This is better than anything I could do for an introduction. If Twitter is really down for the count, the Brooklyn Nets account is going out with a bang, posting fried photos of a guy who came to training camp without a guaranteed contract. But nothing else, certainly nothing else I can come up with, comes close to describing it Feeling From the Nets’ 109-107 win Thursday night in Portland to the game of the year, so far.
And I don’t mean Game of the Year in the sense of victory. This was the best game the Nets have played this season, both considering the quality of play and the entertainment factor. Portland came to play. They created advantages the way we thought they would, as Brooklyn struggles to contain the large body of Yosef Nurkic. Their defensive wings created all kinds of havoc, with rookie Shedon Sharp scoring a career-high 20 points, Jerami Grant playing stellar defense on Kevin Durant (until the last possession), and Justice Winslow and Nasir Little leading Portland in plus-minus, no coincidence. They even opened up an 11-point lead deep in the third quarter, after a seesaw contest up until that point.
It would have been understandable (if not easier to deal with) if the mosquito nets had just laid down and died at that point. It was, after all, a last game vaunted West Coast road trip. Up against a team with a 10-4 record, Brooklyn took the lead in the Western Conference. The Nets played very well in the first half, with many positives, and will likely be looking forward to the return of Kyrie Irving for their next game. All of this would have been enough for them to leave the Moda Center with their heads held high.
Instead, they finished the third quarter with a 14-0 lead. Suddenly, the game has kind of become a must-have. The chance of such a life-injecting victory was within their grasp now, and letting it pass by would have hurt worse than fading away quietly into the night. Brooklyn was able to take advantage of this opportunity.
How did they do it?
There are a few shows responsible for this win. Some were collegiate, such as assist defense, consistent offensive pace, and commitment to the rebound. But I would like to highlight a few individuals. I’d be hard-pressed not to mention Yuta Watanabe first, who went 5 of 7 from deep, and not all of his training shots were pressure-free either…
Watch closely: He catches it as he runs, in a semi-transition, hesitates, re-stabilizes his feet, and trains the trio with a close approach. This is definitely a file Value Added shot. But it wasn’t just shooting (or cutting the basket, which was largely responsible for his six free throw attempts).
On defense, Watanabe would make his teammates’ lives easier with assists, while also snatching rebounds. He logged into the game and got Damian Lillard’s quest right away. Utah is here to stay, guys, and here’s the ball.
The second solo performance that I want to mention was that of Ben Simmons. It was the first time he tested positive on the field. He just didn’t have positive flashes, or moments to build on. It was very good.
Offensively, he attacked Edge fairly consistently, though his ends were still all finesse rather than strength. But he and Joe Harris showed the kind of half-court chemistry you’d hope for when Simmons became Net. The kind of chemistry he had with JJ Redick at Philly.
He’s also played a huge role in getting Brooklyn to push the pace and get into an early offense, an offense that has far more success than its halffield counterpart. It wasn’t always so easy, and Ben still made a habit of catching the ball very early on, but his kick forward passes like the ones below, consistently led to the smooth attacking flow the net needed:
Simmons was also active and involved on defense, rotating in time with the deflections we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him during his All Star years. The kind of defense that, along with fellow great athletes in Watanabe, Claxton, and Durant, gives Brooklyn an energy no team can match. This is why the Toronto Raptors are fun to play, day and night. It’s hard to deal with a group of 6’10’ players who turn the tables and attack the attacking player. Aggression doesn’t have to be a one-way street.
“For me, I love those moments,” Simmons said of the Blazers’ failed attempt at Hack-a-Ben. “I’m not going to shy away. That was their plan. It obviously didn’t work. It builds. I love those moments.”
“Wonderful. I’m happy for him because he’s been trying to get his form back, trying to figure out his rhythm,” Kevin Durant said. “Tonight I think he did a good job just talking, leading the offense, leading the team on the defensive side of the ball. It was amazing.”
And finally, Royce O’Neal converted for his first career triple-double. I wrote, in my preview of this game, that Portland tends to give up many shots on the edge And the The corner threes should lead to more ball-and-catch or dribbling deliveries for Brooklyn, as opposed to the many subsequent Durant deliveries we’ve seen lately. And while Durant was somewhat active at pick-and-roll, the real star of the game, in this regard, was Royce O’Neal:
Many of his eleven assists were highly valuable, and not just a swinging type of advantage that was already established. And that’s before mentioning his award-winning game tip that saved Brooklyn from the overtime they were so desperately trying to avoid:
What a win. It’s the kind of win that raises faith in what this season can become, despite a start buried under 50 feet of excrement. Nothing in this game was purely accidental. Damian Lillard’s 24 shots were absolutely necessary for his 25 points; He wasn’t missing any of them open. Portland’s shot is only 2% worse than depth. Sure enough, at times, they benefited from a whistle-shooter five more freebies than Brooklyn.
Seth Curry gave solid minutes to the net, but couldn’t hit a shot, and Cam Thomas played seven hard minutes. Kevin Durant, despite his variable brilliance – 35 points, had a disastrous 200 seconds that almost cost Brooklyn a win. stuff happens. It’s a relief to see Brooklyn push through all of that and emerge victorious.
“Without a doubt [this was huge]. We didn’t do everything perfectly at the end of the game, and so for us to stay together, we didn’t panic and come on the other side — that’s huge. “The group grows that way,” said Jack Vaughn after the win. “I’m still excited…. If the coach can put a game together and end up winning in the end, that’s it.”
In fact, Thursday night saw all the makings of a win building momentum. They did the hard part. Now on to the networks just to take advantage of it.
Chauncey Billups on Nets: It’s always something
Before the game, Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups pointed out that there was always something going on in Brooklyn…and he didn’t mean basketball.
Asked if he’d seen a team with as much drama as the Nets: “No, other than the last time we played. It was different issues, different people. It’s always something. It’s just hard going into a situation like that. I’ve never played like that.” kind of dysfunction.”
He added, “They’re going through a lot… They always seem to be going through a lot.”
If his comments were some kind of psychological, it didn’t work.
As noted, Royce O’Neal’s triple-double was the first of his career.
Kevin Durant added two more milestones: He became the 19th player ever to score 26,000 points. With his 35 points, KD has now scored 25 or more points in 16 games to start the season, thus making Michael Jordan’s best start in 1988-89. If he can do it again on Sunday, he’ll be the first NBA player to score 17 in a row in 56 years, when Rick Barry hit 25 in a row. An elusive NBA record. Wilt Chamberlain had 80 in his magical 1961-62 season.
Ben Simmons’ double-double was his first in the regular season since March 17, 2021.
Kyrie Irving Watch
There’s every sign that this game will be Kyrie Irving’s last indefinite hold that turns out to be his last eight games (at a loss of nearly $3.5 million) with Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania reporting – and no one from the Nets has tried to rein in the predictions – it seems that Things are set for him to be in uniform on Sunday against the Grizzlies at Barclays Center.
“I think there has been some synergy and positive progression towards his comeback,” Jack Vaughn said before the game. “It could be the case of the Memphis game.”
“Just really excited,” said Royce O’Neill. “Just to get everyone back and keep building on what we’re doing… I mean, just look at what kind of player he is. An All-Star player.”
Irving was suspended by the Nets for at least five games on November 3, a week after he promoted an anti-Semitic video on Twitter and Instagram. Under the terms of the suspension, Irving was required to meet six requirements before he could return to court. Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski both reported that the “operation” of the restoration was nearing completion, with Shams reporting that Irving had taken “ownership” of said operation in recent days.
Meanwhile, Suban Depp of The New York Times interviewed Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League about one of the prerequisites, that Irving meet Jewish leaders. Greenblatt said he provided the Nets with the names of local leaders but did not know if Irving met any of them.
Greenblatt added that he had no input on the prerequisites, including the suggestion that Irving donate $500,000 to the fight against hate. He also said that Irving’s huge influence in the larger community – and Brooklyn – made the controversy much bigger, noting that his son wears Irving sneakers and has a Kerry shirt.
“Kyrie Irving plays in Brooklyn. Brooklyn has one of the largest Jewish populations. It has the largest Jewish population of any of the boroughs in New York,” Greenblatt told Depp.
“When he popularized this very painful movie, and played on a team where he had Jewish fans at Barclays every night, and Jewish kids love my kid wearing his shirts because he plays in Brooklyn, he’s on the road. That’s part of what was so challenging here as well.”
Irving averages 26.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.6 triples, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, with shooting splits of 45/28/93.
However, another explosive guard Brooklyn may already be tired of: Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies come to Brooklyn on Sunday night. The tip is at 7:00 PM ET.
Another perspective, head over to Blazers Edge, SB Nation’s sister site.
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