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Short-handed Brooklyn Nets win thriller against Miami Heat, 109-105

Brooklyn, down four rotation players in Miami, relied on their bench to lead the way to an exhilarating victory.

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets first win on Monday night was a welcome sight after an 0-2 start, but even though they played the Charlotte Hornets without Nic Claxton, Cam Johnson, and after just 13 minutes, Spencer Dinwiddie, it wasn’t the tallest task in the world. The Hornets played defense like the Hornets we all know, and Brooklyn dropped 133 on ‘em.

In order to secure their first winning-streak of the season, the Nets would have to venture into Miami and beat the Heat in their building without all three aforementioned staters, plus Dennis Smith Jr., a late scratch due to a left hip contusion. Before the ball was even tipped, we already knew Brooklyn would have to rely on the depths of their bench.

Well, on Wednesday night in Miami, necessity was indeed the mother of invention. Despite the injuries, despite the game being the third of four straight on the road, Vaughn went ten deep and pushed all the right buttons. With no margin for error, especially as Miami took a 15-point lead in the third quarter, Brooklyn rallied to capture what may become the season’s signature win, no matter how successful the next 78 games are.

And boy did it feel nice for Nets fans to be on the right side of one of these heart-stopping barn-burners for once!

Final score: Brooklyn 109, Miami 105.

Wednesday’s first half immediately tested the the aforementioned Brooklyn bench. Mikal Bridges scored eight quick points, but Cam Thomas struggled mightily, missing his first four shots and abandoning the quick decision-making that had been so impressive to start the season. Miami built multiple leads that were on the verge of snowballing into a blowout, like a 25-17 edge in the first quarter or a 56-40 cushion in the second, but the Nets got enough offense from their reserves to keep the game competitive.

Lonnie Walker IV, far removed from an Opening Night in which he was a healthy DNP, was primed for big minutes in this one following two impressive performances in Dallas and Charlotte. And while his first half against the Heat was a little more uneven, his energy occasionally unbound at times, resulting in two turnovers, Brooklyn needed it. Walker’s team-leading 12 points in the first half came in typical fashion, featuring six free-throw makes, two transition layups, and this step-back jumper:

Then, we had a trio of Nets debuts, all with varying degrees of success. Jalen Wilson, Brooklyn’s second-round pick this past June, played six solid if unspectacular minutes, registering a rebound and a block. Trendon Watford, who entered training camp with a non-guaranteed deal, played five nice minutes in the first quarter, registering two assists and this nice bucket:

But the real star of Brooklyn’s first half, if there was one, was Armoni Brooks. Brooks wasted no time in his first NBA action since the 2021-’22 season, showcasing his signature skill, long-range shooting: Bombs away!

If not for Brooks, who scored 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting, the Nets would have suffered a far worse fate than a manageable 56-46 halftime deficit. (The same goes for Jaime Jaquez Jr. — the Heat’s first-round rookie starting in place of the injured Kevin Love and Caleb Martin — if he had managed to make even one of his seven shots in the first half, many of them wide-open.)

Instead, the Heat followed a familiar formula, with three double-digit scorers by intermission: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro leading the way with 16. Renowned Nets-killer Thomas Bryant contributed eight points when Adebayo sat:

The second looked like it was going to follow the same script: a sloppy, uneven game on both sides where the Heat’s superior talent and slightly more controlled decision-making would provide them a double-digit cushion throughout. Neither team threw a punch for the first ten minutes of the third quarter, instead ducking and weaving within a 10-to-15-point lead for the hosts.

Rather than Brooklyn’s first two games, nail-biters that went down to the wire, this one mirrored the Nets’ wire-to-wire domination of the Charlotte Hornets, only this time, they were the ones that couldn’t find their footing. Until the reserves checked back in.

Armoni Brooks, who had to fight for just a two-way contract with the Nets by turning in a strong Summer League, continued to shoot the rock, ultimately finishing with 17 points on seven hyper-efficient shots. He didn’t even get to the line! But when you’re sniping like this, you don’t need to:

“It just all comes down to your preparation, your work ethic, teammates and coaching staff having trust in you, and whenever you get that opportunity just trying your best to take advantage of it,” said Brooks of his performance.

Meanwhile, Watford, who was waived by a Portland Trail Blazers team that must claw, scrape and scratch to win 25 games this season, was hot on his trail. Not only did he defend with intensity and dish out four assists in a point-forward role, but after clanking his only 3-point attempt in this first half off the backboard, missing the rim entirely, he capped a wild sequence with a swish from the corner to give Brooklyn their first lead since 5-2:

Watford finished with a healthy 11/4/4 line in just 14 minutes, impacting the game far more often than you’d expect from a 13th-or-so man. Really, he and Brooks both played that way on Wednesday night. Their chances at minutes are anything but a given. Hell, same goes for their chances at being on an NBA roster. But they didn’t take their first opportunity as Nets lightly, and came in firing. Thank goodness they did, because Brooklyn needed every shot they took.

“I know how to stay ready and I know how to, just, always attack everyday with the right mindset,” said Watford of his performance, echoing Brooks’ message.

That duo checked out midway through the fourth quarter, leaving the Nets to close with a lineup of Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, Bridges, and Thomas. Those five subjected Nets fans to what they’re used to: dangerously high blood pressure.

Jimmy Butler, as he does, transitioned from being helpful contributor to Killer Mode late, always a scary sight. But Brooklyn conjured up an even scarier closer: their team defense. Vaughn and his players turned the switching dial all the way to 100, ensuring that Adebayo was covered on his rolls, and that when Thomas would cover him, he’d quickly be replaced by Finney-Smith or Simmons.

But really, all five Nets were all over the place. Simmons and Thomas each got stops on Butler, Bridges came up with huge rebounds, and O’Neale and Finney-Smith were vocal even through the broadcast as an under-sized front-court.

“I think it started tonight with our defensive mindset, especially in the second half,” said Vaughn, who was far from surprised by the success his team, shifting through lineups that had barely, if ever, played together.

In fact, Vaughn had planned for this situation in pre-season: “I wanted to mix the groups up. I envision our group playing different people, different positions, and conceptually being able to handle those situations because it’s not plays. You’re not coming down in half-court. You see me two minutes to go in the game. I was still telling our guys to run.”

As a result, the Nets maintained their lead with a relatively unsurprising lineup after an O’Neale 3-pointer put them up 92-90, despite Miami getting as close as one single point. Herro hit late, desperation 3-pointers, but the Nets kept their cool as Bridges dropped in clutch free-throws to finish with a 21/7/5 line as Brooklyn’s leading scorer and one of six Nets in double-figures.

Vaughn credited Bridges for getting his buckets “in the flow of things. At the end of the day, they’re not forced, not pressed. So that’s progress for him, and then for him to make the big plays at the want the ball at the end of the game.”

One of the six double-digit scorers was Dorian Finney-Smith, who hit the biggest basket of the game:

For over two minutes, Brooklyn and Miami were locked at 101-99, staring each other in the eyes as each team missed shot after shot, the tension in the Kaseya Center reaching palpable levels. Who knew that Finney-Smith would be the one to release it by attacking a close-out and finishing with his left hand?

But that was the story of Brooklyn’s victory over the defending Eastern Conference champions. Everybody who played contributed in various ways. Even Cam Thomas, who came crashing down by shooting 4-of-19, had three steals. Ben Simmons had his worst game of the season, posting a 4/11/5 line with four turnovers and some serious lowlights...

...but closed out an impressive victory with defending and rebounding prowess.

There are certainly areas for the Nets to improve upon, such as late-game execution — the referees likely missed separate back-court and traveling violations on Brooklyn attempting to break Miami’s press in the final minute — but no amount of nitpicking can overshadow what was more than just a feel-good win for the Brooklyn Nets.

Ian Eagle summed up the attitude of fans everywhere when the final buzzer sounded: “How can you not love this team?”

Milestone Watch

The list is long and oh so positive.

  • Cam Thomas scored only 13 points, but is still averaging 28.0 a game, ninth in the NBA. So there’s that.
  • The Nets rallied from 16 down to earn a 109-105 win at Miami. This is Nets’ fifth straight win over Heat, matching the longest win streak for Brooklyn over Miami in franchise history. This is also four straight road wins for the Nets in Miami, a new franchise record.
  • Since plus/minus was first tracked (1996-97), Nets +30 or better in 16 or fewer minutes in a game: Armoni Brooks - +30 in 16 minutes - tonight at Miami and Kevin Garnett - +34 in 16 minutes - December 16, 2013 vs. Philadelphia
  • Off the bench tonight: Armoni Brooks - 17 points (5-of-6 from three) in his Nets debut. Lonnie Walker IV - 16 points - third straight game in double figures. Trendon Watford - 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, also in his Nets debut.
  • The Nets entered tonight’s game leading the league in rebound percentage. Brooklyn posted a 47-46 edge (27-19 in second half) on the glass tonight. Nets have out-rebounded each of their first four opponents after not out-rebounding four straight teams at any point last season.
  • The Nets have posted a 21-11 edge in fastbreak points tonight. Brooklyn has scored 20+ fastbreak points in each of the first four games this season, marking their longest streak of games with 20+ fastbreak points since the 2002-03 season.
  • Mikal Bridges played in his 396th consecutive game but when he didn’t start the second half, there was some concern about No. 397. Bridges returned of course after getting treatment for rib soreness.

Joyous Debuts

It’s hard to imagine a more successful pair of Nets debuts than the work Watford and Brooks put it, especially considering their place in the rotation, or apparent lack of it when the team is healthy. Heck, Jacque Vaughn even took the time to praise “Jalen Wilson getting his first minutes as a as a professional, getting a blocked shot, just being all over the place.”

It’s clear that all three, even with Wilson and Brooks on two-way contracts, are part of the fabric in Brooklyn. Just try to get through Meghan Triplett’s postgame interview on YES without smiling:

And for Brooks and Wilson as two-way players, they were not afforded the luxury of keeping a one-track mind leading up Wednesday's game in Miami, as they were transferred from Long Island to the big-league club prior to the contest. Just listen to Brooks discuss his hectic past few days, starting G-League training camp in the midst of Brooklyn’s road trip, only to join them on it:

Of his oh-so-valuable two-way contributors, Vaughn joked, “I’m gonna take [Long Island Nets Head Coach] Mfon Udofia out to breakfast next time I see him. We needed those two tonight.”

Injury Updates

It took less than a week for the Brooklyn Nets to return to their rightful status as one of the most injury-riddled teams in the NBA. Sigh.

The good news is that most of the injuries are of the minor variety, and Jacque Vaughn doesn’t seem too concerned about them, particularly for guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both attempted to play on Wednesday in Miami, with Smith Jr. even going through warmups, but neither could go. As a result, Vaughn termed each as “day-to-day.”

Regarding Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton, Vaughn did not provide an update on either one. Johnson is still scheduled to be reevaluated around November 8th for a calf injury, and while Claxton is still officially “day-to-day,” he’s a step behind the guards. Look for a potential return during Brooklyn’s upcoming home-stand.

There were also two non-injuries suffered during Nets-Heat on Wednesday that seem, for now, insignificant. Bridges did not start the third quarter, as Meghan Triplett reported that he was being treated for a blow to the ribs during halftime. Bridges, however, checked into the game fairly quickly, and that was that. Simmons also headed to the locker room after a substitution in the third quarter, but returned in the fourth with no update necessary from Triplett or the Nets.

What’s Next?

The Chicago Bulls host the Nets Friday at 8:00 p.m. ET, the first game that will count in NBA Commissioner’s Cup play. The Bulls, like the Nets, are 2-2.

For another take on Wednesday’s game, head on over to HotHotHoops.