The Nets didn’t have their Big 3 intact Friday night, but they made plenty of big 3s.
After the Pistons somehow withstood the Nets’ breathtaking 3-point barrage at the start of the fourth quarter in Detroit, Jeff Green delivered a dagger from the corner with 58 seconds to play to create separation from the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
James Harden’s 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, Blake Griffin’s 17 points and the Nets’ 13 trifectas were just enough to send the Pistons to a 113-11 defeat.
Actually, they also needed a defensive stop on the final possession — the Pistons didn’t get off a shot under the basket before the buzzer because of tough defense by Nic Claxton.
The Nets essentially won the game three times. First, they built a 13-point first-half lead. Second, after it disintegrated into a back-and-fourth game near the end of the third quarter, the 3s started raining. The Nets scored 18 of 19 points over a four-minute span from behind the arc.
Fighting through the neck soreness that caused him to miss Wednesday’s loss at Utah, Harden drained his patented step-back-hop 3-pointer in Hamidou Diallo’s face with less than a second remaining in the third quarter to open up an 82-78 lead. The hot hand continued through the break and the lead grew with these 3s: Griffin (85-82), Harden (88-82), Harden (92-82), Tyler Johnson (95-84) and Johnson (98-87).
Still not enough.
The Pistons tied the score at 106-106 with 2:19 to go, but Saddiq Bey missed the potential go-ahead free throw. Harden responded with a three-point play and the Pistons never recovered, with Green’s 3 opening up a 112-107 lead.
For the first time in his three games over two three weeks since joining the Nets, Griffin looked like much more than a role player on a minimum salary. With Kevin Durant (hamstring strain) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) out, Griffin and Harden formed a “Big 2.”
The Pistons, Griffin’s former team, woke him up by trying to push him around. He and Isaiah Stewart got tangled up underneath the basket at the end of several first-half possessions and it boiled over when Stewart elbowed Griffin in the jaw. Stewart was ejected with a flagrant 2 foul and Griffin was whistled for the Nets’ third of four technicals. DeAndre Jordan, Green and Harden had the others.
Diallo later was called for a technical for knocking Griffin off his spot as they ran down the floor. Griffin already was an expert in revenge games, having blown off a handshake from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer before collecting 44 points on Jan. 12, 2019. That was the only other time he made a first return trip to face a former team in an arena he previously called home.
This time it was Harden with the 44, his third 40-point game since coming to the Nets in January.
Jerami Grant, who averaged 27 points in the first two meetings between the teams, started 1-for-6, but brought the Pistons back in the third quarter. Grant fittingly made the basket — driving from the wing and elevating for a scoop in the paint — that put Detroit in front, 76-75, with two minutes to go in the third quarter. The Nets trailed for the first time since 24-21.
But Frank Jackson’s 14-point fourth-quarter explosion after not playing in the first three quarters is what nearly stole the win. In the final seconds, however, the ball went to Cory Joseph, who couldn’t convert.
Harden scored 12 of his 17 first-half points in the second quarter and was on pace for a triple-double with five rebounds and five assists. He began to warm up with seven straight points capped by a dribble-drive seven-foot floater, sank two free throws to open up the first double-digit lead at 55-44 and then threw an alley-oop reverse slammed by Jordan.
The teams combined for three technical fouls in the first quarter — just an appetizer for the physicality that came later.