After defying the gigantic odds in a mind-blowing loss to the Wizards, the Nets bounced back with an impressive 124-120 victory against the Clippers on Tuesday. While the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving has been above all exciting to watch, they have also given up some absolutely incredible scoring numbers: 125 points for the Thunder, 149 points for the Wizards, 124 points for the Heat. Defense is the number one talking point when it comes to Brooklyn, and improvement in that regard is something that coach Steve Nash and the players have answered questions about after almost every game and practice. And yet, after watching the Nets shooting down the stretch against the Clippers, I think it’s a lot more fun to wonder if Brooklyn can win a championship without stopping anyone.
You’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “defense wins championships” by now. It’s mostly true! Between 2010 and 2020, only two teams won titles with a defensive rating outside of the top 10: the 2016 Cavaliers and the 2018 Warriors. Both squads barely missed the mark: They were less than one point per possession outside of the top 10 in their respective seasons. The former also had to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win, and the latter was a team that couldn’t have had less use of the regular season. It should also be noted that Irving performed spectacularly for the Cavs down the stretch of the 2016 Finals, including the series triple, while Durant was the Finals MVP of 18, which ended with a sweep.
After the win against the Clippers, the Nets have the 25th best defense in the NBA. Usually teams like that don’t even make it to the finals, much less have a chance to win them. (The 2018 Cavs are a notable exception: They got that sweep from Durant, courtesy of the second-worst defense in the league that year.) The Durant-Harden-Irving trio have played 155 minutes in five games together, and Brooklyn has a 118.2 defensive rating with those three on the floor, and only 0.5 net. There is some hope for the closing group, at least. When the Nets’ star trio is flanked by Joe Harris and Jeff Green, they have a defensive rating of 108.7, a mark above average.
However, if there is any team that can break the trend of needing tight defense to win a championship, it has to be this Nets team. Brooklyn’s shooting display against the Clippers, who have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league plus highly interchangeable lineups, was absurd. There was a five-minute stretch in the final quarter of Tuesday’s game in which the Nets began losing by five and then led by 10 thanks to a 21–6 streak. 21 points! In five minutes! In that stretch, Brooklyn scored thanks to a KD pull-up, a Kyrie three, an absurd layup from Kyrie, a Kyrie three, a step back from Harden three, a long KD two, three free throws for Harden and then a KD three just in case. .
The brilliance of the Nets, and what sets them apart from the great offenses of the past, is that they have three scorers with unsurpassed specific abilities: the Kryie’s handles and the bottom line, KD’s ability to shoot anyone, and the isolation game. from Harden. If you were building a team that needed to have an atypical but historic offense to overcome a massive defensive deficiency, it would be difficult to build one better than Brooklyn’s, especially when you add Harris’s three-point shot to the mix. Patrick Beverley’s absence from Tuesday’s game was not insignificant, but it was remarkable to see Brooklyn’s best players dominate even when facing two All-Universe defenders. Not only can the Nets make great team defense irrelevant because of their collective talents, they can also make life for the best individual defenders.
I think this all means that we should be rooting so the Nets never fix their defense. It would mean doing something that has never happened before, and it would require the trio of Durant, Harden and Irving to perform a rope act throughout the postseason. It would take all three of them to be the best at what they do best for a full career to stand a chance. Sure, making saves is great, but watching three of the most talented scorers have to play bucket for bucket with every opponent they face sounds a lot more entertaining to watch.
There will be a lot of proverbial ink spilled between now and summer on the Nets defense. They definitely shouldn’t ignore that end of the floor entirely. (It seems like last year’s Clippers learned the hard way about disregarding the regular season.) But if Durant, Harden and Irving can shoot anyone who has grabbed a basketball, maybe the team’s. Kind strength would mean more than a one-of-a-kind weakness.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.