The Nets’ roster decimation is basically behind them now, and only injured long-distance shooter Joe Harris and part-time employee Kyrie Irving were unavailable Saturday night.
Their opponent in their first game of 2022 still was missing most of its star power for a variety of reasons, yet the first-place Nets wasted another 30-point triple-double from James Harden and suffered a fourth-quarter collapse in a shocking 120-116 loss to the undermanned Clippers at Barclays Center.
The Nets led by 13 points with under six minutes remaining before Eric Bledsoe keyed a 10-0 run to draw the Clippers within two with just under four minutes to go. Amir Coffey tied it at 110 with a 3-pointer at the 2:35 mark, before four straight points by Justise Winslow and a corner 3-pointer from Terance Mann stunned the home crowd and put the Nets in a 117-113 hole.
The Nets, down three in the closing seconds, still had a chance to tie the score, but Durant was fouled and missed the first of two free throws before Reggie Jackson sealed the game from the line at the other end.
Bledsoe scored 27 points while Jackson and Mann netted 19 apiece for the Clippers (19-18), who were without head coach Tyronn Lue (health and safety) and injured stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris, among others. James Ennis, who signed with the Clippers after his 10-day hardship contract with the Nets expired last week, added 10 points.
Harden recorded his third 30-point triple-double in four games since returning from the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The nine-time All-Star finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists in 40 minutes to continue his best string of performances of the season.
“I think, let’s be fair, he has trended in a positive direction throughout the season. There’s a big gap to overcome having that inactivity. So let’s not underestimate what that’s like,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of Harden before the game. “I think ironically, James being out with health and safety [protocols] gave him some rest, a reset, and he came out of it, exceeding expectations.”
Durant finished with 28 points and Patty Mills scored 17 with five made 3-pointers as the Nets dropped their second straight game.
Nic Claxton added 13 points with a handful of dunks in 23 minutes off the bench after starting the previous three games. Nash had started Claxton and LaMarcus Aldrdige (10 points) in a dual big-man alignment in Thursday’s loss to the 76ers.
“We just have to continue to grow and continue to build with everybody coming back. And I think we’re going to be great. I think the sky’s the limit,” Claxton said before the game. “I think it’s good for young, talented guys to be able to come into a situation like this and be able to fight for minutes. You just have to be ready for the opportunity.
“The objective is to be in a position to win, it’s a win-now situation. … I think once we get everybody together, there will be a small adjustment period, but once we mesh, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think the sky’s the limit.”
The Nets trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, but Durant finished with 16 points in the half for a 53-49 lead at intermission.
Harden had only eight points on 2-for-10 shooting through the first two quarters, but he pumped in 16 points in the third for an 87-80 Nets lead. He completed his triple-double a few minutes into the fourth quarter and reached 30 points for a fourth straight game with a driving bucket for a 103-92 lead with 6:25 remaining. The former league MVP is averaging 35.5 points, 12.0 assists and 11.0 rebounds over his past four games.