Nets finding 'identity' with Suns showdown, Knicks rivalry up next

Nets finding 'identity' with Suns showdown, Knicks rivalry up next

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Kevin Durant Patty Mills LaMarcus Aldridge high five cropped

The Nets have taken care of business against lesser NBA teams and struggled versus the league’s best, but Wednesday’s 123-104 win over the Celtics at TD Garden in Boston was a big step forward. After a 2-3 start, Brooklyn (14-5) is atop the Eastern Conference standings, winning four straight games and 12 of its past 14.

It returns to Barclays Center for a four-game homestand, which tips off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the 15-3 Phoenix Suns, with something to prove.

“Well, it’s a quality road win, for sure,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said after what was a wire-to-wire road rout of the Celtics (10-9). “That’s a team that’s been playing great basketball. I think our team, like we said, is on this kind of journey — this path to find an identity — and tonight was a step in that direction. And we executed. Other than when we took our foot off the gas a little bit, it was an outstanding performance and built a big lead … and those first three quarters were excellent.

“So for us, it’s about building and growing and trying to get better. We want to win the games, but we also want to grow, we want to improve and we want to try to find an identity.”

James Harden, who has gotten into a groove of his own lately, echoed Nash’s sentiments. He touched on Brooklyn’s ongoing adaptation, with lineups recently ranging from veterans such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills to rookie Cam Thomas.

Nov 24, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 24, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

“Know it’s going to take some time, and it’s still a process, but I feel like we’re in the right direction as far as communication, defensively being on the same page, offensively knowing some sets that we can get it to with different lineups out there and then executing,” said Harden, who contributed 20 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists in 36 minutes at Boston.

“That’s pretty much what people have been working on and what’s been happening in the last few games. We have a long way to go — long way to go — but we’re definitely in the right direction, and it feels good.”

A pivotal stretch this coming week includes the 10-8 Knicks next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Before the Nets face either, New York and Phoenix play each other Friday at MSG, a 7 p.m. tip-off, with the Suns riding a 14-game winning streak.

When the time comes, a test awaits for Brooklyn. As that approaches, Kevin Durant keeps the Nets’ developing identity a simple one.

“We know what type of team we want to be,” said Durant, who scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting with four rebounds and eight assists in 37 minutes at the Celtics. “We know the formula for us to play well. And really, that’s really what it is for us. We know we have to guard, we have to box out, rebound and limit our turnovers — I mean, that’s pretty much every team in the league. You get what I’m saying? That’s the identity of basketball — limit your mistakes — and the great teams limit their mistakes, and that’s what their identity is, so we’ve got to get to that point and I think we’re doing a solid job.”

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