If you didn’t believe in the Brooklyn Nets entering Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, well, you weren’t exactly alone. The Suns were heavily favored at home against a Nets team missing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and in the first 24 minutes of the game, that status appeared justified. Phoenix raced out to a 75-54 halftime lead, and at one point, led by as many as 24 points. The Nets, midway through a five-game road trip with games against the Lakers and Clippers upcoming, probably would have been justified in packing it in and calling it a night.
But that’s not what happened. Behind a scorching hot shooting half and the individual brilliance of James Harden, Brooklyn pulled off one of the most impressive comebacks of the season and won, 128-124 to maintain their undefeated road trip and move into sole possession of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The comeback began in earnest midway through the third quarter. With Phoenix leading by 20, a quick 7-0 run brought the Nets back within striking distance. The two sides traded blows for a bit before Harden led another 7-0 run that cut the lead down to single digits. The Suns pushed it back up to 12 to end the third, but with Harden on the bench, Joe Harris, Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet led a ferocious fourth-quarter run that cut the lead down to two. That was all the help Harden needed. Despite some almost-heroics from Chris Paul, Harden scored nine huge points and assisted on three other buckets to secure the victory. His 3-pointer with 30 seconds left turned a one-point deficit into a permanent lead.
The success or failure of the Harden trade will ultimately be determined in the postseason, but in a sense, this victory could be viewed as justification for the deal. While the Nets obviously plan to have all three stars available when it counts, them having three means having an extra lying around when injuries or circumstances force one or two of them off of the floor. The Nets, in theory, won’t have to play a single big minute without a superstar on the floor. As Harden showed on Tuesday, that in itself is often enough to steal a win.
But perhaps more importantly, this was a win keyed by defense and depth, two things many assumed Brooklyn didn’t have. The Nets held Phoenix to only 49 second-half points, and a large chunk of the comeback came with Harden on the bench. To beat a team like Phoenix on the road under such circumstances is one of the most impressive feats of Brooklyn’s season, and franchise history.
The Nets had never overcome a 21-point halftime deficit entering Tuesday. They have now. The 24-point lead is the biggest that Phoenix has ever blown. With as much shooting as Brooklyn has, the Nets are never out of a game, and Tuesday will serve as proof of that for the rest of the season.