DALLAS — The Nets looked dead and buried, taken out by a great Luka Doncic performance. Until, that is, they pulled off yet another comeback.
Led by James Harden and Kevin Durant, who combined for 47 points, the Nets rallied for a come-from-behind 102-99 victory over the Mavericks before a sellout crowd of 19,559 at American Airlines Center.
It was tight and tense, and it wasn’t complete until the Nets (17-7) successfully held off the Mavericks over the final, frenetic 20 seconds. But when they forced Tim Hardaway Jr. to miss a 3-pointer with under a second remaining, they had the win.
The Nets trailed 88-79 in the fourth quarter before they used a 12-2 run to pull ahead by one with 6:41 left.
After they fell behind again, 97-95, with under four minutes to go, Patty Mills hit a 3-pointer with 2:48 left to give the Nets a lead they never surrendered. Harden followed with a layup and the Nets managed to hold Dallas at bay — barely.
These are the kind of slugfests the Nets will have to find a way to win with Kyrie Irving out. Harden flirted with another triple-double, with 23 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. And Durant woke up late, scoring 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, when the Nets came alive to seize this one.
“They’re still great,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said of the Nets before the game. “They have two of the top-75 players to ever play the game. They have a great coach in Steve Nash, a great communicator, and he’s a great human being.
“Are they different? I mean, Kyrie is one of the best, too. I don’t know what their record is with all three out there, but it has to be pretty good. Unfortunately, Kyrie isn’t playing, but Harden and Durant cause a problem. They’re without one of their best players and also the health of their team with Joe Harris being banged up, but they continue to find a way to win.”
Doncic, with a game-high 28 points and nine assists, helped the Mavericks cut up the Nets’ defense. Dallas led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, before Durant and the Nets rallied in the fourth.
“I mean he’s one of the hardest guys in the league to defend,” Nash said of Doncic. “Can do it all, all three levels. Can get to his spot, can make his shots, can make others better. Can be bigger, can be more agile, can be quicker in certain matchups. You add it all up and it’s an incredible mix and a lot of talent.”
Dallas’ final play before halftime told the tale of the first half. James Johnson passed Doncic off to LaMarcus Aldridge on a switch, and the Nets center actually stayed in front of the Mavericks superstar with the clock winding down. But Doncic hit a 29-foot, step-back bank shot, laughing as trotted back upcourt with a Michael Jordan-esque shrug.
That summed up a first half, which ended with the Nets trailing 62-50.
They let the Mavericks slice them up, with a 16:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting 18 of 24 in the paint, most of them at the rim.
The deficit reached 71-54 with 7:30 left in the third when Doncic found Kristaps Porzingis for a 3-pointer.
Still down 88-79, the Nets mounted a 10-2 run to edge ahead.
Durant and Mills — who had been 0-for-5 from deep — sandwiched 3-pointers around a Frank Ntilikina miss for Dallas. Mills’ huge bucket from the right corner pulled the Nets within 88-85 with 9:33 left.
After a Nic Claxton bucket, Durant hit a 14-footer. Harden’s free throws put the Nets ahead 91-90 with 6:41 to play.
But a Doncic 3-pointer gave Dallas a 94-93 edge, and Dwight Powell hit one of two from the line to make the lead two.
Durant knotted it with a turnaround, but Doncic untied it on a driving floater with 3:51 to play before Harden missed a 3-pointer.
Mills drilled a straight ahead 3-pointer for a 98-97 lead, then soared above the trees for back-to-back defensive rebounds. Harden’s strong drive all the way to the rim made it 100-97 with 1:23 left in regulation.
After Harden was whistled for a foul on Doncic, Nash challenged and got it overturned. The Nets harassed Hardaway into a missed floater. Claxton was fouled on the other end with :20.7 to play, but missed both free throws to give Dallas hope and force the Nets to make one last defensive stand.
And they made it.