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Preseason Opener Takeaways: First look at Nets ‘Big 3’ went as expected against star-less Sixers

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NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the Nets new “Big Three” era had its ups and downs against a star-less Sixers team but in the end, it met most of Steve Nash’s hopes for a preseason opener.

“Pleased overall and I think it’s, it’s all so new, we gotta go through this. The guys need time together,” said Nash on how he believed the team’s Big 3 looked following the preseason defeat.

“Ben’s playing in a totally different unit that he’s played in the past, different style. It’s a big departure. Many of these guys haven’t played together. So we gotta go through this. It’s gonna be ugly at times, but as the half wore on, you know, we started to see glimpses of the potential, the way the ball moved, the way they were hounding the basketball defensively. So I thought Ben looked pretty good overall and grew into the game throughout the half.”

With Philly lacking James Harden, Joel Embiid, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House, the Nets came close to overcoming a 20-point deficit, but the Nets sat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons in the second half and the supporting cast couldn’t get over the remainder of the hill. The final score: 127-108, Philly.

Prior to the first of the Nets' four unofficial contests, Nash said the team’s “Big Three” minutes would be in the 15-to-20 minute range. It ended up being 19 minutes of action for each player in two quarters of preseason basketball.

Kevin Durant paved the scoring path for Brooklyn’s dynamic trio, finishing with a quiet 13 points (4-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 shooting from 3-Point range) to pair with four boards and four assists in 19 minutes.

“It felt good. It’s always good to get back to playing basketball,” said Durant after the preseason opener. “The best job anybody can ask for, so just grateful that we’re getting that opportunity. We’re all healthy, came out of this game healthy, so excited for the next opportunity to play.”

Kyrie Irving, who put an emphasis on facilitating early in the contest, recorded nine points, four boards, and four assists in the same number of minutes. In Irving’s eyes, he’s getting a feel of how dangerous Brooklyn’s offense can be even with a preseason loss and only six days of camp practice under the belt.

“Yeah, we do, we feel it,” Irving stated. “But we don’t want to be satisfied at any point during this preseason or the beginning of the season because we know that the funkiness is going to happen regardless of where some games are going to look better than others. But we want to limit those games that happen like that where we can just settle in and the ball is hopping, everyone’s touching it. There’s nothing like watching a basketball game when everybody’s moving with pace and everyone’s touching the ball.

“In comparison to last year — it’s probably going to be the last time I say in comparison to last year because it’s a new year — but there was just a lot of random isolation and having Ben be able to play the 1, the 4 and the 5 adds some dimensions to our offense, and I think that’s what makes us dangerous is that ability for us to be flexible, adaptable, and to be selfless.

“So we know what he have to do, we’re aware of our talent offensively, but we want to make the game a lot easier for each other this year instead of utilizing all that energy just to get a bucket.”

Out of Brooklyn’s star trio, it was Ben Simmons who entered Monday night’s game with the most eyes on him and his game. Simmons, who took the court for the first time in 470 days, was welcomed to the Barclays Center hardwood with the loudest starter introduction from the crowd of 13,250 before the tip.

After the game, he explained how he wasn’t nervous for his first game in over a year's absence. Instead, he was filled with excitement and felt amazing.

“Amazing,” said Simmons on how he felt after his Nets debut Monday night. “I’m grateful just to be able to step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

During the half, the 26-year-old split time handling the rock, creating looks for open teammates (with handfuls of nifty passes), and even playing some minutes at the 5 in a small-ball pairing — a position Simmons is adjusting to, especially with new personnel around him.

“It’s just different reads and I’m going to get better at adjusting to that,” said Simmons on playing the 5. “It’s our first game together as a whole so things are a lot different. But, we’re doing it. This is what the preseason is for. I think it’s good.”

Simmons, whose final fit remains unclear, completed the preseason opener with six points, four rebounds, five assists, and a steal in 19 minutes. Simmons shot 3-of-6 overall and came up scoreless in his only trip to the line (0-of-2) against his former team.

Here’s his first basket as a Net off a pass from Irving...

“Just It felt like a normal game, honestly,” said Simmons on facing his former team. “First preseason game. First game out there in a while. Honestly, it wasn’t even on my mind. It wasn’t even a thought. Obviously, there’s history but it’s basketball so I’m doing what I love.”

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Simmons also got some halftime advice from Irving.

“I told him, ‘when you’re playing with some high-level players, despite what you’ve heard, we’re gonna make the game easier for you.’”

It didn’t take long for the Nets' trio of superstars to get clicking offensively. Simmons, who was Brooklyn’s point guard in the opening frame, had a series of passes that found open teammates outside the perimeter despite Philadelphia playing the passing lanes when the ball was in his hands. His first points as a Net came off a transition dunk, facilitated by Irving — who recorded three assists in the opening four minutes of action. Meanwhile, Durant had a quiet scoring frame, recording only six points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field.

“I mean, new look? I don’t know. I think we know how we play, each and every one of us,” said Durant on Brooklyn’s claimed new offensive twist. “Its just about finding rhythm out there, getting our legs. It’s good to see Ben back, good to see Ed back, Joe back after having some tough surgeries.

“So, yeah once we get our legs up under us, everybody finds out what exactly what they want to do out there, I think we’ll be in good shape. But for the most part, you know, it may take a couple of days, a couple of preseason games, a couple of weeks, who knows? But I think guys are moving in the right direction.”

Despite Brooklyn’s offense, the home team couldn’t catch any separation early. That was due primarily to their lackluster perimeter defense. It was the main difference maker early. The Nets — shot 1-of-9 from 3-point territory in the first — allowed the Sixers to shoot 14 total 3-Pointers, going 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) from outside the arc — tallying 24 of their 42 first-quarter points. At the end of one, Brooklyn trailed 42-26, with their Big 3 combining for 12 points.

In the second, Nets' offensive unit of Irving, Durant, Patty Mills, Joe Harris and Nic Claxton began to find a much-needed groove. A flurry of threes from Mills and Irving paved a 14-0 run for Brooklyn, slicing the deficit down to five points (55-50) with 5:24 left in the second. The deficit quickly grew back to 10 and Brooklyn went to small ball — Irving, Harris, Durant, and Simmons plus Royce O’Neale to end the first half.

“Well, you know, I think there were good pockets of play where there was a lot of intensity, physicality defensively,” said Nash. “Offensively, when we started to play with pace, make quick decisions, share the ball, you can see that we can cause problems. So very early, lots to work on. Every day is an important day for this group, things are so new to one another, but I think you could see at times the work we put in this week.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn put out its supporting cast to finish off the final half of the preseason contest. The coaching staff mixed and matched with each of their available players seeing time on the court. O’Neale, who was the first Net off the bench, scored 12 points followed by Edmond Sumner, who put together a solid 12-point three-rebound performance in his 15 minutes of play, most of at the point. Yuta Watanabe finished with 11 points. The Nets head coach was also pleased with the showing from O’Neale and Sumner.

“Royce, I think he’ll be a great addition for us. Incredible IQ, feel for the game, both sides of the ball. I think he’s going to tie the room together on many occasions. And you know, Edmond — it’s great to see him back on the floor after you know, a tough injury. You know, I thought his pace. I thought he showed some poise at times, is able to play on or off the ball. And he gives us some athleticism.”

Play of the game

From Nic Claxton who had a quiet but effective game...

The NBA disagrees putting an early Kyrie Irving drive and Ben Simmons over the head assist leading to a Nic Claxton dive in its top 10 of the night.

All good.

Numbers please

After allowing 40 points in the first quarter, Brian Lewis reports the Nets allowed the Sixers just 41.1 percent shooting — 36.6 percent overall and 23.3 percent from deep. But even with Joel Embiid out, the Sixers outrebounded the Nets, 55-43. And they had 27 turnovers leading to 33 points while getting just 16 off the Sixers’ miscues.

Despite stocking up on 3-point shooters and getting Joe Harris back, the Nets took only 33 shots from deep, making a third of them. Harris missed everything on his first two three’s, then him 2-of-5. The only active player with a higher career average, Seth Curry, sat on the Nets bench wearing a Yankees cap.

Edmond Sumner offers thanks after return to court

Edmond Sumner played 15 minutes Monday night and looked good. It was his first game in more than 521 days, since May 10, 2021, when he played in the last game of the Pacers regular season. That’s an even longer stretch than Ben Simmons. Sumner suffered a ruptured achilles tendon while working out last summer then underwent season-ending surgery.

Post game, he tweeted this out...

Chieng project takes to the court at halftime

As fans entered the arena Monday, some might have noticed a legal looking document from “20th Television,” a media production company, taped to the doors of Barclays Center. It was a waiver stating that if you entered the building, you were granting 20th the right to use your image in an upcoming, unnamed project. It’s the famous “Ronny Chieng project,” a Hulu series that uses the Nets as a backdrop. Chieng, the Daily Show reporter, is playing the Nets GM, per reports out of Variety, the showbiz bible.

Chieng, appearing in a video, asked fans to essentially serve as extras as a 20th Television crew shot 10 actors dressed in Nets and 76ers uniforms as they played out a scene on the court at halftime. Two takes from what we could tell. No word yet when the series will debut.

YES Network’s Meghan Triplett debuts

It wasn’t just Ben Simmons debut at Barclays Center. It was also Meghan Triplett’s. The new YES Network sideline reporter did her first post-game with Simmons.

What’s next?

The Nets play again Thursday night 7:30 p.m. ET vs the Heat, also at Barclays.

For a different perspective on the game, check out Liberty Ballers — our sister site covering the Sixers.