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Nets gut out 108-102 win over Pelicans


The higher quality the opponent, the uglier the game.

That much has rung true in the Nets’ last two outings, first Wednesday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls and then Brooklyn’s come-from-behind 108-102 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

The Pelicans were without All-Stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson but mucked the game up on the boards and on 50-50 balls. It’s been a recipe for success for a Pelicans team that entered the night 5-1 in games without those two stars. On a poor shooting night from Kyrie Irving, the Nets made enough plays down the stretch to secure a victory — setting the table to start a new streak after their 12-game run came to an end in Chicago.

With 21 playoff opponents on the docket in their next 23 games, the last two games have proven quality of opponent is all that matters. As the Nets begin to face playoff and championship-caliber opponents, their margin for error will become that much slimmer.

It was a shooting night in Antarctica for both Irving and Kevin Durant, who each struggled to knock down shots against a stingy Pelicans defense.

Durant started the night one-of-seven from the field and shot just 9-of-26 from the field for 33 points in his least efficient shooting night of the season. Durant finished one point shy of passing Dominique Wilkins for 14th place on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list. He struggled to knock down shots he traditionally makes against a Pelicans defense that swarmed him off the dribble.

It didn’t help that Irving couldn’t buy a basket, either. The Eastern Conference’s leading All-Star vote getter among guards shot just 7-of-22 from the field for 19 points.

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After missing 12 of his first 16 shots, Irving hit a three that gave the Nets a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. He then looked to the skies, took a moment to center himself, and shouted two words.

“God damn!”

After shooting 0-of-9 from the field and 0-of-8 from downtown in the loss to the Bulls, Royce O’Neale redeemed himself with a four-of-seven shooting night from downtown. O’Neale finished with 14 points and hit a pivotal three late in the fourth quarter to give the Nets a 101-97 lead.

The Pelicans’ only available star CJ McCollum finished with 28 points, Naji Marshall finished with 23 and New York native Jose Alvarado scored 17 off the bench.

The Nets held the Pelicans to just 38 points in the second half. They hunkered down defensively when the offense sputtered.

With the difficulty of the schedule ratcheting up in the second leg of the season, the Nets will need to bring that second-half defensive effort to Miami for their final road game.

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