The Brooklyn Nets battled the Atlanta Hawks on Thanksgiving Eve, a contest sandwiched in between four off-days. Monday and Tuesday were spent gearing up for a Hawks team that lost the craziest game of the NBA season to date, 157-152, to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night, quite a way to start a back-to-back. Thursday and Friday would, of course, be spent with family back in Brooklyn before a weekend double-header at the Barclays Center.
It’d be a reach to say the Nets needed a win, entering the game at 6-7 with a particularly tough stretch of their schedule behind them. Still though, a loss would drop Brooklyn two games under .500 for the first time since they opened the season 0-2. Nearly a month into the season, sample sizes are starting to become less noisy, and identities formed.
Questions like “why is Brooklyn’s defense bad?” — they entered Wednesday night 22nd in defensive rating — are starting to carry some real weight.
They’ll carry even more weight after Wednesday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, a loss with a final score that may overshadow the positives on display. Then again, that’s got to sound like a broken record at this point.
Final score: Atlanta 147, Brooklyn 142
“We gotta figure out what we can do to not give up 147 points.” - Mikal Bridges.
Despite a 157-152 loss to the Pacers just 24 hours prior, Atlanta was seemingly determined to repeat the experience. Their defensive effort to start the contest had Head Coach Quin Snyder’s head in his hands often, as Atlanta’s rotations were consistently a step behind Brooklyn’s crisp ball-movement to their 3-point shooters:
Nets are 5-6 from three, but they've all been open after Dinwiddie's first one. Hawks' defense just not keeping up with them: pic.twitter.com/te8nrXEBA7— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
Just one problem for Brooklyn. The Hawks did have a 20-point first half lead against Indiana, and, despite shoddy defense, they nearly repeated the feat against the Nets in the first half on Wednesday, building a 15-point lead.
The Nets’ defense was, in a word, terrible. In another word, absent. The Hawks only shot 50% in the first half, an unremarkable figure, but they made 48% of their threes, and other than a few improbable Trae Young bombs, their looks were uncontested:
middle-PnR, heavy gap help, leads to an open 3-pointer one pass away. Rinse, repeat. Something's gotta change for Brooklyn's defense: pic.twitter.com/sf7gF5G1ku— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
Young was the head of the snake, per usual, scoring 19 points, but it was truly a free-for-all for the hosts. Eight different Hawks scored at least two field goals in the first half on their way to a 77-67 lead at the break.
Bridges was disappointed with his team’s early effort: “It starts with — we gotta punch ‘em first and then go from there.”
Brooklyn stayed in the game despite their defensive effort thanks to some timely scoring from familiar faces. Lonnie Walker IV chipped in eight points off the bench, and Cam Johnson played his best half of the season, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 from deep, even adding four assists. Johnson has stressed that despite his early struggles shooting the rock, his greatest skill would prevail sooner than later, and it did in Atlanta:
And Mikal Bridges, who acknowledged fan disdain about his game in a Bleacher Report interview posted just before game time, seemed determined from the start that he’d do whatever was needed. He led the Nets in first-half scoring with 15 on 5-of-8 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the line, while Spencer Dinwiddie added 13.
The third quarter started with an announcement from Jacque Vaughn and the Nets: They, like the Pacers before them, wouldn’t take Atlanta’s first-half onslaught lying down. Rather than drop Nic Claxton against Young and Dejounte Murray’s bevy of pick-and-rolls, he’d switch.
Claxton has displayed such switch-ability since his rookie season, the skill he’s most lauded for on an NBA court. But Brooklyn has veered away from that strategy to start this season; pulling your center away from the rim can make defensive rebounding a difficult endeavor, and Vaughn has prioritized cleaning up the glass.
Against the Hawks, Vaughn had little choice. Claxton started switching, and the Nets as a whole picked up their defensive effort. Atlanta’s offensive possessions turned into Young and Murray dribbling on an island against Claxton, their teammates simply watching as the shot-clock dwindled down.
And while the switch-heavy scheme had its predictable drawbacks (the Hawks finished Wednesday night with 22 offensive rebounds, same as the Nets), Brooklyn worked themselves back in the game, starting with a defensive focus that carried over to the other end. Nic Claxton scored eight points third, a beneficiary of the Nets’ increased efforts to get downhill:
drive & dish for the CLAX ATTACK pic.twitter.com/yTbpL9QSjc— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 23, 2023
Brooklyn won the period 28-23 — hey, a normal score! — and even took their first lead since the first quarter five on this Trendon Watford take:
Trendon Watford with a transition layup and the Nets have their first lead of the second half! pic.twitter.com/5QJfhKTh58— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
Watford finished as Brooklyn’s second-leading scorer off the bench with seven, just ahead of Day’Ron Sharpe’s six.
The quality of play kept increasing, as the Nets and Hawks traded buckets and even leads in a rollicking fourth quarter. Trae Young, well on his way to 43 points on 12-of-31 shooting, made and missed plenty of tough shots over Claxton, who added three blocks to his season-high 22 points. Dinwiddie’s 9-of-23 shooting wasn’t pretty, but his 26 points and a dozen dimes certainly were, insisting his way into the lane and producing results that his team needed.
The star of the show, though, was Mikal Bridges. Bridges put up 45 points to match his career-high set in his third game with Brooklyn last season, and even though Brooklyn’s late-game offense devolved into repeated isolations and pick-and-rolls without much secondary movement for Bridges, he delivered bucket after bucket:
Everybody please look at this Mikal Bridges take for an and-one layup: pic.twitter.com/Mo7P2onP7Y— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
Despite the slow start, despite the lack of defensive intensity for both sides to start Wednesday night, the Nets and Hawks turned this one into an absolute barn-burner, fighting tooth and nail down the stretch, and Brooklyn took the inside track with a Cam Johnson tip-in that followed a hair-raising stop of Trae Young on the other end:
Holy Moly. A ridiculous sequence between Nic Claxton and Trae Young ends with a Brooklyn stop, and they'll have a chance to take the lead with 11.5 on the clock: pic.twitter.com/aJNz7zndCs— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
A game this exciting left neutral fans begging for more — though Hawks and Nets fans certainly wanted the thrill-ride to end with a win ASAP — and the basketball gods delivered. Young split a pair of free-throws, Atlanta’s first miss of the night, to tie the game at 131, which ultimately sent it to overtime. The Nets did have a shot to win it, but Bridges missed a tough fallaway. Said Vaughn: “Going into overtime we got Mikal a look. Not a lot of time on the clock.
In fact, there should have been more time on the clock, as Brooklyn mistakenly only had one second to operate with. Tim Capstraw, the regular color commentator for WFAN radio broadcasts was moonlighting on YES Network for the evening, and he was all over it:
Capstraw points out that 1.0 left on the clock was probably an error from the referees. Mikal Bridges missed the final shot, and we're headed to overtime. pic.twitter.com/av7jnqzJ66— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 23, 2023
Overtime, of course, was just as drunk. Cam Johnson, Brooklyn’s fourth and final 20-point scorer on the evening (23/5/5) had to sit the final three minutes with cramping, replaced by Royce O’Neale, who went scoreless on the night.
Vaughn did sound worried about Johnson’s status going forward, though: “He should be able to get some some fluids, he’ll have some family time, a little time off. He should be okay.”
Just as the fourth quarter did, OT turned into an old-fashioned duel between Trae Young and Mikal Bridges. Don’t let their 40-balls fool you, they had to fight through intense defense at the end of this one — Bridges shot a laborious 16-of-31 as the unquestioned closer. And it appeared Bridges would come out on top, particularly after this swirly sat on the rim just to toy with us, before dropping:
I mean, how could this not be Bridges’ night? Well, for one, it’s the Nets; no matter how well they play, the universe never seems to be on their side. In the fourth quarter, it was the clock operators stealing pivotal fractions of a second. And in OT, it was a pair of phenomenal plays by Young and Onyeka Okongwu:
The winning sequence:— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) November 23, 2023
Trae's step-back jumper followed by a clutch block by Big O pic.twitter.com/HfucH1M3yP
Young started the night shooting 6-of-7, and then made six of his last 24 shots, often hounded by the length of Claxton. Well, that was his 24th attempt, the game-winning bucket thanks to an incredible block by Okongwu. Vaughn will certainly be sleepless thinking about that final sequence. Bridges got downhill, but a timeout may have corrected some wonky spacing that had the strong-side corner and the strong-side dunker spot filled, where Okongwu came over from to block it.
“He had some great drives tonight,” said Vaughn of his leading scorer. “And that’s just a part of basketball. You give them credit for having a big in the game that’s a rim protector.
The Nets executed on those two plays. They executed over the course of an indescribably hectic second half. Sure, Atlanta finished with 22 offensive boards, frequently a result of Claxton chasing young and Murray around the perimeter. But they got stops too, and better yet, they matched their opponent with 22 o-boards of their own. Sure, the offense got a little stagnant with Bridges at the helm, but he delivered the signature performance many fans have been waiting for this season.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
After indulging Atlanta in the foul game, the Nets had a chance to tie it, down two with as many seconds on the clock. Bridges sprung toward the ball, but drew two defenders and faded into an invisible corner. Lonnie Walker, a substitution for the final chance who had played just six second-half minutes, released toward the ball and caught it near mid-court.
Two dribbles later, the buzzer sounded. The game was over.
Then, just to be sure, Walker shot an airball. So it goes.
The Brooklyn Nets PR team did not tweet out any milestones from Wednesday's high-scoring affair, so I'm flying a bit blind here. That being said:
- Mikal Bridges’ 45 points matches his career-high, which he set in just his third game with the franchise after last season’s trade deadline. As a Phoenix Sun, he tallied two 30-point games in his career. With the Nets, in just a half-season worth of games, he’s notched his fourth 40-burger.
- Cam Johnson’s 23 points represent a season-high, as he looked like the shooter we all know and love on Wednesday. He’s now scored 23-plus points six times as a Brooklyn Net, the same amount of times he reached that mark as a Sun in three-and-a-half seasons.
- Nic Claxton’s 22 points is his season-high, and the fifth-highest of his career. As an unofficial milestone, he was also leading the NBA in block-rate (what % of defensive possessions one blocks a shot on) prior to action in Atlanta. After three blocks on Wednesday, it’s hard to imagine he’ll fall out of the number-one spot.
- Spencer Dinwiddie passed Vince Carter for the fifth-most assists in franchise history, and he notched a season-high with a dozen dimes.
- Brooklyn’s 145 points is the most in a game, regulation or not, since the Nets beat the Orlando Magic in Orlando, on March 15, 2022. You may also remember that game for Kyrie Irving’s 60 points, the most ever scored by a Net.
A Thanksgiving Parade of puns
Whether planned or improvised, last night’s call from Ian Eagle and Tim Capstraw left us hungry...
No, we are not going to compare the game to what we’ll be eating later today. Not us. Nope.
Earlier in the day, the Brooklyn Nets provided an injury update on their three absences — Ben Simmons, Cam Thomas, and Dennis Smith Jr. Here it is:
To recap, it sounds like Smith Jr. is truly be day-to-day, with a Cam Thomas return hopefully within the two weeks. Ben Simmons, on the other hand, sounds a bit further away, considering there’s another status update in the works, and light individual court work means something like shooting free-throws.
Yep, these guys again. The Brooklyn Nets will face the Miami Heat for the third time this season after a couple of days off. Tip is scheduled for an early 6:00 p.m. ET from the Barclays Center on Saturday evening.
- Box Score: Atlanta Hawks 147, Brooklyn Nets 145 (OT) - NBA
- Game Highlights: Atlanta Hawks 147, Brooklyn Nets 145 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Mikal Bridges / 45 points (Video) - NBA
- Fantastic Finish: Nets, Hawks in OT (Video) - NBA
- Nancy Newman and Julianne Viani-Braen on the Nets’ tough loss to Hawks (Video) - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Nets’ overtime loss to Hawks (Video) - YES Network
- Mikal Bridges discusses the Nets’ overtime defeat in Atlanta (Video) - YES Network
- Trae Young scores season-high 43 points, Hawks outlast Nets 147-145 in overtime - Bill Trocchi - AP
- Trae Young erupts for 43 as Hawks clip Nets in OT - Reuters
- Trae Young outduels Mikal Bridges as Nets drop OT heartbreaker to Hawks - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Cam Thomas, Ben Simmons inch closer to Nets return - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Trae Young and Mikal Bridges’ epic overtime battle ends with Hawks’ 147-145 win over Nets ($) - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Cam Thomas cleared for increased on-court activity; Ben Simmons to miss at least another week ($) - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets fall in overtime to Hawks for third straight loss ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Defense concerns Nets and it has been a liability ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- High-scoring Hawks stave off Nets, snap three-game losing skid - Lauren Williams - Atlanta Journal-Constitution