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Kyrie Irving scores 38 as Nets fall to Cavaliers, 125-113

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly.

The KD-less Nets dropped their second straight to the Cavaliers, 125-113. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 9-8 on the season while Cleveland bumps up to 8-7.

From defensive miscues, over-switching, and careless turnovers to the ongoing rebounding struggles, it was not the Nets' night. Despite their offense making a late resurgence, the defense was not there as Brooklyn could not buy a stop late when they needed it most. On a positive note, the Nets did share the ball.

“We just got to find a way to play harder,” Nash said following the loss. “We are not a defensive roster and we have to take more pride in it. [We] have to win more ’50-’50s, contest more shots, fight, scrap, claw, and I think that is what’s missing more than anything schematic that we are bringing now.”

As for Joe Harris, he pinpoints the Nets' defensive struggles to the lack of practice time and individual efforts. He wants his teammates, including himself, to take ownership on that side of the ball.

“It is tough because we don’t have a ton of practice time. We are really trying to put in a lot of stuff on the fly but I think a lot of it is individual pride,” Harris said about defensive struggles. “I think, sort of, everybody has to take a look at themselves, lock-in, focus, and take ownership on that end of the ball.”

When Harris was asked whether some defensive improvements can be solved by schematic plays, he said it comes down to pride first and foremost.

“Nah - I don’t think it matters what you draw up at this point. If guys aren’t or everybody isn’t bought-in and everybody isn’t together, it is hard to win in this league regardless of how much talent you have,” Harris said.

Kyrie Irving led the Nets scoring the ball, finishing with 38 points to go along with one rebound and five assists in 31 minutes of play. Irving has now hit the 25+ scoring mark in four straight games and in eight of his nine games he’s appeared in this season.

James Harden followed Irving, scoring 19 points, handing out 11 assists, and grabbing five rebounds in 37 minutes. Harden became the first Nets since Deron Williams (2012) to register a points-assists double-double in four straight games. “The Beard” also made some personal history in Friday’s loss as he moved past Allen Iverson (6,375) in the NBA’s all-time free throw list, moving to 13th place. Up next: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dolph Schayes with 6,712 free throws made.

As a team, the Nets finished the loss shooting 48.3 percent overall and 32.6 percent from deep while recording 15 turnovers. With high turnovers, the Nets were out-rebounded 50-29. Brooklyn was dominated by Cleveland in the paint as well (70-44).

Despite the early struggles, Nash wants his team to stay together despite the frustration. Harris said it best after the loss.

“Everybody is very frustrated right now. We talked about a number of things yesterday in our film session and even leading up to the game today, there were a lot of things that we addressed that we tried to clean up. The stuff that we talked about was the stuff that hurt us again tonight.

“We can’t sit here and dwell on it. It’s such an early point in the season. The season is so young right now. We have so many games ahead of us and we got to stick together. We got a game tomorrow that we got to lock in on and try to get ourselves right.”

For the Cavaliers, Collin Sexton continued his dominance over Brooklyn, finishing with 25 points followed by (gulp) Jarrett Allen with 19 points to go along with six rebounds and a devastating poster over Joe Harris, who had his second tough game, hitting only 2-of-7 3-point attempts and finishing with eight points.

Now, let's dive into some film.

Film Room

The Nets have an over-switching problem. Compounded by under-communication tendencies. James Harden spoke on some of the Nets struggles away from the ball post-game.

“I think just individually, our communication from the other four guys––the four guys that aren’t guarding the ball––have to communicate where the help is, where to send the dribbler, and just communicate and have each other’s back,” said Harden. “I think once our communication from all five guys is in sync, our defense will be that much better. It seems like we’re on an island out there. We have to all do a better job, including myself, of communicating and helping defensively, which will happen.”

It was visible on the first Cavalier basket of the game.

Check out the Nets’ communication pattern on this back screen from Isaac Okoro for Cedi Osman. Kyrie Irving, guarding Isaac Okoro originally, points to Joe Harris to call out the switch. Joe Harris, meanwhile, goes over the top of that screen to stay with his original man, Cedi Osman, without the intent to switch. With two players converging onto one Cavalier (Osman), Okoro gladly takes the free lane to the basket. TLDR; Kyrie Irving is working under the confines of a switching defense, and Joe Harris is playing in more man-to-man coverage by fighting over screens to stay with his original assignment.

Defending on the weakside of the floor has also been problematic for the Nets this season––especially as of late. James Harden spoke on some of the Nets struggles away from the ball.

With Joe Harris matched up with Larry Nance Jr. (a problematic assignment all night for Sir Buckets), Jeff Green correctly rotates over for the double-team to force the ball out of Nance’s hands. DeAndre Jordan rotates down to Andre Drummond to take away the paint touch. Where things go awry is when Kyrie Irving fails to “fill the gap” and guard both Isaac Okoro and Collin Sexton by moving toward the “nail” or middle of the free-throw line (that’s what should’ve happened). Instead, Irving guards empty space toward the top of the key (sort of near-ish Sexton), forcing James Harden to “split the difference” and guard both of Okoro and Darius Garland in the corner. Irving’s gotta make it easier on his teammates on defense.

Things on the offensive end were similarly, well, awkward. Below, Kyrie Irving streaks up the floor in semi-transition, and Joe Harris sets what’s known as a “step-up” screen, which is a ball-screen that is angled so that the screener is parallel to the opposite baseline. The screen is typically done with quickness as almost a sneak-attack.

Irving doesn’t see the screen coming. Literally. He runs straight into Harris’ body, eyes glued to the floor while trying to shake Collin Sexton, and it causes Irving to slightly lose his dribble. The Nets reconvene and try to engage in some dribble-handoff flow between Irving and DeAndre Jordan, but that too goes all too poorly. Cedi Osman reads the play like a book, Irving puts his hands on his knees in defeat rather than running back on defense, and that’s all she wrote.

The effort just has to be better.

Flipping a switch? Get the flip outta here!

Look, the defense has been a stuu-ggle through the last two games. It’s easy to take a glance at the roster, it’s almost overwhelming source of top-end talent, and say, “things will figure themselves out!”

But there’s real cause for concern here with how this group protects its own baskets. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nets have had the 26th-best defense since the first two games of the season––a blowout against the Golden State Warriors in the opener and a blowout against the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.

Yup. You’re reading that correctly. Brooklyn’s been a bottom-five defense.

Kyrie Irving, well aware of the situation, spoke on Brooklyn’s needed improvements as a defensive group post-game.

“We know what won’t work is flipping a switch,” explained Kyrie. “We gotta take these games and take them as seriously as we can in terms of learning. We can’t just use our experience, we just really gotta take our time to zero in on what we want to accomplish. We’re playing shorthanded as well trying to figure that out. With all that being said, we just want to stay focused on the goal. Every day is used as progress.”

And then the key sentence of the night...

“We don’t want to be the ‘flip the switch team.’ We don’t. We want to be the team that’s consistently dominating and we’ll get there.”

Norvel Pelle arrival?

No word yet —at least officially— on the Nets signing of Norvel Pelle, the 6’10” center. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Pelle, who played last year in Philly. He’ll have to pass the NBA’s health and safety protocols. His rim protection could have helped tonight.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action Saturday when the team hosts the Miami Heat. This will be the final time in Brooklyn’s first-half schedule in which the Nets play the same opponent in consecutive games as the team will host the Heat again on Monday, Dec. 25.

Tip-off for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 8:00 PM ET and will be broadcasted on YES Network.

For a different perspective, check out Fear The Sword, our sister site on SB Nation covering the Cavaliers.