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Nets collapse late in eventful home opener, get stung by Hornets, 111-95

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It was one eventful home opener for the Nets Sunday afternoon.

After a back-and-forth third quarter, the Hornets capitalized when it mattered most. Charlotte took over in the fourth and began to pull away late. After leading by four with eight minutes remaining, Charlotte forged a 14-7 run to take a 104-93 lead with 3:18 remaining.

Brooklyn’s head coach made it clear that the tough loss came down to poor offensive execution.

“We weren’t sharp enough. We weren’t competitive enough, even offensively to take the ball to the basket,” said Steve Nash. “We turned it over. We settled for difficult shots instead of playing with energy and pass instead of trying to get to the basket.”

The players themselves felt it boiled down to sloppiness on both ends.

“We really just didn’t guard them. They literally got anything they wanted. They were comfortable and were out there making plays, so we just weren’t aggressive,” Bruce Brown said on the fourth quarter.

Kevin Durant who had 38 points on 17-of-24 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from deep to go with five rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes, did his best to carry Brooklyn to a win. Still, it was a deficit too large and Steve Nash released the bench unit to finish out the contest with 1:29 remaining.

Final Score: Nets 95, Hornets 111.

Harden, who was held scoreless in the third, was the only other Net to finish in double-figures, recording 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 33 minutes. The Nets superstar took responsibility after the defeat, putting some blame on his eight turnovers being a catalyst for the Hornets pulling away late. As a team, Brooklyn’s 17 turnovers resulted in 29 points for Charlotte.

“For me personally, it’s my turnovers. I think a lot of them were just indecisive,” said Harden on his eight turnovers. “That led to them getting out in transition and getting easy ones. For us, 17 turnovers. That’s how they get active and capitalize in transition with easy buckets.

LaMarcus Aldridge provided a big boost off the bench with nine points and eight rebounds. Bruce Brown recorded eight points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes in his first stretch of non-garbage time regular-season minutes.

Beyond the Nets suffering their first loss at home, it was what happened before the tip that was the story of the day.

Roughly an hour before tip, large gathering estimated at 600 protestors took to the Barclays Center plaza, resulting in a temporary lockdown of the arena. The protestors — who held American Flags and “Stand With Kyrie” signs — chanted their displeasure at the city’s vaccine mandates and at one point attempted to rush the barriers outside the main entrance.

Eventually, all ticketed guests were able to enter the arena shortly before tip with some rolled in as the first quarter was underway.

A Barclays Center spokesperson released a statement on the situation ...

“Barclays Center briefly closed its doors today in order to clear protestors from the main doors on the plaza and ensure guests could safely enter the arena. Only our ticketed guests were able to enter the building and the game proceeded according to schedule.”

The protests which included chants of “Free Kyrie” and “Heil Fauci,” a reference to Brooklyn-born Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, a frequent target of the anti-vaccine movement.

Inside, the Nets got off to another slow start against the Hornets, trailing 11-4 in the opening minutes. Despite the slow start, Brooklyn quickly pulled it together behind the play of Durant, who scored 10 of the team’s first 17 points — ending the first with 10 points — to knot the game up at 19 with 4:05 remaining in the first frame. Brooklyn held the momentum to conclude the first nursing a 31-27 advantage.

Although Brooklyn’s defense was active and forcing turnovers early in the second, but the Hornets forged an 8-0 run off speedy early offense and the Nets' own miscues. The defensive intensity — forced 10 turnovers for 13 Net points — was present for Brooklyn to finish off the second while the offense fed off of it.

Durant paved the way with a high-volume scoring clinic (10-of-13 shooting). The Nets superstar recorded a team-high 20 points, three assists and one rebound to give Brooklyn a 58-50 lead at the break. The bench also produced, contributing a total of 18 points — led by Aldridge with seven points and four rebounds.

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a back-and-forth third quarter that ended in the Hornets holding a flimsy 79-78 advantage. The Hornets ran their offense through the young duo of Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball, who combined for 47 points through three frames. On the other end, Durant’s scoring clinic continued, but Aldridge (nine points and seven rebounds) continued to play a big role down low. While Durant entered the fourth with 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the field, Harden (13 points, eight assists and five rebounds) was held scoreless from the field in the third.

The Hornets began to pull away late in the fourth quarter, behind the play of Ish Smith — who scored 11 points alone in the fourth. That pretty much sealed Brooklyn’s fate, as Cody Martin pitched in 5 fourth-quarter points of his own.

Bad loss and all, Kevin Durant said not to worry.

“I feel like we had a nice control over the game in the first half and it played a better second half, but it’s three games. Of course we have enough,” said Durant about the Nets pursuit of a championship mantle.

KD also said in effect that Irving is not walking through that door at least any time soon.

“We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor, and he is a huge part of what we do, but it is not happening right now,” Durant said. “So we’ve got to figure it out, but no one is going to lose confidence while we’re playing and hope Kyrie comes to save us during the game. No, we’ve got to play.”

The Film Room

It was good to see Bruce Brown back in the rotation.

Brown played just 4 garbage time minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks in the season opener. He didn’t see a second of floor time against the Philadelphia 76ers the next game.

“Bruce is going to play for us this year,” said Steve Nash after the first two games. “Bruce is going to have to be patient. But we know what Bruce brings to the team... he’s definitely going to play for us, he’s definitely going to be a part of what we do. I just think right now we’re looking at exploring some other things until we understand what we have.”

In Brooklyn’s home opener — the third game of the season — that all changed. Brown checked in at the 6:03 mark of the first quarter and immediately made a three.

From there, Brown continued his strong play by sticking in an arm into the passing lane to disrupt a Charlotte Hornets side pick-and-roll. From there, he sprinted to the deep corner during Brooklyn’s semi-transition and then cut into open space while Kevin Durant posted up to finish with his trademarked floater. Conventionally speaking, it’s atypical to see a player cut into the paint while a teammate posts up given that it brings another defender into the mix. Brown’s timing and cutting know-how allows him to catch the defense by surprise on plays like this.

He’s a damn good player. The Nets are better when he plays.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant available against Washington

Last season, the Nets rested the three players coming off long-term injuries — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin — on back-to-backs. The goal was to ease these players cumulative load during the compressed 2020-2021 season.

The Nets are planning to alter the load management program for at least one of these players. Kevin Durant is set to play in his first back-to-back of the year according to head coach Steve Nash, verbally listed as active for Monday’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Blake Griffin is also set to play in the game against Washington, said Nash, though he was inactive against Charlotte because of rest. So for the time being, it appears the veteran big man won’t be a full participant in back-to-backs.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will host Spencer Dinwiddie and the Wizards Monday, Oct. 25. The game, which is the first of 12 back-to-back’s for Brooklyn this season, is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out At The Hive — our sister site covering the Hornets.