Nets eke out win over Wizards as Kyrie Irving steps up

WASHINGTON — Now that Kevin Durant is sidelined and Kyrie Irving is actually available, the Nets are going to need the All-Star guard to step up. 

Irving did just that Wednesday night, carrying the Nets to a 119-118 victory over the Wizards at CapitalOne Arena. The Nets escaped with this one, no other word will do. 

Irving poured in a game-high 30 points and handed out seven assists. The Nets also got a turn-back-the-clock performance from venerable center LaMarcus Aldridge, who added 27 points and was near-automatic from midrange. 

Aldridge made huge plays down the stretch, scoring six points in the final three minutes after the Wizards had cut the Nets’ 16-point lead to a deuce. He and Irving steadied the ship. 

James Harden did have 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. But he shot 7-for-21 overall and 0-for-5 from 3-point range, committing an unsightly eight turnovers to finish minus-8. And Harden was blocked at the rim late, giving Washington a shot to win. 

Kyrie Irving splits a pair of Wizards defenders in the Nets’ 119-118 win.

Make that two shots. 

Kyle Kuzma hit a 3-pointer to cut the Nets’ lead to 119-118 with 36.6 seconds left. After Harden was rejected 20 seconds later, the Nets had to hold on. Kuzma and former Net Spencer Dinwiddie both missed go-ahead 3-pointers in the final seconds before the Nets could exhale. 

The Nets had their way with Washington early on and led 74-62 at the break on white-hot .630 percent shooting. It was their highest-scoring first half of the season, and their second-highest field-goal percentage. 

The Nets had a staggering 140.4 offensive rating in the first half — and Aldridge was at the heart of all that. 

Nets forward LaMarcus Aldridge shoots the ball during a game against the Wizards on Jan. 19, 2022 at Capital One Arena in Washington.
LaMarcus Aldridge
NBAE via Getty Images

His 19 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) represented his highest-scoring first half since Dec. 23, 2019 with the Spurs at Memphis, and it was the best by any Net off the bench since Joe Harris had 20 on March 25, 2018 versus the Cavaliers. Because Harris is on the injured list along with Durant, the Nets need a third scorer to step up and help Harden and Irving. 

On Wednesday, that was Aldridge. 

After Dinwiddie found Rui Hachimura for a 3-pointer to cut the Wizards’ deficit to 44-42 with 8:03 left in the first half — the Nets took control. 

Aldridge’s layup capped a string of seven unanswered Nets points, and made it 51-42. They held Washington at bay — but barely — the rest of the evening. 

Nets guard James Harden looks to shoot during a game against the Wizards on Jan. 19, 2022.
James Harden

Twice, Day’Ron Sharpe padded the lead to 16. The first came on a layup to make it 78-62 with 10:28 left in the third. The second, which made it 85-69 three minutes later, came on an 8-foot jumper — something Sharpe rarely has shown, but that the Nets are convinced he has in him. 

Cruising along with a 104-94 cushion, the Nets allowed seven unanswered points. Dinwiddie’s free throws pulled Washington within three, and a Montrezl Harrell dunk made it 104-103 with 6:39 left. 

The Nets missed five straight shots and committed three turnovers in their cold stretch, two of them shot-clock violations. 

That’s before Irving broke the drought on a layup with 6:13 left. Rookie Kessler Edwards followed with a huge 3-pointer, and Irving found Harden underneath for a reverse and a 111-103 lead with just under five minutes remaining. 

Washington mounted an 8-2 run to get within 113-111, but Harrell’s miss from the line with 3:19 broke the momentum. 

After a timeout, the Nets went to Aldridge on the block, and he calmly posted up for a turnaround and a four-point lead. Then Irving harassed Kuzma into a turnover with two minutes left, and Aldridge hit again for a 117-111 edge. 

They held on. Barely.

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