Waking up the day after a one possession, overtime loss, counting your blessings is a difficult task — even on Thanksgiving.
Last night was the second straight time the Brooklyn Nets have gotten together with the Atlanta Hawks ... and witnessed a soul swallowing defeat. A few months ago, it was a Trae Young jumper at the horn that put them in the oven. Yesterday it was some stuffing from Onyeka Okongwu.
Now the losers of three straight and begrudgingly holding a 6-8 record above their heads, the Nets find themselves in the Eastern Conference’s basement, behind all but four teams in the standings.
With a back-to-back on the horizon that features the reigning conference champion Miami Heat, things may get worse before they get better. But before moving on to the next one, here a few final things to gather from last night.
Mikal Needs Two-Way Help
I haven’t been able to say this all year, because Mikal Bridges hadn’t come through with a “put the team on my back” or “Greg Jennings broken leg” performance yet this year. But last night, Brooklyn Bridges dusted off the “star” hat he often wore last year and put it back on.
It fit nicely. Bridges put up his most shot attempts all season and consequently tied a career-high with 45 points. He registered 25 between the the fourth quarter and overtime period, scoring around the rim and hitting buttery smooth fadeaways.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Trae Young mirrored that performance. Ice Trae scored all but two of Atlanta’s 16 points in the overtime frame to carry his team. He also went ballistic in the first, tallying 19 points while going 6-of-7 from deep.
With Bridges being Brooklyn’s best point-of-attack defender, and one of the league’s best might I add, he would have been the ideal player to plug onto Young down the stretch. One or two stops would have sealed this one given its close nature, but the Nets just kept going punch for punch until they couldn’t.
Instead, almost every other defender got a try at Young down the stretch. Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Nic Claxton all got looks in overtime to no avail. Bridges only matched up on him once in the period and it came on a Young logo-range triple that was essentially unguardable.
My guess is that with Bridges carrying at one end, Jacque Vaughn did not want him to exhaust himself with the task of slowing down Young at the other. Brooklyn’s choice to move back to a switch defense also played a hand in keeping him away from Young, as that’s not exactly a matchup Trae would want to hunt.
However, whether by scheme or by personnel, the Nets stopped their best player from doing what he does best. That’s a cardinal “no no” in my book. The Nets needed Bridges to clamp Young, so on nights when he has it going, his teammates need to step up in some capacity.
I said at the beginning of this season the Nets will not be a winning team if they resort to Mikal Bridges hero ball, and that was true last night. He may have a 7’1” wingspan, but you can only stretch the guy so much. Someone needs to help him out on nights like last night at either end of the floor to give his game some balance.
Cameron Johnson’s Shot Lives!
You’re taught as a kid that your jump shot starts with your legs before working you way up into your follow through. So with sharpshooter Cameron Johnson injuring his calf a few weeks ago, his deadeye shooter’s badge got a lot more attention early this season.
Until last night, that is. Johnson shot 34.3% from range since coming back from injury. Not bad, but not up to par with his career 39.2% clip. Now following a 1-of-5 night against Philly where I recall him getting some good looks as well, some Joe Harris PTSD began to creep in.
However, last night’s game cured some of those symptoms, as Johnson shot 5-of-8 from downtown. It was his first contest with five or more makes since last year. Johnson didn’t discriminate with his shot selection either. He hit from each corner, twice on the left wing, and once slightly on the right side above of the break.
Cam needed to sit the game’s final three minutes after experiencing some cramping, but in an overtime game, these things happen. The point is, his shot looked crisp last night and he shot it like a true marksman rather than a specialist.
It’s only one performance, and he’ll need to build on it to resurrect his percentage this year, but it’s a step in the right direction. There’s something to be thankful for, I guess.
Expect Trouble with Pick-and-Roll Heavy Teams
I don’t recall when exactly it happened, but the Nets did indeed abandon their drop coverage at some point during this game and revert to the switch. It was a decision that needed to be made, as Young continued to spray the Nets from deep with the space created off screens.
It took some time, but allowed the Nets to climb back into things as Young simmered down during the game’s rising action. However, with their concentration on defending shooters, the Nets gave up a gut-wrenching 22 offensive rebounds resulting in 30 second chance points.
Carrying guys who can fill it up with just a little space like Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, but also a physical, rebounding big down low like Clint Capela, the Hawks are a team built to punish the Nets. With Brooklyn’s lacking physicality, it’s pick your poison.
In one set, you live with Atlanta’s guards getting all the space they need to hit jumpers but try to position yourself better to secure any miss. In the other, you blitz those shooters but leave yourself vulnerable to second chance points. Brooklyn tried both, but with them giving up 147 points at the end of the day, its fair to say they never found the right formula.
Having witnessed that, expect the Nets to struggle and fluctuate between defensive sets in the future against teams like Atlanta who possess a strong in-and-out offensive game and challenge modern defenses. The New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks (if they ever wake up and realize they need to run more p&r between Giannis and Dame) resemble a few upcoming puzzles likely to give Brooklyn fits all the same. Once more, Jacque Vaughn has his work cut out for him.
When Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas returns, will we be thankful? Will it be good stuff(ing?) Can they turn-it-up? Will it all be gravy?