Steve Nash has countless great memories from a Hall of Fame playing in Phoenix. Now he has the first great one of his coaching career.
Facing the Suns for the first time as a head coach, Nash saw his shorthanded Nets turn a huge deficit into an even bigger rally, pulling out a 128-124 victory before a stunned crowd of 3,181 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
With their Big Three reduced to a Big One — Kevin Durant (hamstring strain) and Kyrie Irving (tight back) both out — the Nets fell behind by 24 in the second quarter and trailed 124-116 with just 2:22 left. But behind James Harden and some clutch defense, they closed the game with a 12 straight points to pull out the unlikeliest of wins.
“All vibes in there right now; all vibes,” said Nash, who watched his Nets overcome a 21-point halftime hole — the biggest rally in team history. “The guys are rightfully excited. It’s a great morale booster, especially missing Kevin and Ky and finding a way to make up for a 24-point deficit. We showed a lot of character, a lot of heart, and as a coaching staff, that just makes you proud.”
James Harden had 38 points, 11 assists and seven boards, while Joe Harris scored 22 and Jeff Green shook off a shot to the chest to add 18 off the bench. But it was a defensive turnaround that saved the day with a game-closing 12-0 run.
“It’s the true definition of a team. Coming in two men down, it’s next man up. [This] was the perfect example of that,” Harden said. “We got down 20-something at halftime and we didn’t give up, we didn’t quit. We kept fighting and cut the deficit down and kept fighting and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game and things went our way.
“Coming into Phoenix — and they’ve won six in a row, they’ve been playing with the ultimate confidence — and we’re down two of our best players and we come in and win after being down 22 at half. That’s exciting. We could’ve easily gave up … but we didn’t give up. And we won. So that is exciting.”
The Nets could have capitulated after coughing up 75 points in a first half that saw them allow the Suns to shoot 64.4 percent from the field. But they outscored Phoenix 40-24 in the fourth, holding Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker (22 points) to just two points in the final period.
“That one was fun,” said Tyler Johnson (13 points). “Everybody came in, was geeked up, because we know how hard it was to put aside what happened in that first half and just to have the mental fortitude to bounce back.”
The Nets trailed 124-116 after a 3 by Chris Paul (29 points, seven assists). But they forced five straight misses to close the game on a 12-0 run. Harden found Green for a 3 with 2:21 left, and followed with a finger roll.
Green’s layup pulled the Nets within 124-123, and Harden’s pullup 3 gave them their first lead with 31.4 seconds left. They never gave it up in their fourth straight win.
After Harris rebounded a missed Booker turnaround with 19 ticks in regulation, Harden’s free throws on the other end provided the final margin.
Nash won two MVPs playing under Mike D’Antoni and alongside Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix. All enjoyed a stunning return, but Nash didn’t think that had anything to do with his current team’s stirring rally.
“It’d be a good story, but more than anything they’re competitive guys and wanted to win to prove they can get it done on a night like (this) where most people are counting us out, we have a slow start, they made everything,” Nash said. “So just proud of the guys regardless of my history here. It was special for me in a certain ways but more than that it’s about this group.”
Johnson, who was waived by the Suns last season, admitted he regretted the way his tenure ended.
“Obviously I wish things would’ve ended differently in Phoenix,” Johnson said. “But being here was a learning experience that things aren’t given. You feel like your career’s going in a trajectory of one way, and then all of a sudden … you find yourself in a situation where you’re like ‘damn, how the hell did I get here?’ So for me, coming back felt good to get a win. I know Steve probably feels the exact same way.”