BROOKLYN — Nets forward Yuta Watanabe spun and then started to drive down the lane, before pulling up and shooting a jumper near the foul line that hit off the back of the rim. That’s when Kyrie Irving seemingly came out of nowhere for a one-handed putback dunk that sent Barclays Center into pandamonium and reverberated down Atlantic Avenue.
It was the seminal moment in a game that the Nets easily won 139-103 against the San Antonio Spurs to extend their win streak to 12 games. “I was at the top of the paint, it felt like 2K honestly, I didn’t even know he could do that,” Ben Simmons said of the play.
It was the exact start to the new year that Brooklyn had hoped for after going 12-1 in the month of December, which set a new franchise record for the winningest month in Nets history. The Nets have now won 16 of their last 17 games and 19 of their last 22 after entering Monday’s game just 1.5 games back of the Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference lead.
The feeling inside of Barclays Center and around the Nets, in general, has changed drastically since the beginning of the year that had been filled with losses and drama, both on and off the court. But the instillation of Jacque Vaughn as head coach and a renewed focus on the court have helped drastically turn things around.
“Not surprised just glad it’s coming together,” Simmons said. “We have a long way to go still, but there’s moments where we read the game well. Guys are trying to figure out how to play with each other and I think it’s it’s coming together, but obviously, we got a long way to go still.”
The night also marked another dominating performance from Irving and Kevin Durant, who combined for 52 points before they came out of the game at the end of the third.
Irving, who has made more and more of a case for the Nets to keep him beyond this season, finished the night with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field and four three-pointers. Durant had 25 on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 11 assists.
Seth Curry had 16 points and Simmons had nine rebounds and six assists by the time the final buzzer sounded. T.J. Warren had 18 points off the bench.
It was Irving’s soaring dunk that turned into the moment of the game on a night when the Nets steadily commanded the play, at one point leading by as much as 34 in the fourth quarter over the rebuilding Spurs. Brooklyn never trailed during the course of the wire-to-wire win, which is the longest winning streak in the NBA this season and the third-longest in franchise history.
“I’m like this close to getting tired of people downplaying my athleticism at times in that locker room,” Irving joked about his dunk. “I’m glad I can have those type of plays at times to galvanize the group. Glad it went in. Good timing, but I’ve been working on my body for the last year, year and a half, two years, especially recovering from that traumatic ankle injury that I had during the 2021 playoffs. I just felt like I didn’t have my feet underneath me in the last season. Coming into this season, I’ve definitely put an emphasis on just being more on my toes and being stronger on my foundational base.”
Monday was a short stopover at home for the Nets, before they return to the road for their next three games beginning on Wednesday in Chicago. Barclays Center was sold out for the Nets’ drubbing of the Spurs and an enthusiastic home crowd awaited their return, however brief.