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Kyrie Irving's scoring explosion too much to overcome as Nets top Jazz


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SALT LAKE CITY β€” Utah Jazz Will Hardy walked off the sideline in frustration after calling a timeout.

Kyrie Irving had just gotten free with a simple screen, and was the absolute last person the Jazz wanted to give any breathing room. Walker Kessler made a rookie mistake and wasn't up high enough to defend Irving on the switch, and the Nets point guard predictably buried the 3-pointer.

Irving scored 48 points in a magnificent offensive performance to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 117-106 win over the Jazz at Vivint Arena. Utah fell back under .500 at 24-25, but are still smack in the middle of a crowded Western Conference playoff picture.

Irving was special, pure and simple. He roasted the Jazz on isolation drives, used his elite handles to get defenders sliding for open midrange shots, and went 8-of-15 from deep. He saved his best for last, too, and scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to help Brooklyn pull away late.

"That's why he is who he is," said Mike Conley, who had the unenviable task of trying to chek Irving for much of the game. "He would have scored on anybody tonight the way he was shooting it. ... He's a master at what he does, creating space and trying to get the opportunity to score. Hats off to him tonight."

After the Jazz pulled even with 3:18 remaining, Irving closed the game by hitting two 3-pointers and assisted on another to help the Nets pull away for the win. Irving shot 18-of-29 from the field, and added 11 rebounds and six assists as he handled a heavier load with Kevin Durant out with a sprained MCL.

He and the Nets served up some learning opportunities for the Jazz.

"If Walker is going to stay in the game late, which is something that obviously we're trying to work on, he's got to be up higher in pick and roll at the end of the game," Hardy said.

On Irving's fadeaway 3-pointer with 1:35 left, Kessler backpedaled ever so slightly as he switched onto Irving. That was all the space the Nets guard needed and he took a fadeaway 3-pointer from the wing.

Kessler has been on a fast rise from a player mostly seen as a throw-in addition to a major trade to one who's now perceived as a building block for a franchise. As he's strung some good-to-great performances together, it's been easy to forget he's still a rookie; however, Irving took advantage of some of the inexperience.

"It's unfamiliar territory for him," Hardy said. "And I think he thought he was up. It's a good learning moment for him that you really have to be up at the level of the screen against elite players like Kyrie Irving, because if there's any daylight he's going to shoot it."

To be fair, there were possessions where the Jazz bottled up Irving and he still hit tough shots. The stars of the NBA are really good, and sometimes teams run into a buzzsaw. After the game, the Jazz weren't so much focused on what Irving did or didn't do but, instead, on everything else around the game.

The Jazz gave up 19 points in transition in the second half and let Brookiyn's physicality on defense turn them into an isolation-heavy squad.

"(That's) my biggest concern as it relates to our focus defensively," Hardy said of the poor transition defense. "I just think we were not sharp offensively, but their physicality bothered us and that bled into our mentality getting back on defense."

Without Clarkson's one-on-one heroics β€” he had 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting β€” Utah could have been on the wrong end of a much more lopsided score.

"They did a good job of just forcing them out and forcing our actions a little bit further out than we wanted, and that made us a little bit more staggered," Conley said. "That's why you kind of saw a lot more isos."

The Nets did a good job of taking Lauri Markkanen out of the game for long stretches by sending bodies at him, and even turned some possessions into minor grappling matches with Utah's star.

"I don't want to get into a wrestling match with them. I just need to be on the move, and that's where I gotta get better," said Markkanen, who still had 22 points and 11 rebounds on the night.

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