The Brooklyn Nets played host to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night as part of the NBA Cup group stage, Brooklyn’s third game and Orlando’s debut in the tourney.
“I love our court,” said Jacque Vaughn of the Barclays Center’s two-tone, gray outfit, one of the NBA’s least...aggressively colored designs.
The stakes, however, went beyond playing on novelty hardwood. A loss would unofficially eliminate any chances of the Nets advancing to the knockout stage — only four teams from each conference make it that far. A 1-2 start to a four-game group stage might have been a death knell.
But we’re not going to find out. Despite major foul trouble, the continued absence of Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas, and a brief run of electric shooting from the Orlando Magic, the Nets did not dishonor their special court in its debut. Rather, Brooklyn played aggressive defense and lightning-quick offense, simply swerving around road-bumps that may have throttled teams with lesser make-up.
Final score: Brooklyn 124, Orlando 104.
Prior to the game, Vaughn preached the importance of forcing turnovers, not only to strengthen Brooklyn’s defense but to create transition opportunities without Ben Simmons in the lineup (more on that later). In a departure from typical coach-speak, Vaughn has encouraged the Nets to take more risks on defense in the hopes of creating havoc, saying a more aggressive mindset is necessary “if we’re gonna move the needle in turning people over. There’s some risk that’s involved and we haven’t taken the risks needed to increase that turnover rate.”
His message rang loud and clear in the first quarter on Tuesday night, as the Nets forced five Magic turnovers leading to an early 8-0 advantage in fast-break points:
Forcing a turnover -> an open shot in transition. Jacque Vaughn's pre-game comments are looking clairvoyant: pic.twitter.com/N5GxOaBlhR— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 15, 2023
Other than early foul trouble for Nic Claxton, who picked up three whistles in his first five minutes of action, it was a picture-perfect first 12 minutes for Brooklyn. In addition to forcing turnovers, they collapsed the paint against a drive-heavy Orlando offense, daring their guests to fire 3-pointers.
“Love seeing those fast break points,” said Vaughn. “The ability to turn people over, it’s just that the quality of the shot that you usually get because it’s — you have an advantage in transition. So, the more opportunities that we can create and dictate possessions and be able to turn guys over, that’s only going to be to our advantage.”
On the other end, the ball flowed not only in transition, but in the half-court as well:
nice action for Mikal getting downhill and making a nice skip for a Lonnie Walker three. Really like Brooklyn's offensive start to this one: pic.twitter.com/fZ9RYWjv5N— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 15, 2023
Brooklyn shot 6-13 from deep in the opening frame compared to the Magic’s 3-9. It would have been 2-8, however, if not for a half-court heave at the buzzer from Franz Wagner to cut the Nets’ lead to 33-24:
Whether that shot itself precipitated a momentum shift or merely served as a highlight, the second quarter was a far cry from the first.
Wagner’s 50-footer was the second bucket in a 26-5 run by the Orlando Magic that flipped the game on his head. A second unit that’s been one of the brightest spots of Brooklyn’s 5-5 start suffered for the second game in a row, and it took quite a while for the Nets to regain momentum. After forcing five takeaways in the first quarter, they gave it away five times in the second, leading to seven points for the Magic in transition.
Worse yet, Claxton picked up his fourth foul 20 seconds after checking back into the game...in place of Day’Ron Sharpe, who had picked up three fouls of his own. In any case, Jacque Vaughn refused to go small, or even medium; we did not see any Trendon Watford minutes on Tuesday night.
Instead, Vaughn rocked with Sharpe through the foul trouble, and it paid off. Sharpe posted 11 points and ten boards (five offensive) in just the first half, and was Brooklyn’s shining light in a rocky second quarter.
Spencer Dinwiddie was full of praise for his backup big man, saying, “Day’Ron catches a lot of flack, but man, he plays hard...you see his impact rebounding; he probably has a chance to be one of the more dynamic rebounders in the league given the time and experience and things like that. So you know, that’s a guy cleaning the glass, playing with a ton of effort.”
If not for Sharpe’s contributions, a 60-57 deficit may have been worse, though the same could be said of Dinwiddie, who led all scorers with 14/3/4, looking more aggressive than he had in any of Brooklyn’s first ten games:
Tough, tough take for Spencer Dinwiddie to bring the Nets within three at the half: pic.twitter.com/p8UEvm9Wq5— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 15, 2023
Orlando wasn’t making things easy on their opponent though, lighting the nets (and the Nets) on fire with improved 3-point shooting. Paolo Banchero had 13 and Wagner had eight, while Joe Ingles went 3-of-3 from deep, adding 11 points.
When Jalen Suggs and Wagner each hit a trey in the first two minutes of the third quarter, the Magic were on the verge of separating, re-building their game-high lead of seven.
But Brooklyn responded by embracing the words of Jacque Vaughn: They figured out how to push the ball in the absence of Ben Simmons, creating four more Magic turnovers, put pushing the ball off makes, misses, whistles, and everything in between.
Vaughn attributed the shit to simply being “more aggressive in the second half. A few 50/50 balls that we didn’t come away with in the first half that we were able to grab onto in the second half, so I thought we were definitely more active, more aggressive, deflections, steals, turning them over, our ability to get to offensive rebounding. We’re always talking about that shot-margin. Those are things that really push things in our favor.”
The starters closed the gap to a dead-heat, and the reserves preserved the momentum. Lonnie Walker and Royce O’Neale starred for the latter group, combining for 24 points on 7-of-12 from deep. No matter who was on the floor, though, the Nets turned the third quarter into a highly entertaining track-meet, scoring 13 transition points in the frame.
The third quarter also featured Cam Johnson’s best stretch of his early season, appearing in just his third game. Johnson scored 20 points against Orlando, doing damage after the halftime break, instrumental in the push that would ultimately catapult the Nets over the finish line.
Cam Johnson with a fast-break slam, a personal 7-0 run to give Brooklyn their first lead of the second half: pic.twitter.com/oUy66k8yrV— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 15, 2023
Said Vaughn: “To see him and his ability to shoot the basketball, guard multiple positions, also get downhill, be disruptive on the defensive end the floor, and more length for us, good to see him.”
Brooklyn dominated the fourth quarter by a scorer of 36-18, doubling up an Orlando Magic team that had gone completely cold from outside. The visitors shot just 6-of-23 from deep in the second half; Wagner led the way with 21 points and Banchero followed with 19, but neither was as efficient as Brooklyn’s closer on the night: Spencer Dinwiddie.
Dinwiddie essentially repeated his first-half performance but by adding plenty of daggers:
“Statistically speaking, given my effectiveness throughout my career in both isolation and pick and roll, it kind of makes me one of the better offensive engines, especially in the half-court, to have put on this jersey, right?” asked Dinwiddie in post-game. After posting 29/5/9 and only one turnover, it was hard to disagree with him.
Despite turning the ball over six times, Mikal Bridges nearly made up for it with four steals, in addition to his 21 points, five boards, and four assists. And after posting zero points and a single board in the first half, Claxton did not pick up another foul after intermission on his way to being the interior presence we all know and love: eight points, six boards, and two blocks:
Cam Johnson praised both Claxton and his understudy, Sharpe, for playing through their foul troubles: “They did a great job today, both of them. Both of them fought through the foul trouble, were able to contribute on both ends, rebound. So yeah, definitely a great game from those two. They’re big difference makers.”
Orlando, like Brooklyn, did not bring their full outfit to the Barclays Center on Tuesday night. Missing were Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr., both battling injuries. Rookie Anthony Black got the start, and while he excels in many areas, outside shooting is not one of them. The Nets defense disregarded him on the perimeter, and packing the paint paid dividends. Brooklyn scored 52 points in the paint compared to Orlando’s 36, not to mention shooting 49% from deep compared to the guests’ 35%.
And don’t tell the Nets the NBA Cup doesn’t matter. With two minutes left down 116-100, Orlando pulled their starters, living to fight another day. Jacque Vaughn’s crew wasn't having it; the starting group remained in the ball-game, and Mikal Bridges even scored a breakaway layup with three seconds left to seal the final score of 124-104. Considering Brooklyn will likely need to win a point-differential tiebreaker to sneak into the knockout round, the end-of-game rotations spoke loudly.
Yet, A 20-point victory —their biggest margin of victory since March 25 of last season — doesn’t tell the whole story of this one. The Brooklyn Nets battled foul trouble and stretches of offensive ineptitude in the first half, immediately coughing up a 14-point lead. Yet, they spent the third quarter in the passing lanes and on the break, responding to adversity by simply turning up the aggressiveness and execution.
After a now 6-5 start riddled with injuries and even heart-breaking losses, that type of resilience may now be the expectation for the Nets. But that doesn’t make it common; Orlando wilted away as Brooklyn began their fourth-quarter avalanche. The story of Tuesday night? Only one team played until the buzzer, and it was the team we’ve come to expect.
One player will not be dominating this Milestone Watch; Spencer Dinwiddie’s been around the block. However, it was a season-best performance for the Nets in many areas.
- 31 fast-break points, 27 points off turnovers, and 13 steals all marked season-highs for Brooklyn.
- 19-of-39 from deep was good for 48.7%, Brooklyn’s second-highest total in both total makes and percentage from three.
- Remember when Royce O’Neale shot 2-of-13 from deep against the Boston Celtics? Since then, he's 16-31 from range, or 51.6%.
- Day’Ron Sharpe finished with 11/10, accomplished in just one half. Still, that marked his second double-double of the season, the sixth of his career.
- The 24-point margin of victory was the Nets largest since March 25 of last season when they beat Miami in Miami by a similar score, 129-100. The Nets now travel to South Beach.
Both Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas were made available to the media prior to tip-off. We covered the entirety of the unfolding Simmons situation here, updating it with quotes from said media session. Just incase you missed out on the hoopla (lucky you), here was Brooklyn’s official update from earlier today:
That statement provided all the pertinent information available on Simmons’ current status. Is it suspect that the Nets waited nearly a week to put Simmons, given his extensive injury history, through an MRI? Perhaps. But it doesn’t change the facts: While Bernie Lee, Simmons’ agent, says that his client is “not experiencing anything similar to what he’s gone through in the past,” and that “he’ll be able to resume his season in a short period of time without any issue,” this injury is cause for concern. How could it not be?
As for Cam Thomas, the third-year guard told reporters he’s feeling better every day and working to the best of his abilities to get back on the court, calling his ankle sprain an unfortunate part of the game:
Cam Thomas says his rehab process is going well and is looking forward to getting back and helping the team.— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 14, 2023
Calls the play he got injured on “unfortunate, but it’s part of the game.” pic.twitter.com/m0SU9cVqMQ
Thomas revealed that he’s in good spirits, despite suffering the most serious ankle sprain of his basketball career: “I’ve sprained my ankle other times, but it was more like, just a quick one, and I’m back the next game or coming back in the same game, but this was more of an ankle sprain. So, it was one of my first [serious] ones.”
As Thomas waits anxiously to get back on the court, along with his teammates and fans, all parties involved will wait for his medical re-evaluation, scheduled for next week.
Guess who! For the second time in the season’s first three weeks, the Brooklyn Nets will be heading south to face the Miami Heat on their turf. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday evening. The Nets have won six straight games vs. the Heat.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 124, Orlando Magic 104 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 124, Orlando Magic 104 (Video) - NBA
- Mikal Bridges on the Nets’ victory over Orlando (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on win against Magic (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas talks ankle injury (Video) - YES Network
- Nets’ In-Season Tournament court at Barclays Center (Video) - Frank Isola & Nancy Newman - YES Network
- Spencer Dinwiddie leads Nets to In-season Tournament win over Magic - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Cam Thomas hoping for quick return from ankle injury: ‘it’s frustrating’ - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson lead Nets to in-season tournament win over Magic with season-best performances ($) - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Simmons to miss next three games with nerve impingement ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets unlock transition offense, play strong defense for in-season tournament win over Magic ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- 3 key Nets reactions from Brooklyn’s decisive win vs. Magic - Eric Slater - Clutch Points
- The Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie comments on his 29-pt performance in win over Orlando - SNY
- Beede’s Breakdown: How Magic fell short late against host Nets - Jason Beede - Orlando Sentinel