Don’t look now, but the Brooklyn Nets are figuring things out.
Brooklyn secured its second consecutive win without Kevin Durant after dropping four-straight and like their win over the Jazz, they did it in style. Though Golden State controlled the game for most of Sunday’s contest, Brooklyn pulled off the late upset behind 62 combined points from Nic Claxton and Kyrie Irving. The Nets erased a 17-point Golden State advantage and are now 16-10 on the road. With the win, Brooklyn has also tied the Milwaukee Bucks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we’re starting to figure some things out and so that’s evidence to our guys what it looks like down the stretch, what our defense looks like. You know, [Golden State] is a pretty tough team to play against. No style is like theirs, so your approach to the game has to be spot-on. I think we settled in and did some really good things in the second half,” said Jacque Vaughn. “But it means a lot to finish the trip, especially when you’re down at halftime, not give in and be mentally tough enough to get it done.”
As mentioned, Irving was exceptional once more and dropped 38 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds. This is Irving’s third-straight game of dropping 30+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists, a first in his career.
Claxton set career highs in points (24) and rebounds (15) in Golden State. This was his 15th double-double of the season, and he set a Nets record in most consecutive games with 3+ blocks with 12 and counting. The breakout is real.
Unsurprisingly, Golden State was led by Stephen Curry with 26 points. Donte DiVincenzo (13 points on four made threes), Jonathan Kuminga (20 points), and Kevon Looney (14 points and 10 rebounds) all gave Golden State great production off their bench.
The Nets shot a blistering percentage from three, 51.9%, their third-straight game of shooting 42% or better from deep. This nearly single handily made up for the aforementioned difference in bench scoring, which Golden State dominated, 50-21. Four of Brooklyn’s starters reached double figures: Irving, Claxton, Joe Harris (14 points on 4-of-7 from deep), and Royce O’Neale (16 points, also on 4-of-7) from deep. Ben Simmons was the only Nets starter to not reach double figures with seven points and played only 29 minutes experiencing some back discomfort.
Brooklyn got off to a nice start behind two made threes from O’Neale, one of which came after he dribbled the ball in transition and created for himself. The Nets got off to an 8-2 advantage. Irving, who always takes matchups with Steph Curry personally, was locked in early. His hot streak from Utah continued on jump shots, and after missing a layup, he battled for two offensive boards to eventually get the putback. Unfortunately, the Warriors closed the final six minutes of the quarter on a 23-11 run to give Golden State the 33-28 lead after one quarter of play.
Though Brooklyn got off to a good early start, Vaughn was forced to call timeout at the 10:36 mark to sub out a limping T.J. Warren, who later returned. DiVincenzo could not miss for the Warriors, dropping in four made threes in just 10 minutes of play for Golden State. The Warriors began intentionally fouling Claxton on nearly every catch to send him to the free-throw line, where he went 1-for-5 from the charity stripe in the first half. Behind that strategy, the Warriors grew their lead to 72-60 at the half.
“This is great for Nic because he’s gonna be counted on when playoffs come around. And if a team wants to use that strategy, he’ll continue to gain confidence and getting to the line and shooting,” said Vaughn about Golden State’s strategy. “And so we kept him out there. He’ll continue to be out there if a team wants to take that strategy.”
The Nets turned up the screws defensively and opened the third on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 75 apiece. Then, at the 3:31 mark, the Nets took their first lead after Claxton hit a sweeping layup over the top of Kevon Looney. However, when Irving and Claxton sat, the Warriors took the lead once more to close the quarter on an 8-0 run. Golden State entered the fourth quarter with a 90-86 lead.
The wheels began to fall off in the fourth as Golden State’s firepower took hold to give the Dubs a 10-point lead. Fortunately, the Nets had one more run in them, a 9-2 one, as Claxton and Irving, Brooklyn’s two-best players since Durant went down, put the team on their backs to chip Golden State’s advantage down to 3 points. Then finally, at the 1:50 mark, the Nets ran a play with an exit screen for Joe Harris in the corner to generate a 3-pointer and tie the game.
Brooklyn took the lead at the 1:21 mark when Irving hit a pull-up jumper, plus the foul, over a contest from Klay Thompson. Steph Curry was fouled on the other end and made both free throws to swing things back in Golden State’s favor. After two missed shots from Irving and then Curry, Golden State blitzed Irving up top and so Kyrie kicked the ball to the wide-open Royce O’Neale, who splashed the clutch shot. Brooklyn never looked back and pulled off the shocking upset in San Francisco.
“I think just the work coming in every day, working hard on my craft, and being confident in myself during these games. I mean, these guys having a lot of trust me, finding me,” said O’Neale about his clutch three-pointer. “And me just having the trusting and having the competence in myself being that guy.”
The Film Room
This was one of Kyrie Irving’s best passing games of the season. At the very least, it was one of his most impactful. He finished with 9 assists, which tied a season-high for him.
Irving’s expertise in shot-making will likely garner much of the attention after this one, but it was his consistency as a passer that made the difference on Sunday. The Nets’ star guard repeatedly made the right play and either hunted for his shot appropriately or dished to an open teammate when the defense converged. That’s been a trend for Irving in his last two games. He’s been in every sense of the word(s), a point guard.
The play below was one of Brooklyn’s best ball-movement sequences of the game. Golden State did a nice job closing out on numerous occasions, with Draymond Green, especially, flying around defensively. But then Irving completes the play on this nice bounce pass to T.J. Warren for the up-and-under finish.
The ball movement you love to see pic.twitter.com/1FObBwGhDI— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 23, 2023
Not only have Claxton and Irving been Brooklyn’s two-best players since Durant went down—and are a big reason the Nets are 2-4 instead of 0-6, to be honest—they’ve also seen their chemistry improve considerably in the two-man game. Claxton’s positioning and readiness to finish have improved considerably this season, and it seems like Irving’s starting to notice. He just seems more prepared to find Claxton on plays like this nice behind-the-back dish for the dunk.
Starting off the game in style pic.twitter.com/sNjkWxVuax— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 23, 2023
While this lob isn’t perfectly on target, Claxton’s catch radius is so absurd that it’s a relatively easy finish for the athletic young big man. Just the fact that Irving is even throwing lobs is a big deal. That wasn’t something we saw all too often in previous seasons between Claxton and Irving.
Lob it up and Clax will take care of the rest pic.twitter.com/L4XukNi182— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 23, 2023
But of course, here’s the most important play of the game. Irving, who has had his share of fourth-quarter heroics this season, felt this double-team from Golden State at the free-throw line and made the right play: He kicked to Royce O’Neale, who drained the three-pointer that ultimately decided the game.
“I felt like [the Warriors] did a great job of staying on my body, keeping the game physical, and making it tough. But I felt like my teammates had a lot of great looks and for me to draw in the defense, draw in two, three. For them to lose their man and Royce be wide open,” said Irving. “I feel like that was the best shot for our team. So I gave up the ball and trusted him to make it and luckily it went in.”
Irving deserves a ton of credit for giving up the rock in a key moment and trusting his teammates to win the ball game. As he said:
“I told you guys that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be the first option or the second option or the main one. This is just a message for everybody at home: first option, the second option, third option, they don’t f***ing matter to me,” Irving said postgame. “It doesn’t matter who has the ball in their hands as long as they’re being aggressive, and it’s the best shot for our team.
“The objective of this team sport is to win basketball games; not identify one person to carry everybody every single night. Some nights it’s gonna occur like that or seems like that. For me, it’s the team attitude, team atmosphere, and living the results with us playing together and collectively.”
- Brooklyn’s 16 road wins are the second-most road wins in the league this season.
- The Nets have swept the season series with Golden State for the second time in the last three seasons.
- For the first time in his career, Kyrie Irving has dropped 30+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists in three-straight games.
- Kyrie Irving passed the 15,000 point mark in the third quarter. By game’s end, he had recorded 15,025 points total, passing Mike Miller for the 146th slot all-time.
- Nic Claxton has registered three or more blocks in 12 straight games, the longest streak of 3+ games in franchise history. This broke Shawn Bradley’s record, who held it previously with 11 consecutive games which he accomplished twice in 1996.
- Claxton leads the league with 12 double-doubles with three or more blocks. Second in this category is Anthony Davis with 10 such games. Claxton’s 15 double-doubles are a team-high, and he’s recorded four double-doubles in his last five games.
- Claxton has had three-straight games of 20-point games. His 24 points against Golden State represented a career-high to go with his career-high 15 rebounds.
As Sponge Bob might say...
Brooklyn heads to Philadelphia on Wednesday for the final game of its road trip before heading home on Thursday. Coverage against the 76ers begins at 7:30 PM on ESPN.
For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Golden State Of Mind, our Warriors sister site.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 120, Golden State Warriors 116 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 120, Golden State Warriors 116 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights; Duel - Top Point Guard Battle! Kyrie Irving / 38 PTS & Steph Curry / 26PTS (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Kyrie Irving vs. Warriors / 38 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Highlights: Nicolas Claxton vs. Warriors / 24 PTS (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Nic Claxton on his 24-point night (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Nets’ ability to keep pushing and fighting back (Video) - YES Network
- Kyrie Irving postgame (Video) - YES Network
- Royce O’Neale postgame (Video) - YES Network
- O’Neale’s late 3-pointer lifts Nets past Warriors 120-116 - Janie McCauley - AP
- Nets lean on starters to sneak by Warriors - Reuters
- Kyrie Irving rallies Nets to thrilling win over Warriors - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Nic Claxton welcoming opponents intentionally fouling him: ‘I don’t care’ - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Kyrie Irving scores 38 and Nic Claxton has a career night as Nets top Warriors - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Nets stun Warriors with 120-116 comeback victory - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Vaughn’s Trust In Claxton Despite Free Throw Woes Pays Off In Nets’ Stunning Win Over Warriors - Steve Lichtenstein - Steve’s Newsletter
- Nets’ Not Shying Away From Opponents Intentionally Fouling Nic Claxton - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Kyrie Irving’s Strong Message On Being The No. 1 Option - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Warriors squander big lead, fall to Nets 120-116; 4th straight home loss - C.J. Holmes - San Francisco Chronicle