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Brooklyn Nets defeat Washington Wizards in What Hardly Qualifies as NBA Basketball Game, 102-94

A win is a win is a win. It wasn’t pretty, but the Nets defeated the Wizards at home on Sunday to once again move to .500 on the season.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After an 0-2 start to the season, the Brooklyn Nets swam to the surface, their record either .500 or within a game of it for the last two weeks. To continue treading water amidst a rash of early-season injuries, they’d need a win over the visiting Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon.

While the Nets were coming off only a semi-competitive Friday night loss to the Boston Celtics, that had more to do with Boston’s level of play than Brooklyn’s. No, a 4-5 record doesn’t scream excellence, but it’s hard to think of a prolonged stretch of poor basketball from the black-and-white this season.

Did that make Sunday’s matinee against Washington a trap game for the Nets? Are we sure they’re good enough to earn such contests? In his pregame comments, Jacque Vaughn alluded to the trap-potential, calling the Wizards a “deadly team if you’re not paying attention tonight, for sure.”

So, did the Brooklyn Nets pay attention on Sunday afternoon? Sort of. And were the Wizards deadly as promised? Kind of.

In an ugly affair befitting an early tip-off, Brooklyn battled both the opponent and themselves for 48 sluggish minutes, while Washington failed to provide any explosive offense. A lackluster contest on both sides resulted in a close game, yet another opportunity for the Nets to come through in the clutch.

And they did. The game may not have been a moral victory for Brooklyn, but, much more importantly, it was a real victory, and moved the Nets to 5-5.

Final score: Brooklyn 102, Washington 94.

There is no proof that either the Washington Wizards, the Brooklyn Nets, or both squads, enjoyed New York City’s nightlife scene on Saturday night. But should some emerge, it wouldn’t be a shock based on the way the two teams shot the basketball in the first quarter.

After 12 minutes, the Nets and Wizards combined to go 4-25 from deep, “good” for 16%. Yet, only Washington’s point-total suffered as you’d expect. Brooklyn won the period 30-15, thanks to two main reasons, the first being Mikal Bridges.

Despite shooting 57% from two and 89% from the line through nine games, Bridges’ scoring efficiency has taken a hit in the early season due to the disappearance of his 3-point shot. A career 37.4% shooter from range, Bridges entered Sunday hitting just 30% of his attempts from deep. That trend continued in the first quarter, as Brooklyn’s leading wing shot 0-5 from three.

That didn’t slow him down, though. Bridges kept attacking, and went 6-6 from inside the arc in the period, hitting his usual array of pull-up jumpers:

“The threes just hurt when you just keep missing them and you know you’re missing them,” said Bridges. However, he preached the importance of “just staying with it. Just trying to win the game.”

The Nets also grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the frame, their most in a first quarter since their second season in Brooklyn. Neither teams could buy a jumper in the early going, but only the Wizards let the bricks seep in to other areas of the game.

In his first action following a seven-game absence, Nic Claxton accounted for three of those boards, blocked a shot, and even scored himself a bucket in isolation:

Claxton wasted no time reminding his teammates and fans how valuable he is to the Nets, particularly with Ben Simmons missing his third consecutive game with a hip ailment.

It appeared Brooklyn was well on their way to sending an Eastern Conference cellar dweller to an early grave after 12 minutes, particularly with a bench unit that's been one of the league’s strongest taking the floor in the second quarter.

However, it was Washington’s bench, led by rookie Bilal Coulibaly and non-rookie Danilo Gallinari, that impressed. 2023’s seventh-overall pick and 2008’s sixth-overall pick combined for a dozen points and three assists, and Washington hit just enough shots to climb back into a sluggish game.

Had Brooklyn turned up the offense, they may have put the game away before the break. Their dominance on the glass continued (25-17 in the first half), the all-around effort was there, but mistakes and missed opportunities hamstrung them. Brooklyn committed nine turnovers to Washington’s five while shooting just 36% from the floor, including 22% from deep.

A 49-41 halftime lead was no tragedy, but much of the first 24 minutes had many Nets fans feeling like Jacque Vaughn:

The third quarter was more in line with expectations; two of the fastest-paced teams in the league who each take a lot of 3-pointers played to their strengths.

At first, it was the Nets running and gunning, and they re-opened a ten-point lead at 66-56; Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith (six points on the night) hit back-to-back bombs, while Claxton rolled to the rim and Bridges hit pull-up jumpers. The offense wasn’t operating at maximum efficiency, but it felt familiar, and acceptable considering how putrid Washington’s starting lineup shot the ball.

Through three quarters, the Wizards’ three leading scorers — Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Poole, and Deni Avidja — were shooting 13-36. For a team like Washington, who entered Sunday posting league-average offense with the NBA’s second-worst defense, that should have been a death sentence. But the normally-stable Brooklyn bench couldn’t take advantage

Coulibaly finished as Washington’s leading scorer in the best performance of his young career, putting up 18/7/3 with three steals. He was the best guard off either bench. Lonnie Walker shot just 2-8 to score five points in his first subpar showing as a Net, and while Dennis Smith Jr. scored eight points with six assists, the miscues piled up, including four turnovers:

Meanwhile, Danilo Gallinari scored a modest dozen, but was a team-high +12, operating as a small-ball center and the hub of an effective offense at the top of the key. Corey Kispert and Landry Shamet, ex-Net, ran around screens and relocated their way to eight points each, and were each on the court when Washington took their first lead of the night at 82-81:

Nic Claxton cited a few reasons for Brooklyn’s worst stretch of the game: “We just were a little lackadaisical. We turned the ball over, we didn't really get into our sets efficiently on offense and we just had some slippage.”

The rest of the fourth quarter turned into a who-wants-it-less affair; Wes Unseld Jr. nearly let it ride the whole way with his bench, but subbed his starters back in with five minutes left, tied at 87. The questionable move paid off at first; Poole hit a three, Kuzma made a layup, and the Wizards took a 92-87 lead. Was Brooklyn really going to blow this?

No. That honor belonged to the visitors, who did not score another point until the game was decided until a meaningless dunk with ten second left. Brooklyn’s late-game offense was hardly prettier; Bridges and Johnson worked in isolation, producing uninspiring results. Luckily, Washington granted the Nets just enough transition opportunities to right the ship:

Bridges did not have the prettiest scoring night, shooting 11-29 on his way to 27 points, but with Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas out, in addition to Walker’s ineffectiveness and Johnson’s obvious rust (5-16 for 14 points), the Nets needed every shot he took. Bridges did what he had to do, and the 9-15 performance from two was far more reflective of his process than the 2-14 he shot from deep. Throw in 13 rebounds, a career-high for Bridges, and while his day may not have been one to remember, it was one to be appreciated. There is no shame in winning ugly.

Said Bridges: “There was just no other way. You gotta win. We were down, so you gotta get stops to win, we just locked in and pulled it through. I don’t think anybody on that court wanted to lose, so just wanted to find a way.”

Vaughn did not worry about his wing’s clunky box score, instead focusing on the positives: “And that ball will continue to go in, he works too hard for it not to. But the will to win at the end of the game, to make a play. Whether it’s the free throws, whether it’s the layup, whether it’s the pull-up middy, all those things we need at the end of the game, and his will to win is really high level.”

If Bridges was the offensive closer, Claxton assumed that role on the defensive end. In addition to a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double, Clax blocked four shots, the biggest being this denial of Kuzma in transition:

“You know, we talked about before the game just the impact that Nic has on our defensive end of the floor,” said Vaughn. “The plays that he made at the end of the game, whether it’s the block to save a basket, whether it’s a deterrent at the rim on two other plays, the ability to switch at the end of the game and keep a body in front of the body, so we missed that. And good to see him back out there.”

Each side had every opportunity to win this game. Kuzma shot 4-16 to score 15 points; his stat-line would have been entirely unremarkable if not for a -29 plus/minus, almost impressive in an eight-point loss. Poole wasn’t much better with a -22 while posting 12 points, two assists, and three turnovers.

You can argue the Nets should have lost this game. Against a team that wasn’t the Washington Wizards, they might have. But wins and losses aren’t hypothetical, and the 5-5 record they now own doesn’t discriminate. The story of this game won’t be the many negatives, like the 25% 3-point performance the 18 turnovers. Nor will it be the positives, such as the 46-35 rebounding advantage and the performances of Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton. Those two will certainly have sexier ones as the season wears on.

Instead, the story will be much simpler: The Brooklyn Nets pulled out a victory, and we can all move on.

Said Claxton: “We would rather have an ugly win than an ugly loss anyday.”

Milestone Watch

Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds are the story of today’s Milestone Watch:

  • As mentioned, Bridges’ 13 boards set a new personal record, and his eight first-half snags also tied a career-best for a half. (His 29 shot attempts? Also, predictably, a career-high)
  • Bridges and Claxton each had 13 rebounds. Throw in Day’Ron Sharpe’s 12, and that makes the first Nets trio with double-digit boards in a game since 12/14/21, when Kevin Durant, David Duke Jr., and Kessler Edwards pulled it off.
  • Brooklyn’s 20 offensive boards blew past their previous season-high of 14 set against the Los Angeles Clippers.
  • Though the final 36 minutes were a mixed bag, Brooklyn sure did dominate that 30-15 first quarter. The 15-point edge was their second-largest in any quarter of the season so far (+19 in the 1Q against the Charlotte Hornets). And their nine offensive boards in the frame matched the most in an opening period since a 12/5/13 contest vs. the New York Knicks.

Injury Update

With Nic Claxton’s return and Cam Johnson’s second game back, this section will be as light as its been all season. Which is to say, we still have some bumps and bruises to cover.

Cam Thomas is still at least a week out from re-evaluation, so no update on his status. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons’ hip ailment was changed from “soreness” to a “contusion” on Brooklyn’s injury report.

Yet, Jacque Vaughn poured cold water on the idea that Nets fans should be concerned about the update: “No, same injury. I guess we’re just a little bit more specific in the reporting but nothing really to add from the original injury. Still day-to-day. So we got some more treatment and we’ll see how he responds on a daily basis.”

Finally, this Lonnie Walker fall should not go unmentioned when discusses his struggles on Sunday:

Walker did return in the second half and talked to reporters after the game. The guard, who’s been a revelation off the bench, said he doesn’t see himself missing any games. However, that followed this eyebrow-raising quote: “My knee has just been sore since game two and in a lot of pain. Just been playing through it for the most part, damn near playing on one leg. Kind of just reaggravated it a little bit, but for the most part, I’m good.”

Certainly a situation to keep an eye on for the man who entered Sunday’s action as the third-leading scorer on the Brooklyn Nets.

Next Up

2023 NBA Mexico Games - Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will stay in Brooklyn and debut their special NBA Cup court, as they play host to the Orlando Magic, making their tournament debut. Not only will the Nets be looking to climb above .500 in terms of their regular-season record, but a 1-1 start to the Cup adds a little more pressure to this one.

Tip-off from the Barclays Center is scheduled for just after 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, November 14.

For a different perspective on Sunday’s game, head on over to Bullets Forever, our SB Nation sister site.