The Nets are full of mystery, just not on a nightly basis. What goes on behind the scenes of the organizational decisions that have defined the franchise’s recent direction, who knows? Ditto on what tomorrow’s drama will be - you know it’s coming. But if you couldn’t tell where this game was headed after three minutes, you must be new around here.
Jacque Vaughn called Brooklyn’s first time-out after those three minutes, after seeing, presumably, the exact start he wished to avoid. The score was 12-5, Orlando; that score perfectly reflected the feel of the game. Brooklyn came out sloppy, and while the offense has actually been league-average with Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton sharing the floor, it wasn’t early on Monday night. A cramped paint led to turnovers, and the young Magic worked up a sweat and a lead. The tenor of the game was decided.
“I think we’re going to create a little blooper reel...we definitely had some that are for the ages,” Vaughn quipped about Brooklyn’s 16 turnovers throughout the night, adding that the Nets were “just handing them the basketball, at times.”
It might be fatalistic to assign so much weight to the first three minutes of a game, but again, we’ve seen this movie before. We know how this goes. Brooklyn quickly battled back with some nice runs, often triggered by the “defense to offense” paradigm every coach touts, and incredible shot-making by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They combined for a aesthetically-pleasing 30 points on 13-19 in the first half. Joe Harris added nine of his own, including a welcome 3-pointer (despite missing a host — specifically six — of others) and a couple nice decisions with a live dribble:
One of Joe Harris' best drives to the rim this season: pic.twitter.com/r1Qr1Ct6jd— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 29, 2022
Thought Joe Harris was a firmly positive offensive player tonight, despite the missed threes. Nice decision-making out of Chicago action: pic.twitter.com/6ahm7LBM1Y— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 29, 2022
Harris would wind up playing 36 minutes, closing the game, and scoring a season-high 17 points. “I think it really shows the confidence that we have in him, the trust that we have in him, even when he’s not making shots. He’s gonna be in the right place, do the right thing, be in the right coverage, majority of time. The shots are gonna come around.”
So, of course, there were positives. Even as Brooklyn found itself in a see-saw affair with a team a title contender would expect to blow out. Even with Ben Simmons as an early-scratch with left knee soreness (more on that, soon). But it was hard to walk away from the first-half starry-eyed. We were going to get another close one with a scrappy, youthful team full of confidence. Same old story, and why wouldn’t the Magic be feeling good? They were doing battle with Kevin Durant, for God’s sake.
Then, suddenly, they weren’t; they were looking up at greatness. Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero, with a dash of Bol Bol, were hitting tough pull-ups and fade-aways. They were excellent. KD just kept going. Durant had 19 points in the third quarter, but was even more dominant than that suggests. He blocked a pull-up from Bol Bol, he repeatedly locked up in isolation situations, and he added an emphatic weak-side block. The Magic started to double him, because of course, and it led to advantages Brooklyn capitalized on:
With Ben Simmons out, Nets have been comfortable going 5-out w/ Clax on the bench. Not even a Markieff Morris sighting. Royce has been the short-roll guy, with decent results. Nice offense here: pic.twitter.com/QtiPbY1rhw— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 29, 2022
Enough can’t be said about Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s all-time MVPs (Most Valuable Personalities). And no, I don’t mean “personality” because he tweets often, or like to talk junk. That helps, but there’s a butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get watching KD hoop vs. one of the worst teams in the league on a Monday night in November. Durant noticed, and undoubtedly respected, the play of Wagner and Banchero. Then he took the challenge and crushed it, because it’s just damn fun to do. Fun, for KD, is the bottom line.
When asked if he thinks about the MVP race, Durant responded, “Not really. I been there, done that, to be honest.”
It almost sounds tired, corny at this point, but Durant’s combination of talent and enthusiasm for the game can never grow tired. No matter how you look back on this era, whenever and however it ends, one thing is undeniable: We were all blessed KD graced Brooklyn with his presence. And not just because of his talents...
Kyrie Irving, who had the best seat in the house for Durant’s performance, certainly agrees: “When you’re seeing something special occur in front of you, you do your best to still be engaged, but it’s hard not to stare and just watch,” adding, “It’s a honor to be a part of; I’m grateful to be his teammate.”
After that third quarter, it was decided. Kind of. The game was still fairly in the balance, with Brooklyn’s lead sloshing around in that eight-point range. Brooklyn’s defense, despite some miscues, did just enough to hold on. Kyrie Irving followed KD’s lead in adding some much-needed, highly-difficult buckets. And while Joe Harris continued to miss most of his three-point shots, his offensive aggression paid off big-time. Someone needed to shoot the ball, and ending up with 17 points on 11 attempts from the field isn’t too bad.
“The shots that he’s taken have all been good shots,” Vaughn said pre-game. “That’s the great thing. I think everyone in this organization has a tremendous amount of respect and love for Joe Harris. At least I do. Totally believe in him. He’s an unbelievable person, teammate and shooter. And that ball is going to go in. It’s just a matter of time, really.”
But this was Kevin Durant’s night. Losing after a performance like that would have constituted a level of basketball sin even the Nets wouldn’t dare commit. KD respects the basketball gods far too much. Sure, it’s cause for concern that Brooklyn needed Durant to go nuclear to beat this Magic team ... that he played 39 minutes on a back-to-back. But after witnessing an individual performance like that, it’s hard to go to sleep anything but giddy that Kevin Durant is still a Net.
Jacque Vaughn may have said it best, when asked what the difference was between this win, and other tight games Brooklyn has lost: “We were able to capitalize by getting Kevin the ball.”
To sum up: 45/7/5, making 19 of his 24 shots, most of which were contested jumpers. Man. And he delivered the quote of the night to YES Network’s Justin Shackil.
Durant admitted he was paying homage to Nets legend Jevon Carter with that answer. Carter who the Nets cut last season said something similar after going for a career-high 36 in OKC earlier this season. KD feels something special could be in order any night, “Mainly, if my mind is in the right place, coming into the game.” It certainly was tonight.
Now go watch the freaking highlights:
More KD, per Justin Kubatko:
Durant became the second-oldest player in NBA history to score at least 45 points on 75% shooting from the field in a game (age in years-days):
- 36-358 — Shaquille O’Neal (Feb. 27, 2009)
- 34-060 — Kevin Durant (Nov. 28, 2022)
- 33-019 — Alex English (Jan. 24, 1987)
- 33-019 — Michael Jordan (March 7, 1996)
- 32-338 — Larry Bird (Nov. 10, 1989)
Durant has recorded at least 30 points, five rebounds, and five assists in each of his last three games. He’s just the third player in NBA history to record three such games in a row after turning 34 years old, joining Elgin Baylor and LeBron James.
Ben Simmons exits game with knee soreness
As previously mentioned, Ben Simmons left the game in the second quarter with, officially, “left knee soreness”. It’s the same knee that’s been ailing him for a few weeks, now. There wasn't much additional information to glean from Jacque Vaughn’s post-game presser.
“Yeah, so he had some left knee soreness, that same knee, asked to be pulled out of the game,” Vaughn said. “We’ll check in kind of day by day see he respondes to a little treatment, see what it it looks like tomorrow.”
When asked if the knee soreness could be related to the back injury, Vaughn downplayed that possibility: “No, I think more so than anything, the accumulation of games. Just, he hasn’t had this amount of accumulation of games over a period in a long time.”
Yuta Watanabe out again Wednesday
Jacque Vaughn said pre-game that the Nets are awaiting the latest imaging results on Yuta Watanabe’s latest MRI for his hamstring strain. Watanabe last played vs. Memphis. So the Wizards game will be his fifth missed game. On Sunday, Vaughn said he expected both Watanabe and T.J. Warren back by week’s end.
Before he went down, Watanabe visited a Japanese school in suburban Harrison, N.Y. to give some pointers to the boys and girls teams.
Watanabe also played a role pre-game as the Nets honored Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Meanwhile, Scott Rafferty of The Sporting News noted how Watanabe’s league-leading 3-point shooting is helped dramatically by his corner shooting, also the best in the NBA.
Move over, P.J. Tucker. There’s a new corner shooter in town.
Of the 24 3-pointers Watanabe has made so far this season, only eight have come from above the 3-point line. The 16 others have come from the corner, which is one of the most valuable shots in basketball.
According to NBA.com, Watanabe is 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) from the right corner and 7-for-8 (87.5 percent) from the left corner. He’s almost certainly not going to continue making three-quarters of his corner 3-point attempts, but it’s not like he’s working with a tiny sample size compared to the rest of the league.
As Sponge Bob might say...
For another perspective on tonight’s game, go to Orlando Pinstriped Post.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 109, Orlando Magic 102 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 109, Orlando Magic 102 (Video) - NBA
- Kevin Durant drops Season High 45 points (Video) - NBA
- “When I Wake Up” - KD When Asked When He Knows He’s Going To Have a Big Game (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: KD vs. Orlando Magic / 45 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Highlights: Nic Claxton vs. Orlando Magic / 17 PTS, 13 REB (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Kevin Durant on tough Nets victory over Orlando (Video) - Justin Shackil - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Brooklyn’s grit to hold on against Orlando (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on his 45-point performance against Orlando (Video) - YES Network
- Joe Harris on Brooklyn’s home win over the Magic (Video) - YES Network
- Irving on Nets’ 109-102 win (Video) - YES Network
- Nic Claxton on Nets’ victory against Orlando (Video) - YES Network
- Durant scores 45, carries Nets to 109-102 win over Magic - AP
- Kevin Durant (45 points) leads Nets past Magic - Reuters
- Joe Harris provides Nets with Kevin Durant backup in win over Magic - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets lose Ben Simmons to knee injury against Magic - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Joe Harris provides Nets with Kevin Durant backup in win over Magic - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ben Simmons (knee) leaves Nets’ game, listed as day-to-day - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Nets’ Ben Simmons exits vs. Magic with left knee soreness - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Kevin Durant scores season-high 45 points to lead Nets over Magic - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Nets GM Sean Marks must answer tough questions about his roster - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Jacque Vaughn: Nets need Joe Harris back in flow - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Ben Simmons asks to exit game vs Magic after aggravating left knee - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant hangs 45 on Paolo Banchero, Nets beat Magic 109-102 - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Ben Simmons Day-To-Day With Left Knee Soreness - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Kevin Durant praises breakout star Bol Bol after lighting up Nets: ‘Great for the league’ - Dan Mennella - WFAN
- Nearly half of Magic’s roster sidelined but Orlando battles in close loss to Nets - Khobi Price - Orlando Sentinel