The Brooklyn Nets bounced back from Sunday's buzzer-beating loss to Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat with a 134-129 road victory over Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday at Smoothie King Center.
It's a much-needed victory over a struggling opponent as the Nets try to keep pace with the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference. Entering Tuesday, Brooklyn was one game back of the Sixers for first place in both the East and the Atlantic Division. With Philadelphia off Tuesday, the Nets are now a half-game back.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, have dropped their fourth consecutive game after two straight overtime losses on the road.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets: 32 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds
Jeff Green, PF, Brooklyn Nets: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists
Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans: 33 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists
Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans: 27 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds
Irving Bails Out Brooklyn
Injuries may have turned the Nets' Big Three into a Big One on Tuesday, but that one was more than enough to take down the Pelicans.
Flanked in the starting lineup by Landry Shamet and Joe Harris rather than James Harden and Kevin Durant, Irving posted a team-high 32 points, came up clutch on offense in the final minutes and forced a game-clinching turnover by Williamson.
At a time when the Nets are doing their best to tread water and stay in the fight for the East, Irving delivered a perfectly-timed performance.
Starting with three minutes left in regulation there was no one more important on the floor.
Irving scored 10 points during that stretch, including back-to-back layups to keep it a two-possession game with a minute left. Only moments later, Irving tracked down Williamson along the sideline and barely touched the ball, causing the Pels' star to lose his handle and throw it out of bounds.
With 2.6 seconds left and the Nets leading by three, it was unquestionably the biggest play of the game. Irving walked down the floor and hit two free throws to seal the win immediately after the ensuing inbounds.
Working through player injuries is nothing new for the Nets this season, but rarely has it made life easy. Irving was able to help out there on Tuesday and make sure Brooklyn didn't start a losing streak.
Pelicans' Playoff Push Continues To Stall
A fourth-straight loss for New Orleans is beginning to spell doom for the team's postseason hopes.
After falling to Brooklyn, the Pelicans are now 25-33 and four games back of the San Antonio Spurs for 10th place in the Western Conference and the final spot in the league's play-in tournament.
It's a result made only more repulsive given how the game started off.
Against an ailing Nets team, New Orleans went on an early 16-0 run and led the by as much as 13 overall before letting Brooklyn back in the fight. Jeff Green's monster dunk over Jaxson Hayes seemed to kick-start Brooklyn's resurgence, but it wasn't until Irving's late hustle plays that things really fell apart for the Pelicans.
Based on the final minutes, it looked more like the Nets were fighting for a postseason berth rather than the Pels.
With just 14 games left on the schedule, New Orleans doesn't have much time to correct course. An April 24 matchup against the Spurs looms large, but it's hardly the only challenge remaining. The Pelicans still have to face known contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers before the season ends.
The opportunities for an easy win to get back on track are about as scarce as ever.
The Nets' three-game road trip concludes with a matchup against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. The Pelicans are also heading right back out on the road. They'll face the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.