of the opportunities given to him. Green made a couple of threes and his shooting kept the Portland Trail Blazers from clogging the lane, allowing the Brooklyn Nets to score in the paint.
In particular, Harden found his way to the rim in part because of the threat of Green's shooting.
With 4.4 seconds to go, “Uncle Jeff” made two free throws to ice the game for the Brooklyn Nets. The Brooklyn Nets' 6-foot-8 forward was second on the team in scoring, with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor.
Flop: CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers)
It was just the fifth game by CJ McCollum since coming back from a lengthy stint on the sidelines, but he had 32 points in his third game which upped the expectations for him. Against the Brooklyn Nets, the Portland Trail Blazers sharpshooter played poorly, took ill-advised shots and had difficulty getting past his defender.
The energy was there for McCollum, but the stroke wasn’t. He forced up several shots from all over the floor, showing that his conditioning may still be off. Though he scored a respectable 16 points, he shot 5-of-19 from the field. Many of those misses were in the all-important fourth quarter where he was flat from three and even missed an easy layup for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Hit: Enes Kanter (Portland Trail Blazers)
One of the few bright spots for the Portland Trail Blazers was Enes Kanter. He was a monster on the boards and contributed a solid total of points. Kanter had 19 points and 19 rebounds which kept the game close.
The Portland Trail Blazers' center scrambled for offensive rebounds and putbacks that gave the Portland Trail Blazers a fighting chance against the Brooklyn Nets, especially in the tight fourth quarter. He was relentless in getting boards while doing honest work defensively. He also had six assists to help distribute the ball to find open shooters.