James Harden, Kyrie Irving take over in blowout Nets win

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James Harden hasn’t been his aggressive self since coming from Houston, still trying to straddle that fine line on his new team. But with Kevin Durant finally looking mortal for the first time, Harden carried the Nets to victory.

Locked in a fourth-quarter nail-biter with the Eastern Conference champs, Harden took what had been a tight game and turned it into a 98-85 blowout of Miami on Monday night at Barclays Center.

With Brooklyn clinging to an 81-80 edge that was tenuous at best, Harden and Irving sparked a 15-0 run that put the shorthanded Heat away.

“Huge for us. We didn’t have the best scoring night offensively, defensively we just stuck with it, made it very, very difficult for them,” Harden said. “Offensively we didn’t play well but defensively I thought we were active out there, we contested shots and made things more difficult for them as a team.”

Harden finished with 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds, while Durant added 20 and 13 boards. While Harden hasn’t been quite his typical self since arriving from Houston in a four-team mega-deal, with Durant struggling from the floor it was Harden who scored 10 points in that pivotal run.

“Just being aggressive. I wasn’t very aggressive throughout the course of the game. That zone kind of shook us up a little in the sense of wanting to slow us down. They went man a few possessions and I got loose a little bit, so my teammates are giving me confidence to shoot the basketball, be aggressive and that’s it.

“I’m figuring it out, it’s only been five games and that’s what we have a long season for. Once we all find that balance our team will be way better. But it’s still early. As we learn, we’re trying to rack up as many wins as we can. It’s a great feeling when you can do both.”

Before the game Steve Nash had admitted he wanted Harden to be more aggressive. Monday, the three-time scoring champ had little choice.

Durant struggled through 6 of 21 shooting, including a 2 of 13 start. But the Nets still found a way to win.

“Just wanted to be a little bit more aggressive. You know obviously Kevin and Kyrie [Irving] are really, really good scorers. Easy shots that they missed they normally make,” Harden said. “We wanted to finish the fourth quarter off the right way and we did that defensively.”

Brooklyn’s maligned defense held Miami to just 14 in the fourth quarter, as the Nets won for the sixth time in eight games.

The Heat (6-10) played without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro; but they defended and scrapped like all Erik Spoelstra teams do. And they tested the Nets with 2-3 zones and 3-2 zones, snapping Brooklyn’s string of 12 straight games scoring over 110 points.

“They definitely mucked the game up and made it a physical game and was able to stay in the game until late in the fourth,” Durant said. “Our defense held tight the whole game and once we were able to start making some shots there in the fourth, we were able to pull away, but our defense won us this game for sure.”

Brooklyn came out colder than the weather. The Nets missed their first five shots to fall in a quick 8-0 hole, and set the tone for much of the night. They shot just 4-for-21 in the first quarter, and missed their first 11 attempts from behind the arc, until Joe Harris finally hit from deep with 9:30 left in the half.

The Nets still trailed 45-38 with a minute left before the break — and 61-56 in the third — before they finally started to get some traction.

Clinging to an 81-80 edge, Harden drilled a step-back 3 with 4:59 left, and then a layup to push the lead to six. After Harden’s much-maligned defense came up big on the other end, blocking Kendrick Nunn, Irving’s bucket made it 88-80 with 3:54 to play.

Harden and Harris added 3-pointers to pad it to 16, sticking a dagger in Miami.

“Guys were tired,” Nash said. “We couldn’t buy a basket. We had a lot of good looks. Tired shooting the ball but also tired in that we were a little stagnant against the zone after a really good performance against it the other night. Overall, it was just the fact they hung in there, and James stepped up and made some big shots down the stretch.”

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