Nets vs. Lakers score: James Harden, Patty Mills come to rescue after LeBron James leads comeback

While there were plenty of stars missing from Saturday night's matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, the players who did take the floor put on quite a show. After falling behind by as many as 23 points during the fourth quarter, the Lakers made a furious late rally to even things up in the final minute of regulation. In the end, however, it wasn't enough, as the Nets were able to escape from Los Angeles with a 122-115 win.

It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Lakers, who fall to 16-18 on the season, while the Nets improve to an Eastern Conference-best 22-9.

LeBron James and James Harden were nearly unstoppable for their respective sides, as James finished with a game-high 39 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists, while Harden put up a triple-double of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the win. Patty Mills was also masterful for Brooklyn as the veteran guard knocked down eight shots from beyond the arc to finish with a career-high 34 points. Whether or not this is ultimately the type of NBA Finals preview that fans thought it might be when the season started remains to be seen but, at least for tonight, the Nets and Lakers didn't disappoint.

Here are a few takeaways from the exciting Christmas Day matchup.

1. Christmas stars

No Kevin Durant? No Anthony Davis? No Kyrie Irving? That didn't stop Saturday's matchup from being a star-studded affair, as Harden and James went back and forth displaying why they're perennial All-Stars and former MVPs. In his first game in over two weeks, Harden came out of health and safety protocols in vintage form, orchestrating the offense during Brooklyn's scoring explosion in the first three quarters. He seemed to run out of gas a bit in the fourth, however, perhaps due to his conditioning deficiency, scoring only four points and failing to make a field goal in the final frame.

As Harden waned, however, LeBron took over. With the Lakers trailing by 20 points to start the fourth quarter, James erupted for 13 points and six assists on 3-for-5 3-point shooting in the final frame to power a 17-0 run which got his team right back into the mix. He did a little bit of everything -- cutting, screening and powering his way to the basket in addition to his offensive orchestration, shooting and deadly transition game. He also passed Kobe Bryant to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer on Christmas Day.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, it wasn't enough, partly due to the other standout performer of the night: Patty Mills.

Mills isn't usually considered a star (unless you're watching him in international competition for Australia), but he certainly shined bright on Christmas Day. He poured in career-highs in points (34) and 3-pointers (eight, the most ever for a Christmas Day NBA game), willing the Nets to the win after the Lakers' devastating run. Mills' 3-pointer with 1:34 left in the game gave Brooklyn a five-point cushion and some much-needed breathing room.

The Nets got a great performance from Harden and certainly missed Durant, but if they're going to get games like this from Mills -- which has happened more often than not this season -- they're going to be in good shape.

2. Rough night for Russ

One star that didn't quite live up to his billing was Russell Westbrook. The box score will tell you he had a triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), which may seem like a good game until you realize he was 4-for-20 from the field and finished as a team-worst minus-23. He also failed to finish several chances around the rim, including a devastating missed dunk that would have brought the Lakers within a point with 26 seconds remaining.

With LeBron dominant and Carmelo Anthony stuffing the stat sheet (17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals), the Lakers basically needed an average game from Westbrook on the offensive end, and they just didn't get it. Credit to Westbrook for not letting his poor shooting night impact his effort -- he led the team with five offensive rebounds that created some of the Lakers' 20 second-chance points, but he's just going to have to perform better with Davis out of the lineup if the Lakers are going to put some wins together.

3. Claxton drops the hammer

There were a ton of huge shots down the stretch of this game, but none was bigger than Nic Claxton's and-one dunk with just over 40 seconds left to give the Nets a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Not only did Claxton have to use his length and leaping ability to reach back and snag the lob, but he also managed to throw the ball through the rim and posterize LeBron James in the process.

Claxton finished with 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a career-high five blocks. With Blake Griffin falling out of the rotation prior to the Nets roster being ravaged by protocols, Claxton is going to be an essential part of Brooklyn's attack on both ends of the court moving forward.

4. Brooklyn's support system

Harden and Mills were fantastic, but the Nets couldn't have won without huge performances from the supporting cast. We already mentioned Claxton, but Bruce Brown (16 points, six rebounds, four assists), DeAndre' Bembry (15 points, five rebounds) and James Johnson (eight points, four rebounds, three assists) all had a huge impact on the game on both ends. With the dynamism of Harden and the shooting of Mills, the Lakers often left Bembry open in the corner, and he made them pay by knocking down all three of his attempts from behind the arc.

As a defense contending with Harden, you have to give up something, and the scouting report surely suggests that "make Bembry beat you" is a sound strategy. After all, he had made three or more 3-pointers just five times in his entire six-year career entering Saturday's game. The Nets won by seven points and Bembry had nine on those three 3-pointers alone, so on this night he certainly made the Lakers pay. Make or miss league, as they say.

5. Lakers' defensive struggles continue

The furious late comeback was great and all, but it doesn't disguise the fact that the Lakers were absolutely dreadful defensively -- again -- for the first three quarters of the game, when they allowed 102 points to the Nets. Los Angeles has allowed 114 points per 100 possessions during their five-game losing streak, which just isn't going to get it done with the way the team is struggling to put the ball in the basket. Some of it is personnel being out, but a lot just comes down to execution. Yes, Bembry was having a good shooting night, but there's just no excuse for leaving the red-hot Mills to try to contest a Bembry corner 3-pointer.

This was just one example of the lack of attention to detail (and sometimes lack of effort) that has led to the Lakers' poor defense during their losing streak. They're going to need to clean it up, which is a tall task with Davis out for at least the next few weeks.

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LAL -2.5, O/U 222

Season Leaders

points
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K. Durant26.3 PTS, 6.3 AST, 5.8 REB
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K. Durant26.3 PTS, 6.3 AST, 5.8 REB
assists
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K. Durant26.3 PTS, 6.3 AST, 5.8 REB
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K. Durant26.3 PTS, 6.3 AST, 5.8 REB
rebounds
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N. Claxton10.5 PTS, 1.5 AST, 6.3 REB
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N. Claxton10.5 PTS, 1.5 AST, 6.3 REB
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FINAL - NETS 122, LAKERS 115

- James Harden: 36 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

- LeBron James: 39 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists

- Patty Mills: 34 points (career-high), 7 assists, 8-for-13 3-pointers

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looks like the Nets will hang on despite the furious comeback attempt from the Lakers ... big win for Brooklyn and a tough one to swallow for the Lakers

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Westbrook has a triple-double by the way, with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists

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just a brutal missed dunk by Westbrook 

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Westbrook comes up short on the dunk attempt, and Harden will look to extend the lead at the line

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Claxton with a huge alley-oop dunk over LeBron to give the Nets the lead 

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Malik Monk gets a layup off the LeBron dish to tie the game ... 45 seconds left and Brooklyn with the ball ... who would have thought?

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@Lakers via Twitter
December 26, 2021, 3:37 AM
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what else? a Patty Mills three-pointer gives Brooklyn a 5-point lead

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two-point game after the LeBron layup ... this is wild

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Carmelo has been huge in the second half

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welp, Harden misses the free throw so no harm done

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technical foul on Carmelo for shoving Claxton after the whistle ... can't be giving away points at this stage 

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Harden walking gingerly to the bench after that timeout ... something to keep an eye on

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great defensive sequence by the Nets ... Lakers couldn't get anything going

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that's the fifth foul on Harden, and it could be a clear path

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LeBron answers with a three of his own, he's up to 32 points now

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Patty Mills finally ends the Nets' 5-minute drought with a 3 to give him a season-high 31 points

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Harden was absolutely clobbered and the refs called a jump ball ... Nets get it back in a "ball don't lie" moment

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man, LeBron missed a point-blank layup and he couldn't believe it

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