Kathy Willens/Associated Press
NBA teams with championship aspirations rarely have the opportunity to notch a statement win in early February, but the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers had just that during Tuesday’s potential NBA Finals preview.
Brooklyn took advantage in a 124-120 victory.
“They (Clippers) got two wonderful players over there with a great collection of guys,” Nets guard Kyrie Irving said during the postgame interview on TNT (h/t Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). “We know they are in contention for meeting us down the line, so we wanted to come out and make an impression. I felt like we did that.”
These two teams could meet “down the line” in the NBA Finals, and Irving was clearly motivated by the chance to leave an impression on the Clippers before they possibly play for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
He exploded for 39 points on 15-of-23 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 from three-point range.
Throw in a triple-double from James Harden and 28 points from Kevin Durant, and the Nets had enough to overcome 33 points from Kawhi Leonard, 26 points from Paul George and 21 points from Nicolas Batum on the other side.
In terms of championship contenders, there may be more questions about the Nets and Clippers than anyone else.
Los Angeles will be doubted until it proves otherwise in the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals last season. It’s also fair to wonder whether Brooklyn will be able to string enough defensive stops together even with the firepower of Irving, Durant and Harden to win a championship.
Brooklyn’s defense wasn’t exactly stellar in Tuesday’s victory, but Irving’s individual brilliance helped make up for it.
He also might have made an impression on the Clippers.