For the first time all season, the Brooklyn Nets took a knockout blow to the dome last night. Putting them on the mat — which honestly looked great decorated in green and gold — was a familiar foe in the Boston Celtics. It was the first time all season the Nets failed to cover the spread, losing by a 121-107 final score
Lonnie Walker IV is officially him. Even as the depleted Nets stumbled through this game, he soared over defenders at all three levels. He finished with 20 points while shooting a crisp 8-of-12 from the field, once more presenting his veteran minimum signing this summer as a true Sean Marks gem.
The further Brooklyn moved down the bench, the more production they got, as Dennis Smith Jr. and Trendon Watford also turned in fine outings for the second time in as many games. They both outscored every Brooklyn starter as well.
None of it was enough to even leave a scratch on Boston, but you’ll take what positives you can in a game the Nets went into without three of their A-listers.
Thankfully, Brooklyn’s death run to start the season is over with easier matchups against the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic on the horizon. But before we move onto those contest, here’s a few more things to gather from a rough night in Beantown.
We (Still) Need More Downhill Action
Infiltrating a paint sealed off at the top by Jrue Holiday and Derrick White while Kristaps Porzingis lurks in the back is no easy task. Doing so without Cam Thomas or Ben Simmons on the floor? You’re essentially trying to break into the White House without Nic Cage’s character from National Treasure.
However, this wasn’t the first time the Nets failed to get downhill at all during a game and suffered for it.
I called out Spencer Dinwiddie’s non-existent rim pressure this year compared to the last after Brooklyn’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers. While Dinwiddie turned in a much better performance last night, he did so only as a shooter, again neglecting to even try and get to the painted area.
The only memory I have of Dinwiddie driving to the hole last night came during the second quarter where he was whistled for an offensive foul after grabbing Porzingis’ jersey to elevate past him. That would draw a flag even on a football field. When you’re committing would-be penalties in full-contact sport in a non-contact one — that’s as obvious of a “no no” as it gets.
I keep putting the blame on Dinwiddie here only because of how well he did probing inside last year, but he’s not at fault alone. Although he’s more of a wing player who’s at his best cutting the basket or shooting it following a drive and kick action, Mikal Bridges has been known to initiate some offensive sets thanks to his lightning quick first step.
Again, you’re kind of asking your guitarist to sing lead vocals by asking Bridges to keep the drive and kick game going all night, but given how abundantly clear it was that Brooklyn could not get anything going, especially during the second half, it would have been nice to see him pick up the microphone.
Adding Nic Claxton back into the fold likely fixes all this. Just putting him in the dunker spot as a threat to finish inside should force defenses to spread themselves out a bit more and open lanes up inside. But even with his absence acknowledged, the Nets should have at least tried to attack more.
Dennis Smith Jr. Always Finds a Way
The line above applies both to Dennis Smith Jr.’s game last night and his career at large. Between all the ups, downs, pros, and cons of his game, you have to respect how DSJ just keeps on trucking.
Last night, the journeyman point guard (yes, even at 25 years old) finished with 14 points while shooting 5-of-10 from the field. He also notched a team-high seven assists and corralled four rebounds.
His performance still had blemishes all the same, most notably during the third quarter when he failed to box out the 6’1” Payton Pritchard at the free throw line. Pritchard collected and finished off a miss after making his first free-throw to complete a 3-point play. The lacking spacing with him on the floor handicapped what was already a stagnant offense without Simmons from time to time as well.
Regardless, Smith Jr. “stayed with it,” as all my childhood coaches you used to say.
He’s not a strong shooter, hitting at a clip well below the league average at nearly every zone between the paint and the 3-point arc. But last night, Smith Jr. hit two mid-range jumpers, both of which he had to create for himself en route to his night tied as Brooklyn’s second leading scorer. The first came against Jaylen Brown and the latter vs Sam Hauser.
I’m not here to sing Smith Jr.’s praises over two jump shots in a game that Brooklyn lost by 14 points. But the way that he’s been consistently gritting himself to solid outings is something to behold.
Whether he’s making an impact with his limited skills as a shooter by leaking out in transition, playing lock-down defense, and making timely cuts to the basket, or hitting uncharacteristically tough shots that will leave opponents scratching their heads, Smith Jr. just keeps finding ways to produce. With Brooklyn’s depleted team right now, he deserves the minutes he’s getting as long as he keeps doing that.
Cameron Johnson is Back
The Nets played what’s statistically one of the best starting fives in league history last night missing three starters last night while on the road. Call me a cynic if you want, and I know we’ve seen crazier things happen, but if you expected the team to win, I don’t know what to tell you.
If you’re like me, you mainly tuned in to see how Cam Johnson looked after missing seven straight games with a left calf strain. I’m pleased to say he showed no signs of a lagging injury by my eyes.
Johnson came up with just 11 points while shooting 4-of-13 from the field, but he did do what the Nets will be paying him to do for the next four years — shoot 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
“You just learn not to take opportunities that you have for granted and games that you have for granted,” said Johnson. “They’re finite. So from that perspective it was good to get back out there.”
It was no box score delight, but Johnson looked good shooting the ball and moved well around the floor. Nets fans know better than most how difficult soft muscle injuries can be to navigate. Last night was a good first step in getting out of those woods.