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Nets lose opener to Pelicans, 130-108, as Ben Simmons fouls out with 4 points

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Things did not go as planned. The Brooklyn Nets got walloped in the season opener, 130-108, by the New Orleans Pelicans despite Kevin Durant’s 32 points on just 21 shots.

“I talked about the other day, just us being tested and us being challenged,” said Kyrie Irving after the loss. “And this is going to be a familiar theme throughout the year, and that’s to consistently play with a competitive spirit without us talking about it all the time. And I don’t want to sit in this seat after every game saying, ‘We should have done this, we should have done that.’ Like, this is a grown man league and the most physical team wins.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans’ big three of CJ McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram stole the show, pilling on 74 combined points en route to the blowout win.

Brooklyn meanwhile got just 17 combined points from Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving. Simmons was particularly disappointing, recording more fouls (6) than points (4) in his Nets debut.

“I was just too excited, honestly,” said Simmons about fouling out of his debut. “But it was just great to be out there. The first game, obviously, you want to win. But we know the reasons we lost, there’s multiple easons we lost. And those are things we can fix. We know that’s not us as a team. I think there’s a lot of jitters out there early on, but it was good to get out of the way.”

Outside of the stars (or star, really), Brooklyn got some nice stuff from Patty Mills off the bench, who dropped 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 4-of-9 from three. The rest of Brooklyn’s bench was not so prolific, mustering just 7 combined points collectively.

Rebounding was Brooklyn’s Achilles heel on Wednesday, with the Pelicans out-boarding the Nets 61-39. Many of those second-chance opportunities led to three-pointers for New Orleans, who shot 46.2% from deep. Brooklyn, meanwhile, couldn’t find any consistency from distance at just 30.3%, and the Pelicans used this against them by crowding the paint and smothering Brooklyn’s lead creators with multiple defenders.

“We’re not the biggest team, we’re not gonna lead the league in rebounds,” said Steve Nash after the game. “But there’s still a level of understanding that that’s a weakness for us. We’ve talked about it every day. We have to come back, double-team on the glass, and flood it. That’s a part of just being competitive, being aware, and understanding what our weaknesses are and trying to combat them from the start.”

In typical Nets fashion, the onslaught began with a slow start, as the Nets missed their first three shots. Ben Simmons broke the scoring drought with the first Nets point of the season after a Pelicans turnover. A pair of Zion Williamson buckets at the rim forced an early timeout from Steve Nash after an early 11-2 deficit.

“You could see that, you know, obviously how physically is and how difficult it is to keep off your rim and off the offensive glass. So it looks like he’s healthy and playing very well again,” said Nash about Zion after the game.

The lead only expanded after three straight turnovers from the Nets—one from Kevin Durant dribbling into a crowd, one from Ben Simmons on a failed alley-oop, and one from Royce O’Neale on a charge—growing New Orleans’ lead to 16.

Then, three straight steals by Royce O’Neale shrunk that deficit to just 12, and the Pellies were forced to call timeout. The wheels fell off for Brooklyn as the Pelicans once again grew their advantage to 18 to close out the first quarter.

Brooklyn got things back on track in the second quarter, beginning with an excellent pass from Ben Simmons to Nic Claxton in the short roll and a corner three from Markieff Morris. However, the Pelicans continued to pile it on with their two scorers, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, splashing jumpers in the short midrange. Meanwhile, the Nets continued to fail to get a rhythm as its spacing limited halfcourt opportunities.

Fortunately, the Nets finished the quarter strong when Nic Claxton—the only antidote to the unstoppable force that was Zion Williamson—used his impressive 7’2” wingspan to pin Zion’s layup to the glass, leading to a Kevin Durant three on the other end. Behind some absurd shotmaking from Durant, who had 21 in the half, the Nets were able to whittle the deficit down to 8 to end the half, 58-50.

Oh, and KD did this...

Both teams went back and forth to start the third quarter; Kevin Durant hit a jumper plus the foul over Williamson on one end, and CJ McCollum splashed a three-point jumper when the Nets double-teamed Jonas Valanciunas.

Then, Zion took over, dropping in two overpowering layups. The Pelicans' lead only grew when Trey Murphy III canned a deep three and Brandon Ingram nailed a fadeaway plus the foul over Kevin Durant and then another three off an offensive rebound. Suddenly, the Nets were staring at a 25-point deficit in the face with 4 minutes to spare in the third. The Nets finished the quarter down 98-78.

The fourth quarter was more of the same, with the Nets eventually waiving the white flag at the 4:30 mark. And that was all she wrote. A 22-point blowout loss and a 0-1 start to the season with a tough opponent, the Toronto Raptors, headed to Brooklyn on Friday.

Nets not worried about Simmons’ slow start

Though Ben Simmons’ debut didn’t exactly get off on the right track, his teammates and head coach didn’t appear particularly worried about their star jack-of-all-tradesman.

Steve Nash attributed the 4-point showing to “rust,” citing Simmons’ 486-day layoff from regulation basketball.

“I just think he’s rusty. The guy hasn’t played for over a year—still getting used to referees, defense, offense. This is a process,” explained Nash. “You guys have heard me say it, but he’s shown obviously glimpses of the player we know he is and can be but it’s not easy. We’re here to support him, we’re here to push him, coach him up, and try to get him to a place where he can play at the level he’s played in the past. It’s all there for him.

“I mean, I think that you see those glimpses throughout the preseason, but now putting it together, really getting his legs under him, his rhythm, and then assimilating to a new group—there’s a lot on his plate. As long as he continues to build his confidence, play hard, and play with force, we’re fine with him making mistakes as he grows into this.”

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, was similarly encouraging, but he also offered a more surly tone. Namely, he mentioned that the Nets had a conversation with Ben in the locker room to set the standard for what’s expected from him as one of the stars on the team.

“He’s just gotta get reps and minutes. I think it’s as simple as that,” said Kyrie Irving about what’s needed for Simmons. “We told him in the locker room, he is a valuable piece for us and we need him out there. And fouling out is not an option.”

Kevin Durant’s response to Ben Simmons’ debut could best be described in one way: unbothered.

“We all don’t have great games, it’s just the nature of our job. It’s all about bouncing back and showing up to work tomorrow and figuring it out,” said Durant, bluntly.

The Film Room

So, obviously, Kevin Durant was the star of the show here.

But Nic Claxton showed some flashes we hadn’t seen from him previously. For starters, as mentioned above, he was the only player that could reasonably tangle with Zion Williamson, who proved to be too overpowering for his primary defender, Ben Simmons. Though Nic Claxton doesn’t have the bruising physicality to hang with Zion (does anyone?), he does bring a whole heepin’ lot of length to extinguish windows of opportunity for the Pelicans star.

Nic’s block on Zion was the catalyst to the mini-run to end the first half, and you’ll notice how Clax first takes away the right-handed layup from Zion before sliding over to Zion’s left to sit on the spin move.

Nic’s finishing through contact also showed major improvement, a reflection of the added size he put on this summer. Nic previously estimated that he accumulated anywhere between 7-to-10 pounds of mass, and that came in handy here when he powered through this finish at the rim. Also, heck of a dime from Cam Thomas, who continues to show moderate growth as a playmaker after some impressive moments in the preseason!

And then, the main course: Clax’s masterful drive and finish through contact. We’ve heard about Claxton’s point guard background since his rookie season, and in the second quarter, he flashed that skillset. He faked the pass to Kevin Durant, drove to the cup when the defense shifted over toward the Nets’ star, and then had himself another awesome finish through contact to complete the play.

Claxton finished with 13 points on nearly perfect shooting (6-of-7), 10 rebounds, two blocks, and a steal is quite the way to follow up a lucrative summer in which the Nets invested $20 million in him to be their center of the future.

New Video from Kyrie via Shams

Shams Charania revealed another piece of his exclusive interview with Kyrie Irving.

After the clip aired, Shams tweeted out that Irving had hosted a team dinner on October 8 to help the team get past a “rocky” off-season. This apparently was a different dinner than the birthday party for Kevin Durant at Lucali’s in Brooklyn on October 2.

Irving was chosen by the Nets to welcome fans pre-game Wednesday. It’s yet another indication that the Nets and Irving, despite their failed negotiations in the summer. In his comments, Irving made sure to bring up the continuing imprisonment of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia, asking President Biden to “Free our sister, Brittney Griner.” Irving has been among the leaders in pushing for Griner’s release.

“Please, please do your job, POTUS,” Irving implored Biden. “Everybody do your job. Please bring our sister home. And we wouldn’t be doing our jobs to the best of our ability if we didn’t stand on what we believe in.”

Griner has been jailed on drug charges since February 7, two weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, civil rights icon and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson praised Irving in an interview with Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. “Kyrie will survive as long as he keeps running by everyone & shooting that ball,” said Jackson, now 81 but still active. “Kyrie speaks out and he speaks up. I sit with him when he speaks out and speaks up.”

Scoop’s full interview will be up Thursday.

Evaluation for Harris and Curry Thursday

When it first became apparent last week that Joe Harris and Seth Curry would not play in the opener vs. New Orleans, Steve Nash said the team would re-evaluate the health of the two players on Thursday.

New national dates

The Nets (somewhat) shockingly got only 13 national TV games when the NBA’s schedule makers revealed their handiwork in early August. That’s half what they had on ESPN and TNT last season. At the time, Kevin Durant’s trade request was still outstanding and Kyrie Irving’s situation was uncertain as well.

On Wednesday, the NBA rectified that situation a bit. As Brian Lewis reported, the Nets’ November 1 home game vs. Chicago will now be televised by TNT, as will their November. 15 game at Sacramento. NBATV dropped Brooklyn’s November 17 tilt at Portland, but added the November 13 showdown at the Lakers, the December 23 clash vs. Milwaukee and January 22 game at Golden State.

Kevin Durant’s latest investment ... pickle ball.

Joe Tsai is the godfather of investment in professional lacrosse with two franchises in the indoor version and a big investment in the outdoor game, Now, it appears that Kevin Durant, who already has investments in Major League Soccer, is looking to have a big role in pickle ball.

He and business partner Rich Kleiman announced an investment in the growing sport by their Thirty Five Ventures (35V). KD is now the owner Major League Pickleball’s newest expansion team. As CNBC reported Thursday:

In recent weeks, Major League Pickleball has signed on a number of big-name athlete owners, including basketball legend LeBron James and NFL stars Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Pickleball has exploded in popularity during the pandemic and an increasing number of athletes and entrepreneurs are looking to get in on the action.

In September, a viral video showed Durant playing pickleball at a local recreation center, declaring that he’s “getting the hang of it.” As avid pickleball players and fans, Kleiman said their interest in the sport was a natural fit.

Back in September, KD was spotted playing a game of pickle ball...

As Sponge Bob Square Pants might say...

What’s next

The Nets get to stay home for the second game of the regular season, hosting the pesky Toronto Raptors. Tip-off begins at 7:30 PM, EST, and you can watch the game on YES Network.

For a different perspective, head to Raptors HQ, our Toronto Raptors sister site.