The first time the Brooklyn Nets faced the Boston Celtics, the circumstances were less than ideal. Not only was it the second night of a cross-city back-to-back, but the Nets were missing Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons, and Cam Johnson.
For their second matchup on Friday night, little had changed. Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons (this time with a new, hip injury) were sidelined, and the good news of Cam Johnson’s return after a seven-game absence was offset by the absence of the other Cam, Thomas, who had scored 27 against Boston in that first game.
Thankfully, Brooklyn was not playing a back-to-back this time, although this time, the Celtics were playing host at TD Garden. In any case, the Nets had their work cut out for them on Friday. Not that that was anything new for the team; a tough schedule and plump injury reports have been the story of their 4-4 start.
Make that 4-5. Boston controlled Brooklyn from the outset of this one. Mikal Bridges hit a pull-up jumper early in the first quarter to give the Nets a 5-4 lead, and that was the last time they’d hold the edge in this one. Brooklyn needed to play a perfect game and then some to take this one down to the wire, as they often have this season.
They did not.
Final score: Boston 121, Brooklyn 107
Just as the Celtics were down Derrick White when they came to Brooklyn, they were missing another of their vaunted top-6 on Friday, this time in Al Horford. In their first In-Season tournament game (Brooklyn’s second) Boston still had the luxury of trotting out the Eastern Conference’s best starting lineup through two weeks of play, but their bench was vulnerable.
That was the story of the first half, 24 minutes in which Boston’s bench shot 33% from deep, while the starters shot 50%, nearly running their guests out of the gym on multiple occasions. Jayson Tatum initially struggled when putting the ball on the floor, as the Nets sent aggressive doubles to him after a dribble or two, but then he just started firing from deep on his way to 13 first-half points:
Jaylen Brown led his squad with 21 in the first half, hitting four triples of his own while dropping four dimes. Few of his shots were uncontested, but it didn’t matter — the star wing was seeing red.
The Nets starters didn't shoot poorly, far from it. Every starter made a 3-pointer in the first half, including Spencer Dinwiddie raining down three of ‘em in the first five minutes:
Spencer Dinwiddie leading the way with nine, already has three triples, including this 25-footer: pic.twitter.com/CsMlYDQ8jg— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 11, 2023
Yet, the Nets couldn’t keep up with their high-powered opponent. Not until the reserves checked in, anyway. Day’Ron Sharpe, Trendon Watford, and Lonnie Walker were the first substitutions in the game, and the latter two wasted no time getting to work. Watford scored six points in his first four minutes, ultimately finishing with 14/7/3, and one more coast-to-coast take for the collection:
We even saw an early all bench lineup, with the additions of Dennis Smith Jr. and Armoni Brooks, though Brooks wouldn’t score on the night.
And — stop me if you’ve heard this before — but it was Walker’s bench scoring that provided the essential boost for Brooklyn in the first half. The 24-year-old reserve led the Nets with 13 points before the break, including a couple impressive buckets to save his squad from total destruction:
Lonnie is FEELIN' IT— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 11, 2023
13 points in the first half pic.twitter.com/7f8cenvmsX
The Nets trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, but cut it to a manageable 66-54 deficit prior to the third quarter.
Said Jacque Vaughn: “Yeah, I think you give that [bench] group a lot of credit for even their first and really getting us back into the game..give them a lot of credit for continuing to be great teammates and locked into the game plan and giving what they had.”
The second half followed the same script, with Boston opening up an 18-point lead early in the third quarter before each team pulled some starters. Walker, Watford, and Smith Jr., who finished with 14/4/7 and zero turnovers, took turns attacking Luke Kornet under the basket, a welcome reprieve after Kristaps Porzingis checked out. Brooklyn’s bench mob, led by that trio, cut it to 93-84 by the start of the fourth quarter. Walker put up 20/7/4, his second 20-piece in a row, to lead Brooklyn.
Vaughn attributed another strong performance from his reserve guard to “playing with confidence. I don’t think I’ve told him one shot was bad yet, so I think it’s a pretty good life to live for a guy who wants to score the basketball...I think he’s playing with an extreme amount of freedom and trying to make the right play. And we need his scoring. Again another efficient night from him in quality minutes off the bench.”
Yet, despite Walker’s best efforts, it was Boston who would throw the final punch, knocking the Nets out with an 18-6 run to begin the final frame.
Jayson Tatum did not shoot as well as his star counterpart in Brown, who led the C’s with 28, but as has been the case for the Celtics all season, Tatum’s lineups dominated. He finished as a whopping +28 leading an early fourth-quarter unit accompanied by Jrue Holiday (+26, and a near triple-double with 13/12/9) to send the Nets’ starters packing for the night:
Boston needed offense contributions from just two of their reserves to seal the deal in Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser, who each shot 5-of-10 to combine for 28 points.
On the whole, it was a forgettable night for Brooklyn’s leading men. Most of them didn’t register a tick in the fourth quarter; none hit 30 minutes on the night. Cam Johnson shot well from deep in his return (3-6), but couldn’t buy a bucket inside the arc (4-of-13 overall) to finish with 11 points.
Perhaps a bit hard on himself, Johnson said, “I take a lot of personal responsibility for this one. Just miscues and out of position and not taken advantage of opportunities I know I can so you know, that falls on my shoulders a lot.”
Mikal Bridges and Dinwiddie, even after the latter’s hot start, each finished with a dozen. The curious case of Dinwiddie’s minutes continued as well; even before extended garbage time, he did not close the first half, the third quarter, nor did he not open the final frame. Just 20 minutes on the night for the Nets’ starting point guard, who added four boards and four assists.
“Well, once I saw that he had played 20 minutes, I believe, then I was in a mode of just really conserving the whole group at the end of the day,” said Vaughn. “That’s really the answer, so no one played over 27, and we got an afternoon game. I was thinking about just conserving some energy and getting ready for the next one.”
Dorian Finney-Smith scored nine points on 3-5 from deep, and Royce O’Neale dished four assists, each continuing their strong play in those areas. But neither forward could contribute enough to stop the Boston onslaught, despite valiant efforts when bodying up to Porzingis in the post, who scored just nine points.
At 116-92 in favor of the Celtics, their largest lead of the night, the plug was officially pulled. Joe Mazzulla sent his deepest reserves to the scorers’ table, and that was that. The only noteworthy event for the remainder of the evening was the Brooklyn debut of Harry Giles III, his first NBA action in over two years, since March 2021.
Giles scored seven quick points, including a pick-and-pop three, and even doling out a healthy foul on Oshae Brissett, who tried to put the well-traveled big man on a poster long after the outcome was decided.
Giles’ successful return to NBA action was a refreshing aftertaste to an otherwise bitter evening at TD Garden, a night of Brooklyn getting up off the mat until they couldn’t:
Harry Giles played six minutes tonight, his first NBA action in over two years. He scored seven points: pic.twitter.com/lX8MNtBzBY— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 11, 2023
You could point to the disparity in second-chance points, 29-5 in favor of the Celtics despite a more modest, but still lopsided offensive rebounding advantage of 17-9. Boston seemingly hit every 3-pointer off an o-board. Or the turnovers, of which the Nets had 12 to the Celtics’ eight. Again though, the points-off-turnovers battle was a blowout, 18-2 for the men in green.
“Just gotta be better rebounding on both ends, just boxing out and going and getting some on offense too,” said Mikal Bridges.
Such was the story of Friday night’s 14-point, looks-better-than-it-was loss for the Brooklyn Nets. A scrappy team that has excelled at the little things this season handed the ball to East’s most fearsome team too many times. They paid the price for it.
The Return of Harry Giles
Prior to Friday night, Harry Giles’ most recent NBA action came in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs, where his Portland Trail Blazers faced off against the Denver Nuggets. Giles logged four garbage-time minutes in a Game 2 loss. Since then, he’s played in the G-League, suffered another injury, and took some time away from the game.
All that, though, must have felt like ancient history for Giles while he was running up and down the TD Garden floor Friday night. Extra special was the fact that his return to NBA hoop came against close friend Jayson Tatum, who reached out to the league office this summer in support of a change to the CBA that wouldn’t count missed seasons toward NBA service time, a rule that would affect Giles’ ability to sign a two-way contract during the off-season. Ultimately, Giles signed a standard if non-guaranteed deal.
“I reached out in support,” said Tatum to Bleacher Report. “Just trying help my guy. He deserves this shot.”
Tatum wasn’t the only one smiling as Giles took the court Friday night.
Of his teammate’s return, Lonnie Walker said, “It’s a beautiful thing to see. I know he feels very blessed for the opportunity and has been ready. He’s been locked in since training camp, playing to the best of his ability. He can shoot the three and get to the lane. I mean, let’s not forget he was the number one ranked player in the country. That mofo got game.”
Despite the tough loss, Vaughn echoed those statements, grinning from ear-to-ear when asked about Giles: “You see that smile on my face when you said ‘Harry,’ right?...He’s been consistent, he’s competitive. He plays in the stay-ready group and gets that group going. He was good in his minutes, whether it was popping back and making a three, whether it was getting out and running and finishing in transition. I just — I love his story...to see him persevere and to continue and to give himself another chance at this beautiful game, I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
Losing to the Boston Celtics is never easy. At least Nets fans can hang their hat on Harry Giles’ return, of the most inspiring stories of the young NBA season, despite the loss.
NBA Cup Standings
Here’s how the Nets stack up in NBA Cup group play after Friday’s loss in Boston:
Reminder: All teams in their group will play four games, round-robin style, and then the top-seed will be granted automatic entry into the knockout stage. Should the Nets fail to win their group, they’ll still be qualified for a Wild Card berth, although a 3-1 record is certainly a necessity.
Brooklyn’s next two Cup games will be at home, where they’ll unveil their very own special, multi-colored court (two shades of gray.) The Nets host the Magic on Tuesday, November 14th, and the Raptors on Tuesday, November 28th.
Let’s go with the good news first. Friday morning at shoot-around Cam Johnson assured reporters, “I feel good,” multiple times, and that played out on the court Friday night. Johnson may have looked slightly rusty, but more importantly, he looked healthy.
After the loss, Johnson called being back on the court “something that you learn not to take for granted,” following sitting out seven games with the calf strain.
Here’s the less positive news: Jacque Vaughn’s updates on Cam Thomas and Ben Simmons.
Thomas, just having suffered his ankle sprain on Wednesday night, is hardly on the road to recovery. In fact, the young guard stayed in Brooklyn to help aid the resting process. Said Vaughn: “Actually, [his] spirits are pretty good from my conversation with him. Obviously he’s a hooper and he wants to be here playing. We actually left him in Brooklyn so that — you don’t want the swelling when you’re flying those first 48 hours. So he’ll get treatment and we’ll reassess him in two weeks. We’ll miss him, and I’ll be quizzing him on what we’re doing on the floor, texting him. But a good couple weeks of rest for him.”
Meanwhile Simmons’ status was much further up in the air prior to Brooklyn’s trip to Boston. He was originally ruled questionable for Friday’s contest, then ruled out. Here’s how Brooklyn’s head coach described that process: “[Simmons] received treatment, and he’ll continue to receive treatment. Just not in the place where all parties around feel comfortable with him playing at the levels that he’s been playing it. We’ll continue to be day-to-day with this thing. He’ll get some treatment today, tomorrow also, and we’ll what that looks like going forward.”
Yet, Vaughn doesn’t see the hip aggravation as part of a larger, worrisome trend for his Aussie point-forward, saying as much while touching on their ever-evolving relationship pre-game:
““He aggravated his hip in the game the other night. For me, it’s just that simple. Other players have missed games from aggravation from ankles and shins and hamstrings. It’s all in the same bucket,” said Vaughn.
“And so, that’s been the best thing, is Ben has earned the right just like the other players to get hurt, come back, be a player, try to get back on the floor, have the confidence to be a teammate, all those things. I don’t put him differently than any other player. And so the history behind it is the history of previous time and years, and I think that’s why our relationship has grown to where it is. I trust in what he says to me, the work that I’ve seen him do, and he’ll continue to do the work to get back on the floor and help us as a ball club.
With less than 48 hours before Brooklyn’s next game, Simmons’ status is a thing of mystery, and it likely will right up until game time.
With Cam Thomas back in Brooklyn in a boot, there weren’t as many milestones tonight, but there were some; Lonnie Walker IV replaced Thomas as the boldface name in this item.
- Lonnie Walker IV (team-high 20 points) has scored 20+ points in consecutive games (season-best 21 points on Wednesday against the Clippers). This is Walker IV’s first time scoring 20+ points in consecutive games since March 2022 with San Antonio (three straight.)
- Walker IV entered the game leading the league in ppg among players averaging fewer than 25.0 mpg (16.3 ppg in 22.6 mpg). He also entered tonight’s game ninth in the league in offensive rating (122.6). All those numbers increased.
- Walker IV also the first player in franchise history to come off the bench and reach double figures in each of his first eight appearances of a season.
Brooklyn will return home to begin a stretch of 8-out-of-10 at the Barclays Center. Their first game in said stretch will be a Sunday matinee against the Washington Wizards, who love scoring the ball so much they even allow their opponents to join in the fun.
Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET, this Sunday.
For a different perspective on Friday night’s game to CelticsBlog.com
- Box Score: Boston Celtics 121, Brooklyn Nets 107 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Boston Celtics 121, Brooklyn Nets 107 (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn evaluates loss to the Celtics on Friday night (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Johnson on returning to court against Celtics (Video) - YES Network
- Jaylen Brown scores 28 points, Celtics hit 19 3s and beat Nets 121-107 in NBA tournament play - Kyle Hightower - AP
- Jaylen Brown lifts Celtics to in-season tournament win vs. Nets - Reuters
- Decimated Nets lineup gets completely outmatched in loss to Celtics - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Undermanned Nets can’t overcome Jaylen Brown, Celtics’ second-chance points in most lopsided loss of season ($) - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Undermanned Nets fail to execute vs. Celtics, dropping in-season tournament record to 1-1 ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Celtics aren’t perfect yet, but nights like Friday should help them get there ($) - Gary Washburn - Boston Globe