NEW ORLEANS — Kyrie Irving capped a 32-point performance with a tough turnaround jumper, a driving layup through converging defenders and four free throws in the final minute, and the Brooklyn Nets held on for a 134-129 victory over the reeling New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“Obviously, when Kyrie does his thing and hits tough shots like that, it truly saves us,” said Nets forward Blake Griffin, who had 16 points and eight rebounds in a reserve role. “But I thought overall we did a better job of just trying to like, do it by committee, moving off the ball and not settling.”
“We just made shots,” Irving said. “Tonight, we were just playing off each other really well, just making some easy plays. It worked out in our favor.”
Brooklyn coach Steve Nash twice commanded the Nets to foul Pelicans ball-handlers coming across halfcourt in the final seconds rather than allow New Orleans to set up potential game-tying 3-point shots.
It ultimately worked.
New Orleans still got a third chance to set up a 3 in the final 4.8 seconds, but Irving’s steal attempt caused Zion Williamson to lose the ball out of bounds along the sideline, dooming the Pelicans to a fourth straight loss.
Irving had the option to foul Williamson on the catch, Nash said, “But he made a heck of a defensive play and luckily we got to call off of whatever body part it went off of.”
Williamson, who was debuting his own Jordan brand basketball shoe, scored 33 points, mostly on strong moves in the paint that produced dunks and contested layups.
Brandon Ingram added 27 points for the Pelicans, who fell four games behind Golden State and San Antonio for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference with 14 games left in the regular season.
“I’m not going to lie,” Williamson said. “It does get kind of annoying to sit up here every other game saying we’re right there and we’re not closing out. So, I think we’ve got to focus on some of those small things. I say it over and over, but until we do it, some of those outcomes aren’t going to change.”
The Pelicans led by as many as 13 when Eric Bledsoe‘s 3 made it 21-8, only to see the Nets cut it to 29-26 on Griffin’s 3 by the end of the first quarter.
After trailing 59-57 at halftime, the Nets appeared to be taking control when Harris hit a driving layup and two 3s to power a 16-2 run that gave Brooklyn a 75-65 lead. The Nets pushed their lead to 12 before Lonzo Ball scored seven quick points to ignite a 14-4 Pelicans spurt which cut it to 89-87 late in the third.
Neither team led by more than seven points during the fourth quarter.
Van Gundy dismissed the notion that the relative youth of his roster was a factor in some of his team’s recent close losses.
“Running back on defense has nothing to do with youth and inexperience. Getting down and competing defensively has nothing to do with youth and inexperience. Blocking people out, nothing to do with youth and inexperience. Getting beaten on a cut, nothing to do with youth and inexperience,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think, tonight, our lack of experience had anything to do with the result. Nothing.”