I wrote an article this morning in response to a New York Times piece on the lack of joy that comes from watching Brooklyn Nets basketball “How could that be?” I wondered, with the Nets coming off one of the NBA’s most impressive stretches of team basketball over the last two months and featuring fun, likable players if you bothered to look past the headlines. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, because wow, the Brooklyn Nets followed it up by participating in one of the worst displays of NBA basketball to date this season.
It’s not just that they lost against the tanking San Antonio Spurs, who were also missing their best player in Devin Vassell. No, it’s not just that, in the context of the season, down Kevin Durant and fighting for a very important playoff seed in a stacked conference, they needed to win. Indeed, Brooklyn needs all the wins they can get while Durant is sidelined, and San Antonio presented a prime opportunity. Rather, it’s that the game itself was so damn ugly.
Brooklyn shot a double-rim, windy day 3-of-23 from deep, with the Spurs only marginally outpacing them at 7-of-34. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Nets also turned the ball over 21 times, while the Spurs coughed it up 15 times of their own. I really, really hope you didn’t subject yourself to over two hours of this.
And yet, again, due to San Antonio’s own incompetence, Brooklyn had a real chance to win the game! Ben Simmons didn’t play the prettiest game, but it also wasn’t his worst, and it was encouraging, at the very least, to see him dial up the aggressiveness without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving:
okay then Ben - for better and worse he's definitely turned up the aggressiveness tonight pic.twitter.com/o79G5XkQL6— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 18, 2023
Now, trust me, it wasn’t all good from Simmons, who ended up with one of the least impressive triple-doubles you’ll be able to find. His seven turnovers, many of which were unforced, killed Brooklyn. But he deserves at least a slightly, slightly positive mention.
So too does T.J. Warren, whose feathery touch remains impressive as ever, and was getting buckets in a variety of ways:
Vintage TJ Warren performance in progress: pic.twitter.com/rSrnGG3h1y— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 18, 2023
And just to put a bow on the positives, Nic Claxton put up 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, as he does. He shut down guards on drives, met wings on cuts, and bigs at the summit. He did what he does and kept supporting a decent NBA All-Defense case:
Cam Thomas got some tough buckets here and there, but that is it for the positives.
Predictably, the offense was not able to get anything going without Durant and Irving, and it’s hard to win an NBA game without cracking 100 points if you’re playing it in the 21st century.
“You just look at that first and third quarter scoring, just not able to put points on the board, had some good shots along the way, didn’t make them. Part of basketball,” said Jacque Vaughn after the game.
And it was the odd-numbered quarters that killed the Nets; it was particularly disappointing to see the starting group come out against a poor team in an important game on the road and score just 15 points in the opening period. The deja-vu did not go down easy when Brooklyn scored just 17 points in the third period after making a run to tie the game up by halftime.
Of course, it wasn't just missing open shots that plagued Brooklyn, as anybody who suffered through the 48 minutes could tell you. And Vaughn agreed: “The things that we can take care of are the turnovers and the rebounding.” Brooklyn surrendered 13 offensive rebounds to San Antonio, many of which came in flurries with the starters on the court.
It was those starters who severely underwhelmed, a group of Curry-Harris-O’Neale-Claxton-Simmons. We knew the offense would struggle without the stars, but if it continues to look this bad (depending on how long Irving’s absence is), some changes may be in order. It wasn’t just that they didn’t make shots; they didn’t protect the ball, and nobody stepped up to guard Keldon Johnson in the second half, where he scored 25 of his career-high 36 points. Not Simmons nor O’Neale, only Claxton was willing to meet him at the rim a few times.
Claxton, who lived through last season’s 11-game losing streak sans Durant, said there’s one big difference between this season and last. He went there.
“Well, last year it was it was just kind of a toxic environment, didn’t know if everybody wanted to be here at the time this year,” said Clax in an apparent reference to James Harden forcing his way out at the trade deadline. “There’s no divide between everybody that’s out there. We’re gonna we’re gonna figure it out...
“We’ve just got to figure out how to play with each other without having KD, Kyrie out there on the court. It’s different lineups. But we’ll figure it out.”
In the end, six Nets finished in double figures, led by T.J. Warren who had 19. Warren has now scored in double digits in 13 of his 19 games.
So yeah, there’s no such thing as a “must-win” in January, but things did not go swimmingly for Brooklyn in a game they would’ve loved to have. Illusions of the East’s top seed are now likely just that, as they sit 4.5 games behind Boston, and should be much more worried about the Cleveland/Milwaukee/Philadelphia pack they find themselves stuffed in.
The only other notable event from the loss in San Antonio was a dust-up between exuberant Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan and known-enforcer/tough guy Markieff Morris, which occurred midway through the second quarter:
Jeremy Sochan vs. Markieff Morris pic.twitter.com/KJm53WKIhz— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) January 18, 2023
As Richard Jefferson said on the YES Network, “It wasn’t a screen. It was a message.”
In talking to reporters after the game, Morris talked about Sochan and what led up to the most exciting moment of the night...
Asked what he knew about Sochan before Tuesday, Alex Schiffer reported that Morris said he knew he was a rookie, shot free throws one-handed and had yellow hair. Asked if his opinion changed Morris said, “he still has yellow hair.”
Morris said the play before two tangled, Sochan hit a three and pointed at him.
“It’s a different era, man. The play before that, he made a 3 and pointed in my face. He made a shot. What is that about? ... (So) I set a hard screen and he actually did like a wrestling move. I told him that was impressive.”
“The game got a little heated and there was an altercation between us,” said the 19-year-old Sochan. “but it is what it is. We were all playing physical.”
Then, he added
”Just being a little cheeky is something I do.”
Nic Claxton keeps making his case for Defensive Player of the Year or at worst a spot on the All-Defensive Team, an honor that former Net defenders Kenyon Martin, Jason Collins and Jarrett Allen never achieved. With his four blocks Tuesday — three in the fourth quarter...
- At 23 years old, Nic Claxton is the youngest player to block three or more shots in nine straight games since 22-year-old Rudy Gobert with the Jazz in Jan. 2015. Claxton entered tonight’s game as the league leader in blocks per game (2.7).
- Longest streaks of games with three or more blocks for a Net in franchise history:
11 - Shawn Bradley - March 1996
11 - Shawn Bradley - Feb. 1996
9 - Nic Claxton - Dec. 2022 - Jan. 2023 (active - four blocks tonight)
- Nic Claxton’s 15 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks) recorded his team-high 13th double-double of the season. He posted five double-doubles in his first three seasons combined.
- Ben Simmons with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists recorded his first triple-double as a Net and 32nd of his career. He also recorded four steals and two blocks, leaving him a steal and three blocks short of the elusive 5x5. He also hit both his free throws.
Kevin Durant Update
KD did not travel with the Nets, staying back in Brooklyn to rehab. Durant’s MCL sprain is supposed to be re-evaluated two weeks after Nets doctors made their initial diagnosed on January 9. That would mean the re-evaluation should take place next Monday.
Gregg Popovich on Patty Mills
As we noted in the game preview, the Nets roster and staff are filled with former Spurs: Sean Marks, Jacque Vaughn, assistant coach Brian Keefe, assistant GM Andy Birdsong and director of coaching analytics Logan MacPhail. And of course, Patty Mills who played 10 seasons in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich paid particular tribute pre-game to Mills: “He’s a very caring, charismatic, loving human being, and everybody is attracted to him, so he had a big voice and garnered a lot of respect.”
Pop added Patty’s “love of other people, working for injustices and bringing people together” is most important to him. Mills played six minutes and did not score.
Post-game, the Spurs head coach reverted to vintage Pop when asked about whether the absence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving mattered.
“I don’t care. Everybody has people out now and then. I don’t care. So don’t even go there.”
As Sponge Bob might say...
The Nets face the Suns in Phoenix on Thursday at 10:00 p.m. ET. The contest, Lord help us all, will be broadcasted nationally on TNT.
- Box Score: San Antonio Spurs 106, Brooklyn Nets 98 - NBA
- Game Highlights: San Antonio 106, Brooklyn Nets 98 (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn on Nets’ performance in San Antonio (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas on Nets’ loss to Spurs, his 15-point game (Video) - YES Network
- Johnson hits career-high 36, Spurs top Nets, end 5-game skid - Raul Dominguez - AP
- Keldon Johnson puts up 36 as Spurs top short-handed Nets - Reuters
- With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out, Nets fall to lowly Spurs - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets still confident they can win while Kevin Durant is out: ‘no divide’ - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Minus Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Nets fall to Spurs for third straight loss - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Inside The Nets Struggles Without Kevin Durant: ‘This Isn’t Last Year At All’ - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- The triple take: Spurs 106, Nets 98 - Tom Orsborn - San Antonio Express-News