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Nets lose hard fought game to Mavericks, 96-94

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Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Tough loss, sure, but the Brooklyn Nets brought it against the Dallas Mavericks.

Coming off a nice two-game win streak, the Nets entered Monday night looking to avenge their early season overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks. And similar to the first meetup, this one went down to the wire. Final score: 96-94, Dallas.

“We didn’t win the game, which was the ultimate goal of the game,” said Jacque Vaughn. “But we played the right way, and it’s really that simple. I think we played with space. We played with a lot of pace... We shared the basketball. ”

Brooklyn’s defense was top-notch, and it’s ball-movement stood out once again as the team continues to weather the storm without Kyrie Irving. Ultimately, Luka Doncic’s MVP-level greatness proved to be too much, and the Nets lost their seventh game of the season to drop to 4-7.

Kevin Durant continued his streak of 25+ points, dropping 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting. He became the first player since Allen Iverson in 2005-06 and only the seventh all-time to drop 25+ points in his first 11 games. Durant was also exceptional defensively, taking on the primary assignment of defending Doncic better than just about anyone else on the Nets roster.

Speaking of Doncic, he was absolutely incredible once more and looked totally comfortable attacking Brooklyn’s defense. The league’s leading scorer dropped 36 points on 11-of-22 shooting and zipped some truly jaw-dropping passes for six assists and six rebounds.

“Just high IQ,” said Jacque Vaughn about Doncic. “He sees the game. He plays at his pace. He’s able to pass the basketball as well as shoot it, and to be able to manipulate the game the way he does: Pretty impressive.”

Outside of Durant, Brooklyn got some good production from its starters. Royce O’Neale matched a career-high with 8 assists by driving into the paint repeatedly and creating looks for teammates, and Nic Claxton also matched a career-high of his own with 14 rebounds to go with 10 points, three steals and a block. Cam Thomas, who had an up-and-down game, finished with 19 points on shooting splits of 39/50/78. In the three-game road trip, Thomas averaged 19.0, after playing less than a minute in the previous six games

Brooklyn’s intentions out the gates were clear; attack Luka Doncic and Christian Wood repeatedly on dribble drives to find holes in the defense and get Dallas’ other defenders rotating. Royce O’Neale and Joe Harris were particularly good in this regard, with Harris getting 4 early points off a pair of layups. Unfortunately, Doncic had it going early, posting up Brooklyn’s smaller defenders for 7 quick points.

Still, Brooklyn built an early 25-11 lead after Harris and O’Neale hit back-to-back transition three-pointers. However, Dallas fired back with two made threes from Maxi Kleber and Tim Hardaway Jr. off some crisp ball movement. After another three from Hardaway Jr. and a stepback three-ball from Doncic, Dallas closed the gap to 34-29.

Tim Hardaway Jr. led the charge for the Mavericks with Luka Doncic on the bench; he began the second quarter by nailing a floater and a crisp midrange jumper off a crossover. Suddenly, the Mavericks took a commanding 39-35 lead off an 8-0 run. Both teams were locked in with their ball movement, creating looks off piercing drives into the paint to find the open man. Luka Doncic continued his outstanding play, dropping 21 first-half points to have his Mavericks up 53-50.

After his slow start, KD finally got it going in the third with a pair of midrange buckets. The quarter itself was incredibly physical, with both teams diving to the floor and scrapping for second-chance points repeatedly. In what were largely a defensive 12 minutes of play, the Nets led by the smallest of margins, 73-72.

It was the Luka Show in the fourth. He hunted down Ben Simmons on switches repeatedly. First, he dropped in a stepback three over Simmons’ outstretched arms and then later completely dropped Brooklyn’s defensive specialist on a crossover, though Doncic missed the easy layup at the rim!

Dallas’ defense was locked in late, throwing double teams at Kevin Durant to make Brooklyn’s understudy options create looks late in the game with pressure mounting. The strategy worked; Brooklyn had two crucial turnovers late, the first was when Royce O’Neale traveled after being run off the line and the second was an offensive foul on Nic Claxton in the paint. Dallas was suddenly ahead 88-78 with just over four minutes to spare after a 14-0 run.

Then, similar to the Hornets game, the Nets made a run late. Brooklyn got a quick three from O’Neale off an out-of-bounds set, and then after Doncic missed a stepback jumper, the Nets found Joe Harris in the corner to make it a four-point game.

“We got some good looks, we executed at the end of the game,” said Vaughn about the final stretch in the last two minutes. “Put ourselves again in a position to win.”

Brooklyn’s defense began to take hold in the final two minutes of play. Nic Claxton ripped away a steal from Doncic on a drive late, and Durant swatted Dorian Finney-Smith’s layup with the shot clock expiring just a few possessions later. Brooklyn couldn’t find any offensive rhythm on the other end, as Cam Thomas jacked up a low-percentage midrange jumper and a wild layup at the rim. But then, Thomas atoned for his errors, nailing a massive three-point jumper to make it a one-point game with 28 seconds to spare.

Brooklyn was forced to play the foul game and sent Doncic to the line, who promptly nailed two free-throws. Then, Durant was fouled on the other end intentionally by Dallas, up three, and KD hit two free throws of his own. Brooklyn was once again forced to foul, and Dorian Finney-Smith went perfect from the line to keep Dallas’ lead at one.

Then, things got really bizarre. Dallas opted to foul intentionally once more with the three-point advantage, but they made a massive mistake and fouled Brooklyn’s best player—and free throw shooter—at the 3-point line to give the Nets the opportunity to tie things up at the line. Durant nailed his first free throw, and then...

He missed. After 62 straight made free throws—a personal best and Nets record—Durant missed his second free-throw. Dallas secured the ball after Durant intentionally missed his third free throw, and that was that.

Post-game, Durant said simply. “I gotta make that. I gotta make that. That’s the game. I make that and we’d still be playing ... It sucks. Not much else I can say about it; just sucks.”

Meanwhile, Doncic became only the second NBA player ever with nine consecutive games of at least 30 to begin the season. Wilt Chamberlain started off his historic 1961-62 season with 23 straight games of 30 or more.

The Film Room

If there’s one thing that Brooklyn’s recent road trip has taught us, it’s that the Nets are back to playing smart, gritty basketball.

Brooklyn’s defense, once the third-worst unit in the league, has rebounded tremendously over the last three games, allowing just 100.8 points per 100 possessions — good for 3rd-best in the league in that time span. Simply put, the Nets are just playing harder and being more handsy, leading to a season-high 13 steals against Dallas.

Royce O’Neale was particularly exceptional defensively against the Mavericks. No player on the roster has quicker hands than Royce, and his ability to rip away strip steals like an NFL defensive back has been a huge boost for the Nets when containing drives to the rim.

No play better epitomized Brooklyn’s newfound grit than this one from the third quarter. After Claxton (playing out of his mind, by the way) slammed down a dunk off a miss from Durant, he then picked off a lazy inbounds pass from the Mavericks. Four points in a matter of seconds is most certainly some efficient offense.

Brooklyn’s unifying approach on defense has been matched with a democratic offensive approach. The ball has moved exceptionally well during the recent three-game stretch, and Brooklyn has consistently touched the paint on drives from players up-and-down its roster to create three-point shots in bunches. That teamwide approach of looking to generate threes has also shone through in transition, and this late-game Joe Harris three to shrink Dallas’ lead to just 4 was a great example of just how patient the Nets have been when trying to find open looks for their floor spacers.

Joe Harris described Brooklyn’s balanced approach rather succinctly.

“I think a lot of the defensive stuff is just effort,” explained Harris. “Guys are flying around, we’re sticking to the game plan, covering for each other, and just playing really disciplined on that end these last few games. Our defense has kind of been our bright spot, and it’s been able to allow us to get out and play well in offensively, just being able to get out and transition, play with good pace. You know, it’s always when you can get your easiest buckets when you’re able to get out and run and kind of play early in the shot clock.”

Yuta Watanabe sprains ankle

Early in the second quarter, the moans of Nets fans everywhere, Yuta Watanabe got caught on a defensive switch and went down, his left ankle splaying. He had to be helped off but was back on the Nets bench in street clothes in the second half.

“Yeah, he sprained his ankle and we’ll further take a look at him,” said Jacque Vaughn post-game, adding, “he was smiling afterwards.” Vaughn said Watanabe did not get an MRI in Dallas and doesn’t know if he will get one on return to Brooklyn. “He seemed to be okay in the (post-game) huddle.”

Shortly after midnight Tuesday, Watanabe tweeted out an update in Japanese...

Translated: “It’s just a sprain, so I’ll heal it well and get back on the court soon! Thank you for your continued support ”

(Small) T.J. Warren Update

The Nets said on Media Day that T.J. Warren, signed to a vets minimum deal in the summer, would not be ready immediately as he was still recovering from foot surgery he underwent last year. They said he’s be re-evaluated in November, without pinpointing a date.

Brian Lewis asked Jacque Vaughn if there was anything to report.

“He’s been doing his progression,” said the Nets interim head coach. “We’ll see once we get back to Brooklyn. There’s been no setbacks. So that part has been good.”

Warren has played only four games in the past two seasons, none last year.

Big Meeting Tuesday

Marc Stein confirmed his earlier report on Kyrie Irving’s meeting Tuesday morning with Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver told Irving he wanted the two of them to meet following what Silver thought was an incomplete apology for his October 26 tweet publicizing an antisemitic video. The Nets have laid out six conditions Irving has to meet before he can return from a suspension. Silver can always add on sanctions beyond the suspension and the conditions the Nets set for his return.

Meanwhile, the NBPA looks like it will object even to the Nets conditions. Jaylen Brown of the Celtics who like Irving is a players union veep, thinks the union will appeal.

“I’ve been talking to Kyrie,” Brown told the Boston Globe. “I’ve talked to Adam [Silver, NBA commissioner], I talked to Tamika [Tremaglio, NBPA executive director], I’ve talked to pretty much everybody about this situation.

“But I’m expecting the NBPA to appeal the suspension from Brooklyn. The terms, etc., that went into his return. The terms for his return, they seem like a lot, and a lot of the players expressed discomfort with the terms.”

“I don’t believe Kyrie Irving is antisemitic,” added Brown, who parted with Kanye West’s Donda Sports agency following West’s anti-Semitic statements. “I don’t think people in our governing bodies think he’s antisemitic. He made a mistake. We understand from an outside perspective how important sensitivity is to not condone hate speech and not condone anything of that nature. It’s sensitivity to the dialect around that. We don’t want to stand up for somebody in order to not condemn hate speech but I don’t believe Kyrie Irving is anti-Semitic. And hopefully the NBA feels the same way.”

Ben Simmons returns

After missing four games with a sore left knee, which he said was related to his off-season back surgery, Ben Simmons took to the floor again for the Nets Monday night. He played 16 minutes scoring only two points while grabbing three rebounds and handing out two assists. Simmons flew in from Brooklyn to make what was a bit of a surprise appearance. He had been listed as “out” until Monday when he was first upgraded to “questionable,” then “available.”

“I mean, I’m my harshest critic. I thought I did terrible” said Simmons with a small smile when YES Network’s Meghan Triplett asked for an assessment of his play. “There’s a place I want to get to. So I gotta keep working. I got to keep pushing myself and adapting, so I’ll get there.”

Simmons said the knee soreness he experienced was indeed related to his back injury and off-season surgery and that he and the performance team have to be mindful of the connection.

“That was the main thing for me,” Simmons said post-game when asked if he was experiencing any pain. “Just have no pain. Get up and down the floor, sprint, run, jump, so I felt good.”

Kevin Durant urged patience on Simmons progress.

“I thought he moved well,” said KD. “I thought he got up and down the court. It’s been a week now, so it’s only gonna get better.”

Simmons to rep Australia in FIBA?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported over the weekend that Ben Simmons, whose relationship with Australian basketball has been on-again, off-again, wants to the play for the Boomers, his native country’s senior men’s basketball team in FIBA competition. Specifically, the 26-year-old wants to play in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Do I want to play for Australia? One hundred percent. I’m going to the Olympics. It’s been a dream of mine.”

Simmons and the Boomers have missed out on several opportunities for the Melbourne native to play in international competition with injuries and contract talks interfering.

He would join two other members of the Nets on the national team Down Under. Patty Mills, a family friend of Simmons, led the Boomers to a bronze medal in Tokyo last year and Adam Caporn is an assistant coach for Australia just as he is for the Nets.

Josh Giddey, who like Simmons, plays the point, welcomed his comments.

“Obviously he was dealing with some stuff with Philly and then [made] a fresh start in Brooklyn,” Giddey said. “People forget that Ben’s an All-Star. He was, I mean he is one of the best players in the league. He’s obviously going to need time find his feet, he hasn’t played for a long time in the NBA. I’m excited for what he can do and hopefully soon we can both be apart of the Boomers together and help Australia win a gold medal.”

Who else on the Nets roster might compete in Paris? Yuta Watanabe is the Japanese national team’s leading scorer. As for Kevin Durant, no official word if he’s playing.

End of an Era

Kevin Durant’s free throw streak wasn’t the only streak to end Monday night. After 30 straight wins when holding the opponent to less than 100 points, the Nets lost even though the Mavs scored only 96 points. The last time the Nets lost while holding an opponent under 100 points was December 26, 2019.

What’s next

Brooklyn heads home to take on their crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks, who sit 5-5 on the season. Coverage begins Wednesday on ESPN at 7:30 EST.

For a different perspective on Monday’s game, head to Mavs Moneyball, our Mavericks sister site.