The NBA season is like a vibrant storybook; as pages turn and chapters play out, plotlines come forth, resolve, and then rehash again. The challenges of the NBA calendar define a team––its responses etched into the harsh reviews of a franchises’ history books. For some squads, like the 2018-2019 Brooklyn Nets, a singular event can shape the future of an entire organization.
From November 21st to December 5th, 2018, the Brooklyn Nets went on an eight-game losing skid, highlighted (or should I say, “lowlighted”) by a double-overtime loss against the Memphis Grizzlies––a game in which the Nets, up three, allowed a Jaren Jackson Jr. side-step three-pointer off an out-of-bounds play to send things to overtime. It was brutal. The home arena was drier than unseasoned chicken during that losing stretch. After an intriguing 2017-2018 season in which the Nets showcased a great deal of internal growth and prospect development, the 2018-2019 follow-up was proving to be a dud.
And funny thing, a “Dud” was exactly what the Nets needed.
After Brooklyn’s eighth-straight loss––yet another heartbreaker against Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder––Jared Dudley publicly lit a fire underneath the young, upstart group of Brooklynites that had been underperforming that season.
“We’re to a point now, it’s happening too often, seven, eight games, and the way we’re losing, it’s like Groundhog Day,” Dudley explained. “We’re losing in very similar ways, not playing smart basketball, not doing little things … rebounding, stupid turnovers, not knowing shot selection, time on the clock, fouling bad shots, putting them on the free-throw line. We’re playing bad basketball in the last five to seven minutes, and it just seems like we’re out there and we’re not making enough adjustments.”
His head coach, Kenny Atkinson, took it a step further, noting that Dudley called for a players-only film session to rally the troops. With “Dudz,” of course, leading the helm.
That film session turned Brooklyn’s season around.
The very next game, the Nets came out with a fiery passion, toppling the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in a hard-fought overtime battle, 106-105. “Win of the season!” some said. But then those resilient Nets won again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again, culminating to a subsequent seven-game win-streak with key victories over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (which jump-started D’Angelo Russell’s breakout campaign), as well as a three-point victory over Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the Philadelphia 76ers (a team the Nets would later find themselves facing in the 2019 postseason).
You could make the argument that Dudley’s fateful team meeting changed the course of Brooklyn’s future as we know it. The 2018-2019 Nets established their footing as a playoff team, and suddenly #Culture wasn’t just a creative marketing ploy; it was a representation of Brooklyn’s growth as a franchise since the doomsday 2013 Boston Celtics trade that had defined the franchise for half the decade. Suddenly, there was proof-of-concept that the Nets were trending upward, with marquee players and that oh-so-savory family atmosphere. Eventually, it all turned into––no big deal––Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
And there’s a chance we’re reliving history.
After Friday’s disappointing 114-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Durant revealed pertinent information about how the Nets responded as a group to the discouraging defeat.
“We can’t rely on us just making shots,” he said postgame. “Jeff Green said that in the locker room and I totally agree. We’re going to have says where guy aren’t going to make shots, but we’ve got to hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball. Every team says that. Every basketball team in the world says that. But Its easier said than done. But if we stay conscious of that, we’ll get better.”
Joe Harris echoed KD’s comments about Uncle Jeff’s calming presence.
“What (Durant) said was 100% accurate,” said Harris. “The game was pretty similar to the last time we played against them, but we had just played particularly well offensively and it saves us. On a night like tonight, you hope your defense is a little bit better, but it was about the same and the offense wasn’t there. … We know what we have to clean up.”
Green made it clear that his message in the locker room was short and sweet.
“Just to stay together,” explained Green, who like Dudley has played a dozen years in the league. “There’s going to be nights like this where we struggle to shoot the ball; we went 7-for-40 tonight on threes. Besides the last couple of minutes of the game, we were only down 10 points. It’s weird to say this but look on the bright side of where we were from how we played. We played, offensively, not great. But we were still in the game.”
“That’s where I get back to the defensive principles,” Green continued. “If we allow our defense to start to dictate the game, then we can get easy baskets on the other end. And then we’re down two possessions. Then we’re down a possession. Regardless of how we’re shooting, we’re still in the game.”
Much like Jared Dudley in 2018, a tough loss inspired Green to assert himself and put forth “a message that needed to be said,” as he later explained. How things go from here will tell the full tale, but there’s a chance Green’s speech enhances Brooklyn’s connectivity during this championship season, similar to Dudley’s impromptu film session two seasons ago.
The NBA is a talent-driven league. But so many other things go into building a winning product: a strong coaching staff; a supporting cast of guys that play well within their roles; an enforcer or two who always is there to back teammates in the heat of battle.
And then, of course, there’s that need for a locker room leader... a wise man who can find choice words to motivate the group at the lowest points of the season. Though it’s early, Jeff Green is taking that duty to the chin to try and get the best out of this group.
The very next day, the Nets players met up for a Saturday morning get-together. What’d they do that morning, you may ask?
A film session.