Defense wins championships — and apparently Sunday matinee games against the Washington Wizards. In what was an absolute rock-throwing contest, the Nets walked away with a 99-92 win over the Wiz Kids this afternoon, elevating to 5-5 on the season.
It was like someone snuck into Barclays Center last night and put saran wrap over both hoops. Each team went nearly three minutes without scoring to open the game up. It didn’t get much better from there. You’d imagine some seismic activity was detected from the abundance of shots clanking off the rim, as both squads shot below 50% from the field and 30% from three.
See? Just about as ugly as it can get. But if you’re like me, you were just glad to have something to watch this Sunday afternoon than my putrid New York Giants. Before we burn the tapes on this one though, here’s three things to take away.
Nic Claxton is So Back
The Nets won twice today — most importantly on the score board, but also in getting Nic Claxton back who looked good as new.
Brooklyn’s defensive dynamo finished the game with 10 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and four blocked shots. He also finished shooting 5-of-7 from the field, being the only starter for the Nets tonight who’s field goals made to attempts ratio didn’t look a tour date.
He moved well on the knee, sticking with his man and going after ball throw up toward Brooklyn’s rim like a heat seeking missile. He also converted a number of times creating his own shot off the dribble.
Nic Claxton self-creating from the elbow is a wonderful sight: pic.twitter.com/r30p4iHsgP— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 12, 2023
Claxton’s play and presence frequently pumped life into a Nets crowd today that needed it on a rough shooting night. His best moment came when he rejected a Kuzma layup attempt that would have made it a one-point game with under a minute to play. Claxton did a stare down after the play and everyone at the ‘Clays rocked with it.
As far as his “I’m back” moment goes though, Claxton referred to another block he had before that where he ran seven or eight rows into the seats after coming up with the rejection.
“We talked about before the game the impact that Nic has on our defensive end of the floor,” said Vaughn. “Whether its the blocks, whether its a deterrent at the rim, the ability to switch at the end of the game, and keep a body in front of a body. So, we missed that. Good to see him back out there.”
Mikal Will Stay Firing
Mikal Bridges came into this game shooting 30.2 percent from three on 5.9 attempts per game. That represents an eight point drop off from last year. But even with percentages in Siberia and after 0-5 start to the game, he kept firing away.
Bridges finished with a team-high 27 points, while shooting 11-29 from the field. He also went 2-14 from deep. Those are both career-highs for him in attempts.
“I’ve always liked the 3-point line,” said Bridges postgame. “I don’t think I think about how many threes I get up I just take what the defense gives me and if I’m open I’m gonna shoot them. If they run me off the line I’ll drive. I just go out there, if I’m open I’m gonna shoot.”
To his credit, Bridges did make the right plays down the stretch to help Brooklyn sneak away with a win. When Brooklyn trailed late he set up Cameron Johnson for a triple to cut the Washington lead to three. Right after that he made back-to-back shots that tied the game and then gave Brooklyn the lead. The latter of which came on a smooth, turn around fader over Kyle Kuzma. Bridges also pulled won a career-high 13 rebounds.
Jacque Vaughn encouraged Bridges to shoot more pregame. While I’m sure he’ll take this performance and win any day of the week, he had to have hoped for better results.
Mikal Bridges is shooting a career-low 30.2% from three early this season.— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) November 12, 2023
I asked Jacque Vaughn if he's noticed anything different about where Bridges' threes are coming in Brooklyn's offense:
“I think looking at the shots, it’s been a variance so far this year... What was… pic.twitter.com/WkPeXPN8M6
He was clearly frustrated at halftime when speaking Meghan Triplett. But at the end of the day, I’m sure he too will take the win.
Bridge’s bricks were almost never “bad” misses. If you ask any shooter and they’ll tell you that if you’re missing long or short rather than left or right, you’re usually not off by much. That was the case tonight, and a majority of the shots came on good looks too.
“If you take a look at a lot of the shots he had tonight from three, they’re really good looks,” said Vaughn after the game. “That ball will continue to go in. He works too hard for it not to.”
However, misses are still misses, and Bridges missed a lot tonight. The point is though that Bridges won’t be deterred from shooting. If there was ever a game for him to sit back, it would have been this one, but he never did. But that’s a good thing, as the Nets already have enough players who think twice before taking a shot.
“It’s good,” said Bridges when reflecting on how the team stayed in it late despite his rough night. “I think I can still do better. I had a turnover one time on Poole but, just being in a position as in being able to be okay if I do fail. You know, not worrying to not take the shot. If I miss, I miss. Just having the mindset to go in there try to support and make a play.”
With Brooklyn hitting the road to play the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks in the near future, look for him to get right during those games, as both teams dwell in the league’s bottom half in opponent 3-point percentage.
Gang Rebounding is Here
It only took them five years to figure this one out, but the Nets seemed to have finally gotten a grasp on gang rebounding. The team has done well to reel in misses as a unit all year, but today was a marquee performance.
Brooklyn won the rebounding battle today 42-66. It came as their first dub on the glass since their bout with the Chicago Bulls.
Adding Claxton back to the fold certainly helped get them there, but for as great as Clax is, he’s never been a marquee rebounder. With Ben Simmons out, the team needed to beat out work as a unit on the glass, scratching at the ball, poking it out to teammates, and of course boxing out. They did that and it lead to the win more than anything else by my eyes.
The team effort was reflected in the box score. As I mentioned, Bridges grabbed a career-high 13 boards. Day’Ron Sharpe finished with 12 in 19 minutes of burn. Claxton tied Bridges with 13. In doing that, they became the first Nets trio to with double digit boards in a game since Kevin Durant, David Duke Jr., and Kessler Edwards did so agains the Toronto Raptors two Decembers ago.
To be fair, there was an abundance of missed shots today — leaving an abundance of rebounds up for grabs. Not to take anything away from them, but these accomplishments exist mainly because of volume.
But still, for the Nets to win that fight by such a wide margin is an accomplishment. After watching this team play softer than a wet paper towel on the glass over the past six to eight years, that has to put a smile on your face.
“Yeah we hit the boards, that’s something we’re gonna have to continue to do,” said Claxton postgame. “Mikal, myself, Day’Ron, everybody, we all rebounded in a big way. That was big for us in training camp cause, you know, if you go back these past few years we’ve always been horrendous in the category.”