August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Kyrie Irving carries Brooklyn’s Big 3 as Nets beat Clippers

Tyronn Lue played long enough in the NBA to know that not all games are created equal. Without fail, it seemed, the stars who were his teammates — Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady — played with a bit more fire against opponents of their caliber.

“Whenever the greats are playing against the greats,” the Clippers’ coach said Tuesday, “you always want to be great.”

Lue ended his pregame media session and then watched a game unfold that was no exception — a 124-120 Brooklyn win in a matchup whose star performances created the intensity of a playoff game despite taking place inside the emptiness of Barclays Center.

Brooklyn’s trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving lived up to their lofty offensive potential while, for the first time since Harden’s arrival in mid-January, flashed a bit of defense midway through the final quarter that proved enough to turn away the Clippers’ star duo, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Irving, whom Lue had witnessed make big shots under high stakes on plenty of occasions while in Cleveland together, scored 39 points, making six three-pointers. Durant scored 28 points and Harden added 23.

The trio combined for 29 of Brooklyn’s 36 fourth-quarter points.

Leonard scored 33 points for the Clippers and George finished with 26. It was the first time the Clippers (16-6) lost when both George and Leonard played since Jan. 8, and only the second loss in their last 12 games.

After trailing by 10 with 1 minute 55 seconds left, the Clippers were within one with 24 seconds remaining after a three-pointer by George from the corner capped a 9-0 run. The teams traded free throws, and Irving made two with 1.9 seconds left to seal the win.

Lue cautioned before tipoff that the Clippers needed to take advantage of Brooklyn’s defensive switching. Though the coach’s biggest influence since his hiring has been his emphasis on a ball-movement offense, this game would be a chance for his stars to operate in isolation.

“We’re going to play some one-on-one,” he said. “If they don’t double, then we want to score.”

Leonard did exactly that when guarded by Irving, who is six inches shorter — twice finding Nicolas Batum for three-pointers early. It helped the Clippers lead by 12 in the opening quarter.

Six minutes after drawing his second foul, George checked out with 4:34 to play before halftime and didn’t return, watching as Brooklyn (14-9) closed on a 12-2 run to trail by one.

The Clippers missed six of their last seven shots in the half.

Since Jan. 10, the Clippers had averaged 21 free throws per game; they took 17 on Tuesday, and George often appeared frustrated, not receiving a free-throw attempt until seven minutes remained in the game, after he drove the baseline against former teammate Landry Shamet and scored a layup in traffic. His foul shot pushed the Clippers’ lead to five.

The lead was gone within minutes, and a 13-0 Brooklyn run created an eight-point hole for the Clippers. It grew to 10 and was too much to overcome, even for a duo of stars.