Kyrie Irving Says 'It's About Time' Nets Stepped Up Defense After Win vs. Lakers

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2021

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, left, dribbles past Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving said Thursday night's victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers showed the team has started to make serious progress defensively.

"It's about time. No team in this league is going to win anything if they don't get stops," Irving told reporters after the Nets' 109-98 road win.

He also talked about expecting to face the Lakers, who were without forward Anthony Davis and guard Dennis Schroder, at full strength in the future:

Nets Videos @SNYNets

Kyrie Irving talks about what worked in the game tonight for the Nets vs. the Lakers and also adds: "We'll see them down the line again...with a whole entire healthy Lakers team...I know everybody wants that" https://t.co/aSanVC3gIN

The Nets are an offense-first team with Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant—who missed Thursday's contest with a hamstring injury—leading the way, and that's not going to change between now and the playoffs.

That said, it's important for Brooklyn to show more competence at the defensive end of the floor than it did for most of the first month since acquiring Harden from the Houston Rockets in mid-January.

The Nets found themselves in a series of high-scoring shootouts, none more telling than a 149-146 loss to the Washington Wizards on Jan. 31 where they managed to lose despite shooting 56.8 percent from the field and knocking down 19 threes in a game Harden missed with a thigh injury.

Trying to navigate the postseason will be a challenge for Brooklyn if it can play that well offensively and still come up short, so the defensive progress was necessary.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said it was a Feb. 9 loss to the Detroit Pistons, who own the NBA's second-worst record, where they allowed a team that ranks 29th in shooting percentage to hit 56 percent of its shots that sparked discussions about the need for improvement.

"That [Detroit loss] was a low for us, and it did provoke some conversations and kind of a rededication to what we're trying to do," Nash said after beating the Lakers. "I'm proud of the way they responded since then; obviously we've taken care of business."

James predictably took charge for the Lakers with a game-high 32 points, but as Irving alluded to in his postgame remarks, the Nets focused on making sure none of the future Hall of Famer's teammates could get going. The rest of L.A.'s roster shot a combined 43.3 percent from the field Thursday.

That'll be crucial moving forward. Brooklyn may not have a defender capable of shutting down an opponent's top wing or backcourt scoring option, but if it can prevent opposing role players from stuffing the stat sheet, its own offense should take care of the rest.

The Nets face another measuring stick for their defensive improvements Sunday night when they take on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers.