Nets win game of the year in Portland, 109-107

That’s better than anything I could do for an introduction. If Twitter is really down, the Brooklyn Nets account will go out with a bang, with fried footage of a man who showed up at training camp without a guaranteed contract. But nothing else, certainly nothing else I could think of, comes close to describing the feeling of the Nets’ 109-107, winning Thursday night in Portland in the game of the year, so far.

And I don’t mean game of the year in a victorious sense. That was the best game the Nets have played this season, taking into account quality of play and entertainment. Portland came to play. They created advantages as we thought they would, with Brooklyn struggling to contain Jusuf Nurkic’s large body. Their wealth of wings wreaked havoc, with rookie Shaedon Sharpe scoring a career-high 20 points, Jerami Grant playing great defense off Kevin Durant (down to the last possession), and Justise Winslow and Nassir Little leading Portland in plus-minus, by no coincidence. They even opened up an 11-point lead deep into the third quarter, after a see-saw game so far.

It would have been understandable (if not easy to handle) if the nets had been laid down and died at that point. It was, after all, a vaunted last leg of a West Coast road trip. Brooklyn faced a team with a 10-4 record, top of the Western Conference. The Nets played so well in the first half, with so many positives, and may be looking forward to Kyrie Irving’s return in their next game. All that would have been enough to leave the Moda Center with his head held high.

Instead, they ended the third quarter with a lead after a 14–0 run. Suddenly the game became something of a must-win; the chance of such a life-injecting victory was now firmly in their grasp, and it would have been worse for them to slip through than disappear quietly into the night. Brooklyn took advantage of that opportunity.

How did they do?

There are a few achievements responsible for this win. Some were collective, such as the auxiliary defense, consistent attacking pace and commitment to recover. But I would like to highlight a few people. I’d be hard pressed not to mention Yuta Watanabe first, who went 5-of-7 from deep, and it wasn’t all pressureless practice shots either…

Watch closely: He notices that on the run, in semi-transition, hesitates, resets his feet, and drills the triple with an impending closeout. That’s definitely one added value shot. But it wasn’t just the shooting (or cutting to the basket, which was largely responsible for his six free throw attempts).

On defense, Watanabe consistently made his teammates’ lives easier by assisting, while also grabbing controversial rebounds. He checked into the game and was immediately commissioned by Damian Lillard. Yuta is here to stay, folks, and here to suck.

The second individual achievement I want to mention was that of Ben Simmons. This was the first time he was thoroughly positive on the field. He didn’t just have positive flashes or moments to build on. He was very good.

Offensively, he attacked the edge fairly consistently, though his finishes are still all finesse, not power. But he and Joe Harris showed a kind of half court chemistry that you hoped for when Simmons became a Net. The kind of chemistry he had with one JJ Redick in Philly.

He was also instrumental in getting Brooklyn to pick up the pace and get into an early offense, one that met with much more success than their half court counterpart. It wasn’t always that easy, and Ben is still used to picking up the ball way too early, but kick-ahead passes like the one below consistently resulted in the smooth offensive flow the Nets need:

Simmons was also active and engaged on defense, making timely rotations with the deflections we had come to expect from him during his All-Star years. The type of defense that, when combined with other great athletes in Watanabe, Claxton and Durant, gives Brooklyn an energy that not every team can match. That’s why the Toronto Raptors are great to play night in and night out. It’s hard to deal with a bunch of slim 6’10” guys who turn the tables and attack the offensive player. Aggressiveness 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 clearly didn’t work. It’s building. I love those moments.”

And finally, Royce O’Neale turned in his first career triple-double. I wrote in the preview of this game that Portland tends to give up a lot of shots on the rim and corner threes should lead to more pick-and-roll or dribble handoffs for Brooklyn, compared to the many Durant post-ups we’ve seen recently. And while Durant got quite active in pick-and-roll, the real star of the game in that regard was Royce O’Neale:

Many of his 11 assists were high value, not just the swing-swing type of advantages already created. And that’s before he mentioned his game-winning tip that saved Brooklyn from an overtime they were desperately trying to avoid:

What a win. It’s the kind of win that fuels belief in what this season could be, despite a start buried under 50 feet of shit. Nothing about this game was a fluke. Damian Lillard’s 24 shots were absolutely all needed for his 25 points; he didn’t miss a single one opened. Portland shot only two percent worse from deep. They certainly got the advantage of the whistle at times and shot five more freebies than Brooklyn.

Seth Curry gave the Nets solid minutes but was unable to score, and Cam Thomas played a relentless seven minutes. Kevin Durant had for all his mind-bending brilliance – 35 points, a disastrous final 200 seconds that nearly cost Brooklyn a win. Things happen. It is more than a relief to see Brooklyn go through it and emerge victorious.

“No doubt [this was huge]. We didn’t do everything perfectly at the end of the game, so to still stick together, didn’t panic and come through on the other side – that’s huge. That’s how a group grows,” said Jacque Vaughn after the win. “I’m still excited. … If a coach could set up a game and eventually win, that was it.

Indeed, Thursday night had all the makings for a momentum-building victory. They did the hard part; now it’s on the Nets to just take advantage of it.

Chauncey Billups on Nets: It’s always something

Before the game, Trailblazers coach Chauncey Billups commented that there’s always something going on in Brooklyn… and he didn’t mean basketball.

Asked if he’s seen a team with as much drama as the Nets: “No, except last time we played. They were different issues, different people. It’s always just something. It’s just hard to get going in a situation like. I never played with that kind of dysfunction.

He added, “They’re going through a lot… It seems like they’re always going through a lot.”

If his comments were some kind of psychiatrist, it didn’t work.

milestone watch

As noted, Royce O’Neale’s triple double was the first of his career.

Kevin Durant added two more milestones, becoming the 19th player of all time to score 26,000 points. And with his 35 points, KD now has 25 or more points in 16 games to start the season, equaling Michael Jordan’s best start in 1988-89. If he can do it again on Sunday, he will be the first NBA player to hit 17 in a row in 56 years, while Rick Barry had 25 in a row. The NBA record is still a long way off. 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 is every indication that this game will be the last of Kyrie Irving’s indefinite suspension, which turned out to be the last eight games (losing about $3.5 million). Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania reported it – and none of the Nets tried. to temper expectations – it looks like he will be in uniform against the Grizzlies on Sunday at Barclays Center.

“I think there has been some positive synergy and progress towards his return,” said Jacque Vaughn ahead of the game. “It could be as fast as the game in Memphis.”

“Just really excited,” said Royce O’Neal. “Just to get everybody back and build on what we’re doing. . . I mean, just look at the type of player he is. A player of All-Star caliber.”

Irving was suspended by the Nets for a minimum of five games on November 3, a week after promoting an anti-Semitic video on Twitter and Instagram. Under the terms of the stay, Irving had to meet six requirements before he could return to court. Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski report that the “process” of recovery was nearing its end, with Shams reporting that Irving had taken “ownership” of that process in recent days.

Irving averages 26.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.6 threes, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, with shooting splits of 45/28/93.

Next one

Another explosive point guard that Brooklyn is probably tired of already: Yes Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies are coming to Brooklyn on Sunday night. Tip is at 7:00 PM ET.

For another perspective, check out Blazers Edge, our sister site to SB Nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *