Irving leads short-handed Nets past Pelicans, 134-129

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kyrie Irving capped a 32-point performance with a tough turnaround jumper, a driving layup through converging defenders and four free throws in the final minute, and the Brooklyn Nets held on for a 134-129 victory over the reeling New Orleans Pelicans yesterday.

“Obviously, when Kyrie does his thing and hits tough shots like that, it truly saves us,” said Nets forward Blake Griffin, who had 16 points and eight rebounds in a reserve role. “But I thought overall we did a better job of just trying to like, do it by committee, moving off the ball and not settling.”

Joe Harris also hit a pair of late free throws to cap his 24-point night for the Nets, who won despite being without both Kevin Durant and James Harden.

“We just made shots,” Irving said. “Tonight, we were just playing off each other really well, just making some easy plays. It worked out in our favour.”

Brooklyn coach Steve Nash twice commanded the Nets to foul Pelicans ball-handlers coming across halfcourt in the final seconds rather than allow New Orleans to set up potential game-tying three-point shots.

Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving shoots against New Orleans Pelicans’ Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams. PHOTO: AP

It ultimately worked.

New Orleans still got a third chance to set up a three in the final 4.8 seconds, but Irving’s steal attempt caused Zion Williamson to lose the ball out of bounds along the sideline, dooming the Pelicans to a fourth straight loss.

Irving had the option to foul Williamson on the catch, Nash said, “But he made a heck of a defensive play and luckily we got to call off of whatever body part it went off of.”

Williamson, who was debuting his own Jordan brand basketball shoe, scored 33 points, mostly on strong moves in the paint that produced dunks and contested layups. Brandon Ingram added 27 points for the Pelicans, who fell four games behind Golden State and San Antonio for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference with 14 games left in the regular season.

“I’m not going to lie,” Williamson said. “It does get kind of annoying to sit up here every other game saying we’re right there and we’re not closing out. So, I think we’ve got to focus on some of those small things. I say it over and over, but until we do it, some of those outcomes aren’t going to change.”

Landry Shamet had 18 points and eight assists for the Nets. Blake Griffin had 16 points and eight rebounds in a reserve role and Bruce Brown added 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Pelicans led by as many as 13 when Eric Bledsoe’s three made it 21-8, only to see the Nets cut it to 29-26 on Griffin’s three by the end of the first quarter.

After trailing 59-57 at halftime, the Nets appeared to be taking control when Harris hit a driving layup and two threes to power a 16-2 run that gave Brooklyn a 75-65 lead. The Nets pushed their lead to 12 before Lonzo Ball scored seven quick points to ignite a 14-4 Pelicans spurt which cut it to 89-87 late in the third.

Neither team led by more than seven points during the fourth quarter.