Just like that, the Nets are one game under .500.
Brooklyn faced off against a depleted Grizzlies team playing without their starting All-Star level backcourt, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, and it took some time for the Nets to find their footing. However, after a big fourth-quarter push that came off a barrage of threes, the Nets cruised to their 8th victory of the season, winning 127-115.
Ben Simmons was the star of the show for Brooklyn, putting up a season-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. It was by far his most aggressive performance in his short Brooklyn tenure, as the 26-year-old three-time All-Star made a consistent effort to put his head down and drive to the rim, where he made an array of flashy finishes.
“I take it day by day,” said Simmons about his approach leading to his big breakout performance as a Net. “I try not to look too far ahead. I do what I can, I focus on myself and trying to get better each day. So I take it day by day. I don’t look too far ahead and worry about the things that I can’t control. I control but I can.”
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, kept his streak of scoring 25+ points alive, scoring 26 on the evening along with seven rebounds and seven assists. He’s the first player to do so in his first 17 games since Hall of Famer Rick Barry back in 1967.
Kyrie Irving had a fairly quiet showing in his first contest since his eight-game suspension, ending Sunday with 14 points and five assists. It’s clear he’s still getting his legs under him, as his at-rim finishing, handle, and defense were a little rickety.
“I mean, you saw me dribbling the ball out there,” said Irving after the game. “The ball was just miraculously just going on my hands so there’s just some rust, and you know, just get back into NBA basketball. There’s no way I can create NBA basketball when I’m just sitting at home with my friends as much as I want to compete with them as much as I love it’s just nothing like being out there.”
Then there was YUTA! Yuta Watanabe was exceptional once again, putting up 16 points in 24 minutes. Watanabe, whose 57.1% three-point percentage leads the NBA, went 4-of-6 for deep, and his 3-point shooting in the fourth quarter was a major reason the Nets got across the finish line with the victory. With Jacque Vaughn giving him more minutes, Watanabe is averaging 14.5 points over the Nets last four games.
“Yuta is definitely knocking it down right now,” said Kevin Durant after the game. “He’s shooting the ball extremely well for us, spacing the floor. But he’s also driving the ball when he catches it, he’s making the right play right now. I think when you make the right play, them shots feel a little better leaving your hand.”
Memphis was led by Dillon Brooks (31 points) and Steven Adams (15 points and 10 rebounds).
Three-point shooting played a major factor in deciding this one, as Brooklyn nailed 47.1% of their 34 threes, while the Grizzlies went just 32.4% from deep. Brooklyn also got a fairly balanced attack as all five Brooklyn starters reached double figures. Most importantly, the Nets didn’t get crushed in the rebounding department (45-44, Nets), a category Memphis has historically dominated Brooklyn in.
Both teams got off to hot starts; Brooklyn made five of its first six shots while Memphis went 6-of-10 before the first timeout break. Dillon Brooks had it going early, filling the box score with six early points on an array of jumpers. His teammate, Steven Adams, pitched in as well with eight points and two rebounds before the second Brooklyn timeout against a small-ball lineup with Simmons at center. In the end, Memphis finished the first quarter ahead, 28-29.
Speaking of Simmons, he was the engine for Brooklyn’s offense in the second quarter. He opened the period by scoring on a post-up against Santi Aldama, generated a 3-pointer the next possession, and then scored a left-handed (!) layup on what was arguably the best drive of the season. Royce O’Neale, meanwhile, couldn’t miss from three, canning 4 of his first 5 looks from deep including a pull-up 3-ball that forced a Memphis timeout.
Simmons continued his strong play, canning a reverse layup off a give-and-go with Kevin Durant to break the 10-point mark with just over four minutes to play in the second. He followed that up with a sweet right-handed floater a few possessions later. Brooklyn’s 3-point defense, however, gave way to three straight long-range looks against the Grizz. As such, Memphis finished the half ahead 62-57.
Simmons continued to lead the dance for the Nets, raising his total to 20 with 7:23 remaining in the third (well above his season-high of 15, which he set in Portland). Still, the Grizz lived up to their Grit and Grind nickname, with four of their five starters in double figures by end of the third quarter. KD finally got it going to end the third quarter after his uncharacteristically slow start, scoring nine points in the final three minutes to give his Nets the 96-93 advantage heading into the third.
Brooklyn began the fourth on a quick 5-0 run to build its biggest advantage of the night—8 points—after Yuta Watanabe canned a three for Simmons’ fourth assist of the game. Watanabe hit another shortly after from the corner and then made a sweet pass to a cutting Kyrie Irving. Yuta wasn’t finished, canning yet another three-ball from the very same corner and then a fourth near the right wing. Suddenly, the Nets were staring at a 16-point advantage with six minutes to spare in the fourth.
Yuta’s four threes effectively gave the Nets the runway they needed to cruise to victory. In the end, the blowout that was expected eventually came to fruition against a depleted Grizzlies team.
The Film Room
Ben Simmons continues to look better with every passing game.
His performance was just the appetizer. Against Memphis, he was even better. Physically, he looked like the perennial all-star we saw in Philadelphia. His lift while elevating for finishes near the rim was there, and there was genuine elasticity when twisting and contorting for layups—a welcomed sign for a player still finding his groove after back surgery.
There was just a sense of confidence when Ben scored on the move. The give-and-go mentioned earlier with Kevin Durant was a great example of that. First off, it was great to see Ben cutting toward the rim in the first place, but he also looked as cool as a cucumber catching and finishing the reverse on the move.
Ben bringing out all the tricks pic.twitter.com/Wa8CoJSxYB— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 21, 2022
His first make of the game was a precursor of the times to come: a smooth left-handed hook shot over his left shoulder after Steven Adams took away the driving lane.
It was also encouraging to see Ben call his own number as the roll-man. Earlier in the year, Simmons would’ve likely passed out of the 4-on-3 advantage in the short roll after setting the screen, picked his dribble and reset up top, or even taken a bad floater. Not on Sunday. Instead, Ben dribbled all the way down to the restricted circle, switched hands midair, and calmly made the layup off the glass.
This was maybe Ben’s best finish of all. Initially, he appeared as if he was going to flow into a dribble-handoff with Kevin Durant, but then, noticing that Steven Adams’ weight was leaning toward Brooklyn’s best player, Simmons crossed to his left, absorbed contact, and finished with his right. Vintage stuff from one of the better transition players in the league when he’s got it going.
Unsurprisingly, Simmons attracted more defensive attention with his scoring game going, and that allowed him to showcase his best offensive skill: his passing. Here, he flashed a variety of dribbles against Jake LaRavia, which caused Kennedy Chandler to cheat down off Joe Harris, opening up the three.
Holistically, this wasn’t Brooklyn’s best performance. The defense was iffy, to put it lightly, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were fairly muted by their high standards for most of the game. But from a macro perspective, none of that really matters. Seeing Ben Simmons play like this and show increasing comfort with every game is what matters in the grand scheme of things.
We’ve already talked about Kevin Durant’s streak, but here’s a fun fact about Ben Simmons, per Alex Schiffer: This is Simmons’ first game of 20 or more points since Game 2 against the Wizards in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. That was in May. You’d have to go back to March of that year to find a regular season came of 20 or more points.
Yuta Watanabe reached double figures in a career-high four straight games. In that four-game stretch, Watanabe is averaging 14.5 points on 14-of-22 shooting overall (62.5%) and 12-of-20 (60.0%) from deep and 6-of-7 (85.7%) from the line. He’s also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in what has become the best stretch of his career.
Meanwhile, Kristian Winfield notes that Kevin Durant jumped over Draymond Green as the league leader in technical fouls, picking up his seventh. Durant just picked up his seventh tech when complaining about a missed foul call and gesturing toward an official. “Per NBA rules, after tech #16, Durant will be suspended 1 game,” Winfield reported.
Irving doesn’t respond questions about supporters
As they did prior to the Nets last home game, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites gathered outside Barclays Center to support Kyrie Irving. Israel United In Christ is part of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement...
Black Hebrew Israelites are outside Barclays Center singing ahead of Kyrie Irving’s return from suspension tonight pic.twitter.com/Gay3YkcRnN— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) November 20, 2022
Large group of Kyrie Irving supporters ringing Barclays Center before tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/YzMCJxibo7— Barbara Barker (@meanbarb) November 20, 2022
The group, dressed in purple and gold, numbered several hundred.
Jaylen Brown, like Kyrie Irving, a players’ union vice-president, reacted to the videos of the group...
But later, Brown tried to clarify things...
I was not aware of what specific group that was outside of Barclay’s Center tonight. I was celebrating the unification of our people welcoming the return of Kyrie to the court, first glance I thought it was a known fraternity the (C/Que’s) Omega psi phi (step’n) showing support— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) November 21, 2022
On Monday, Brown further discussed his tweet.
“I didn’t have my reading glasses on,” he said. “I didn’t know who that group was. My instinct when I first saw that video was, I come from a community torn every day by systemic representation and imagery of violence in our community, so when I saw that video, it struck a chord for different reasons.
“I saw a large group of people from our community showing support for (Kyrie) and his return, so me being proud of that support and being proud of our community for doing that does not mean I endorse or celebrate some of the things that were being done or being said.”
Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Famer and an analyst for NBA TV, also posted the video on Twitter with a caption that said, “Let it be known.” He later deleted the tweet.
Both the Anti-Discrimination League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have criticized some members of the movement as anti-semitic, specifically quoting the Church’s own comments. Their messaging is at the core the video Irving publicized back on October 26, “From Hebrews to Negroes.”
The group handed out flyers explaining their positions.
In his post-game press availability, Irving told reporters he would not be commenting on the support of the group but stick to the Grizzlies game.
“I think that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just here to focus on the game.” he said stoically post-game when pressed.
“I would like to be on a platform where I could openly share how I feel without being harshly criticized or being labeled or dealing with outside perceptions that have nothing to do with me.”
None of the controversy nor the suspension seemed to have much of an effect on Irving’s fan support. When he was announced before the game, things didn’t sound any different...
Kyrie Irving gets a rousing ovation from the Barclays Center crowd in his first game back after an eight-game suspension. pic.twitter.com/tavW4w8KpN— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) November 21, 2022
Irving told reporters post-game that he felt good and reflected on the lost basketball.
“It felt good, it felt good,” said Irving after missing eight games in 16 days. “Just missed my teammates, miss the coaching staff. Getting prepared with them in the morning and then carrying over to the game. It felt good.”
Will Irving file a grievance?
Irving also didn’t rule out filing a grievance against the Nets through the players’ union.
“I’ve got to leave that to my legal team and leave it to the warriors I have around me. I have strong people, men and women that are going to do everything possible to make sure that I am protected and my family is protected and we protect one another so you know. I’m sure some things will be done in the future. There’s no timetable on that right now,” Irving said.
Missing eight games cost Irving roughly $3.5 million — $437,000 per game.
As Sponge Bob might say...
Brooklyn heads to Philadelphia to take on a depleted 76ers team that will be playing without Tyrese Maxey and James Harden. Ben Simmons and Seth Curry will play, however. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.
For a different perspective of tonight’s game, head to Grizzly Bear Blues, our Grizzlies sister site.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 127, Memphis Grizzlies 115 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 127, Memphis Grizzlies 115 (Video) - NBA
- It’s a Yuta Takeover (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Watanabe on strong fourth quarter (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Brooklyn’s win, Ben Simmons’ big night (Video) - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Kyrie Irving’s return to the lineup (Video) - YES Network
- Ben Simmons on his recent success after win over Memphis (Video) - YES Network
- Kyrie Irving speaks after Nets’ win over Grizzlies (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on Brooklyn’s performance against Memphis (Video) - YES Network
- Irving returns, Simmons scores 22 as Nets beat Grizzlies - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Kyrie Irving returns, helps Nets knock off Grizzlies - Reuters
- KYRIE IRVING IS BACK ON THE COURT, BUT OFF IT, AFTERSHOCKS ARE STILL VERY REAL - Yaron Weitzman - FOX Sports
- Ben Simmons breaks out as Nets beat Grizzlies in Kyrie Irving’s return - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Kyrie Irving won’t be able to tune out unwanted noise with basketball - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post
- Nets’ Kyrie Irving makes return vs. Grizzlies, ending 8-game ban - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Irving set to ‘move forward’ with Nets after winning return - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Jaylen Brown: I don’t endorse Barclays Center protesters - Jamal Collier - ESPN
- Kyrie Irving’s return to basketball won’t put an end to the controversy he started - Mike Vorkunov - The Athletic
- Nets-Grizzlies thoughts: Ben Simmons’ rise, Kyrie Irving’s return and the Yuta show - Mike Vorkunov & Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Ben Simmons shines with season-high 22 points in win over Grizzlies - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kyrie Irving Returns From Suspension - Sopan Deb - New York Times
- Kyrie Irving ‘Never Had A Doubt’ About Returning to Nets Amidst Controversy - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Nets React to Kyrie Irving’s Return - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Yuta Watanabe: The Nets non-guaranteed wing becoming one of the NBA’s top shooters - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Memphis Grizzlies struggle in fourth quarter vs. Brooklyn Nets without Ja Morant - DaMichael Cole - Memphis Commercial Appeal