CHICAGO — The Nets had their Big 3 together for just the second time all season — and for the first time, they defeated an elite team.
Make that destroyed an elite team.
The Nets routed the red-hot Bulls 138-112 Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of 21,698 at the United Center. It was a scary performance against the Eastern Conference leaders, and it put the rest of the league on notice that, at their best, nobody is better.
“Yeah. We just got to do it. Since I’ve been here it’s been crazy, lots of ups and downs,” said James Harden, unsurprised at how quickly the Big Three has jelled. “Nah. Like, we’re that good.
“We just haven’t had enough of it. Last we had 15 games maybe together, and this year only two. We haven’t had a real season to where y’all can consistently see how great we can be. And we’re working on that. We need to get to that point.”
Harden had 25 points and 16 assists, while Kevin Durant poured in a team-high 27 points and nine assists. But this wasn’t just a two-man show for the Nets, who blew it open with a 42-8 run and at one time led by as much as 38.
Though Kyrie Irving scored just nine points, he spaced the floor and moved the ball, helping Brooklyn (26-14) get every look they wanted. They shot 56.3 percent from the field and 17-of-32 from deep to pull within 1 ½ games in the East.
“We had an unbelievable resolve all night,” Irving said. “We were in that flow where it gets dangerous for the other team, for our opponent. We’re hitting 3s, we’re getting to the rim, touching the paint.
“It’s going to be difficult for teams to load up and make adjustments on the fly when you have me, James and K out there.”
It was just the second time they played together this season, with Irving unvaccinated and unable to play at home. Approaching the one-year anniversary of Harden’s arrival, the Nets are 13-3 with the Big Three together.
Wednesday was a reminder how dominant they can be.
The Nets — playing without LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton — also received 20 points and seven rebounds from Day’Ron Sharpe in his first career start as Brooklyn cooled off the Bulls, who entered the night winners of 10 of 11.
The Nets had been 0-8 against Top 4 teams in each conference, including 0-2 vs. the Bulls. But Wednesday was a different story.
By the time rookie David Duke Jr. hit a 3 with 4:41 left, they were up 130-92 and this was a laugher.
“You definitely want to play great against the best teams in the league for sure,” Durant said. “Especially after losing last game we wanted to bounce back no matter who it was against.
“It’s good to come here in a tough environment and get a W. … For us to come in here and win in this fashion, it meant a lot to us.”
The Bulls led by five early, and had it tied at 29 on Coby White’s 3-pointer.
But Brooklyn untied it with an 11-2 run that spanned the first and second quarters.
Mills’ pullup gave the Nets a 40-31 lead, and they never trailed again.
Chicago was able to pull even at 71 on a tipin by Nikola Vucevic (14 points), but the Nets reeled off a 42-8 game-clinching run, sparked by defense.
Rookie Kessler Edwards, who played solid defense on DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, had a block and a steal, and Sharpe rejected Vucevic to lead to a Harden 3. When Harden found Edwards for a layup, the cushion was back up to 80-71.
Durant made a stellar look to find Mills for an open 3 and an 89-75 lead. He drilled a 3 of his own to make it 99-79.
Mills’ free throw capped the run to make it 114-79, and the lead just swelled from there. As did the Nets’ confidence.
Irving and Harden said they see this team as a title squad if together. Asked if he still had hope that Irving will somehow play at home, Harden said jokingly, “Man, I’m gonna give him the shot.”