Nets End Slide, Beating the Rockets After Early Struggles

For much of the season, Kyrie Irving, one of the marquee additions for the Nets, has done the heavy lifting for their offense — to the tune of a whopping 35.3 points a game, good for second in the league before Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets.

But this time, his teammates stepped up to provide more support, while Irving made a concerted effort to get them more involved in the offense. The result: The Nets shook off their early struggles to beat the Rockets, 123-116, at Barclays Center, giving them their second win of the season.

In the first game this season in which Irving did not lead the team in scoring, Taurean Prince hit several game changing 3-pointers en route to scoring 27. Caris LeVert added 25. Irving focused on distributing, to the tune of 10 assists, a season high. He put in 20 points of his own, but he struggled from the field, shooting only 7 of 18.

The game featured a matchup of top-flight point guards — Irving and Houston’s Russell Westbrook — as well as the only player in the league scoring more than Irving, James Harden. This time, it was Irving that won the battle, while Harden went cold from outside. But Harden was still a handful, finishing with 36 points. He only shot 10 of 31 from the field — but went to the free-throw line 15 times.

Early on, the Rockets looked to be in total control of the game. Harden pushed the Rockets to a 15-point first half lead. But Houston has struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. The Nets took advantage in the second quarter — capitalizing on separate scoring bursts from Irving, LeVert and Garrett Temple — to enter halftime with a two-point lead.

The offense has looked disjointed this season for the Nets, often relying on Irving in isolation to generate points off drives to the basket. During the first quarter, Irving looked to set up his teammates more often, but the team struggled.

Irving turned the ball over five times in the opening frame. But as the game progressed, Irving’s teammates picked up the slack: Four Nets scored in double figures in the first half alone, including Irving.

Brooklyn was in dire need of a win, after starting the season a disappointing 1-3, mostly against teams projected to miss the playoffs. In the second half, the Nets jumped out to a double-digit lead — as the Rockets deflated. Harden missed 14 of his 16 3-point attempts. Westbrook missed six of his seven. In the final quarter, Harden and Westbrook relentlessly attacked the basket and helped cut the Rockets’ deficit to six. But late 3-pointers from Irving and Prince sealed the game.

The Nets now head to Detroit to play the Pistons on Saturday — Brooklyn’s first back-to-back stretch of the season — with a chance to get to .500.

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