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Spencer Dinwiddie injured as Nets suffer rough first loss of the season, 106-104

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Brooklyn Nets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

They’re not invincible. After winning their first two games by 20 points each against teams seen as title contenders, the Nets lost, 106-104, to the winless Hornets who were playing the back end of a back-to-back.

“I don’t wanna say we didn’t play hard,” explained Steve Nash. “But it didn’t feel like we put the emphasis on each possession. Teams are going to give us our best shot. We’re going to have a target on our back, and we’ve gotta have to rise to the occasion. On nights where you maybe think you’re the better team, you’re going to get a team that’s much better than they are the previous night because of the names of the back of the jersey, and they’re going to rise to the occasion.”

Pregame, Nash warned us about the parallels of playing “without urgency.”

“I hope that since we are a new team early in the season, that (the players) are hoping for the opportunity to play and build this thing. We also have depth, which I think breathes competition. Guys know they can’t be sloppy with their minutes, not play hard, or not play attentive, or not play the way we asked them to play, because there’s someone there to take their minutes.”

From the players’ side of things, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot succinctly described the feeling within Brooklyn’s locker room after the first loss of the season.

“The performance doesn’t mean anything without a win,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “It is just a defeat and a loss. That’s it and that’s all it is.”

In addition, Spencer Dinwiddie strained his right knee and didn’t return to the game. He’ll get more testing after the team returns to Brooklyn.

The game was close throughout but by the fourth quarter, the Hornets, dominating in the paint, held a 16-point lead. The Nets, led by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Allen — and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, got the deficit down to two points but couldn’t close.

Off a pick-and-roll, Irving got the ball to Durant, who drove down the lane, found his spot outside the block, but missed the tough shot over Bismack Biyombo. Then, with 5.3 seconds remaining, Terry Rozier connected on one of his two free throws making it a four-point game. The Nets had one more chance––a Kevin Durant baseline fadeaway–– but couldn’t capitalize and lost their first game.

Kevin Durant spoke on that last shot post-game.

“Yeah, I thought it was going in. It looked good when it left my hands,” Durant said on his shot in the final seconds. “It was a little right so maybe I had to touch it up a little bit more but I liked the shot. Maybe I could’ve shot from three after the screen but I got to watch film and I’m sure we’ll get that situation back again throughout the season and capitalize off it.”

It was a crazy night throughout the NBA, with the Mavs building up a 50-point halftime lead on the undefeated Clippers, the Knicks winning their first with a blowout win over the Bucks and the ascendant Cavaliers wiping out the 76ers.

The Nets game, played before an empty Charlotte arena, was neither a pretty shooting night nor was it one where the Nets held their own underneath. The Hornets played physically down low throughout the game, ending the contest outscoring the Nets 64-24 in the paint.

Ouch.

The Nets finished the loss shooting only 17-of-47 (36.2 percent) from deep and 35-of-82 (42.7 percent) overall. In particular, the Nets bench did not play well. Despite Luwawu-Cabarrot shining late in the fourth, finishing with 11 points including a perfect 3-of-3 from deep and 4-of-4 overall, the bench combined for only 31 points. Landry Shamet had perhaps his worst game as a pro, missing all nine of his shots, including eight from deep, and turned the ball over three times in 13 minutes.

Still, the Nets superstar duo played well. Durant and Irving combined for 54 points in 36 minutes each in the loss. by scoring better than 20 points each —KD 29 and Kyrie 25, they became the first Nets duo to score at least 20 points in each of the team’s first three games.

Joe Harris followed contributing 13 points in 32 minutes of play, hitting 4-of-7 from deep to extend his franchise record of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer to 63.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Dinwiddie awkwardly planted his right leg off a drive-and-kick, immediately favoring his right knee and falling to the floor. Following the play, Dinwiddie limped to the sideline and walked on his own power to the locker room. As the third quarter progressed, the Nets announced that Dinwiddie was out for the remainder of the game with a right knee strain. Don’t expect any word on the severity of the injury until Monday following tests in Brooklyn.

Jeff Green also took a hard elbow from Biyombo as the two fought for a rebound. Green subbed out and suffered a cut above his eye, requiring him to receive stitches adobe his right eye. He was able to return.

Nash played 11 players Sunday as Reggie Perry, Rodions Kurucs, Tyler Johnson, and Bruce Brown did not see minutes.

The Hornets were led by their $120 million man, Gordon Hayward who finished with 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists, dominating the third quarter when Charlotte moved ahead so decisively.

The Nets did have some luck thwarting the Hornets deep shooting. For the third straight game, they kept an opponent from hitting 30 percent or better from three. It was the paint protection that was the problem.

The Film Room

Joe Harris was an 83rd-percentile transition player (which qualifies as “excellent” at his position, per Synergy) in 2019-2020. You know, the year his Nets were (mostly) without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Though he shot a very impressive 47.1% from three off of Kyrie Irving’s passes, the two of them barely got the opportunity to play together. The sample for the statistic above is just 34 total three-point shots.

Next to Irving and Durant, the man’s going to be jaw-droppingly wide-open for much of the year. Per NBA stats, 7 of Joe Harris’ 9 total three-point shots have qualified as “open” or “wide-open.” When you work next to great players, things get easier. It’s pretty simple.

I mean, dude, there isn’t a single defender even remotely close to his airspace.

But look, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine for the Nets. The Nets just weren’t as crisp on defense as they had been in their first two games of the season. Charlotte’s pick-and-roll, which features three athletic bigs and big wings to work with thanks to Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and Bismack Biyombo, was problematic for the Nets all night. Here, the Nets do a pretty solid job switching the pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but Spencer Dinwiddie overruns his closeout on Devonte’ Graham.

A closeout like this is okay if Dinwiddie is working under the confidence that he has back-up help, which, obviously he doesn’t on this possession, leading to two points, Charlotte.

Kevin Durant commented on Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll defense post-game. One thing to note before you read KD’s profound words is that the best way to beat a switch is with a (screen) slip. Perhaps we’ll tackle this in a future full-length film study. Okay, I’ll let KD take it away.

“We were a little bit too loose on switches,” explained Durant. “We were point-switching, and they were slipping out. Coach Borrego made some great quick hits over the top, duck-in passes. Quick slips in the screen-and-roll to get into space. You gotta be ready for that, especially when we use our switching defense if teams start to slip out of those screens and play with more pace. We was behind on a few plays, especially on closeouts. And now guys can drive and kick. I think we just have to be a little more solid on our actions, be a little more physical, and communicate.”

But maybe most crucial of all was Brooklyn’s turnover proneness. 19 giveaways is A LOT, as is 19 fastbreak points allowed. Disclaimer: these two things are related!

After Kyrie Irving gets blocked on this frankly optimistic layup, Charlotte––playing at a blistering pace all night to outrun Brooklyn with ease––pushes the ball fast, hip-hopping the rock from the perimeter to the paint back out to the perimeter again where it lands in noted Nets killer Devonte’ Graham’s hands, who hit the dagger three.

Nets do not have a ‘preconceived plan’ for back-to-backs - the decision to come Monday

As Steve Nash noted prior to Sunday’s game against the Hornets, he and the Nets do not have a ‘preconceived plan’ for handling Kevin Durant in back-to-backs but that decision will likely come tomorrow. For Nash, he clearly wants to just protect his players and continue to monitor the situation(s).

“I think it is a decision that we will make tomorrow,” Nash said. “I almost don’t want to have a preconceived plan. We have ideas about limiting the amount of minutes, impact, and minute congestion for sure. We want to protect Kevin coming off 18 months of recovery and the rest of the guys as well. We want to be careful with different people, different vulnerabilities, and try to make smart-longterm decisions as we can. I don’t know if we can say there’s a plan right now. It is more of we will continue to monitor the situation and make sure we make the safest and soundest decisions for the group in that moment. That decision will probably be made tomorrow.”

“We will have a look after tonight or tomorrow morning how guys come through,” Nash said. “Looking forward to tomorrow night and see how it goes. As I said, it would be ideal if the minutes were shared around and guys can get some rest but that is not something you can always count on. I think we will have to see there.”

As for a solution, if the top players do rest a good amount of minutes, if not a game, during back-to-backs, Nash sees his depth as a strength but notes how every game has a different storyline. He will limit the high minute guys but wants to be as straight forward as possible with the end result of winning.

“It is one of our strengths for sure,” Nash said about depth. “As long as we are winning, I think it is a strength and we want to rely on it as much as possible, but every night presents a different challenge and a different storyline that doesn’t always allow you to use your depth. I am not naive enough that we are just going to play ten guys every single night or they are all going to play the same amount of minutes. We are going to limit the high-level guys - that’s ideal - but it’s also idealistic that it will be something to be as straight forward as possible. Our depth is a strength and hopefully, we will have a lot of guys play a lot of minutes more nights than not.”

What’s Next

With Christmas in the books and New Years on the way, the Nets are heading back to Brooklyn to play their second of their first back-to-back of the season against reigning NBA rookie of the year, Ja Morant, and the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We got another one tomorrow. Move on, got to learn from it, and stay together,” said Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot post-game.

Indeed.

The game will tip at 7:30 PM EST on YES Network and NBA TV. It will the Nets third nationally televised game out of their first four, Both preseason games were also nationally televised.

For a different perspective on the game, head on over to At the Hive, our Hornets sister site on SB Nation.