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Brooklyn Nets control short-handed Miami Heat, 112-97

The Miami Heat merely hung around for much of Saturday’s action, but they never posed a serious threat to the Brooklyn Nets, who simply handled business.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Miami Heat were in a giving mood on Thanksgiving weekend. After blowing a 21-point lead against the New York Knicks on Friday night, they turned right back around to face the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. Already without Tyler Herro. the visitors then decided to rest Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler on the back-to-back.

Brooklyn was in no position to decline Miami’s generosity, though it certainly didn’t guarantee a win for the 6-8 Nets. If any team was going to pull off a short-handed win of this caliber, it’d be the Heat, even before Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said his team was thankful for the back-to-back, for the immediate chance to avenge a terrible loss.

Yes, Thanksgiving just passed, but Coach Spo may have been a little too thankful there. Down their four-leading scorers, the Heat couldn’t maintain an offensive threat against a Nets team needing a win, playing just their second game of the week. Brooklyn’s starting five excelled in their roles, and the group never looked, coming away with a smooth win vs. an over-matched opponent.

Final score: Brooklyn 112, Miami 97

Miami opened Saturday’s action like a normal short-handed roster might, not in the #HeatCulture way. After seven minutes of play and multiple substitutions, the Brooklyn Nets led their guests 20-8, facing an offense far from the Atlanta Hawks squad they allowed 147 to in their last outing.

The Heat, of course, weren’t going to go quietly, and put any notions of a wire-to-wire snooze fest to bed when they closed the quarter on a 14-6 run to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 26-22. Miami played a zone defense, as they are wont to do, which gave up plenty of 3-point looks but almost nothing at the rim. When the Nets were making their outside shots, the offense flowed. When they weren’t, the Heat crept back into the ballgame.

More specifically, points were easy to come by when Cam Johnson was on the court in the opening frame; following a season-high 23 points in Atlanta, Johnson shot 5-of-5 in the first quarter on Saturday to score a dozen quick points:

Brooklyn scored just three points in the final four minutes of the opening frame, certainly no coincidence that Johnson was also taking his first breather of the night.

The second quarter followed a similar script, only it was the other ‘Twin’ that took over. Mikal Bridges scored all 11 of his first-half points in the second quarter, using his ball-screens to get by the first level of defense, and his length to finish at the rim:

With each passing game, the fruits of Bridges’ off-season labor become more apparent, and his Saturday evening was full of impressive, self-created finishes at the rim.

Miami kept hanging around, led by the first-half’s only other double-digit scorer, rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr, who scored ten points on a crip 4-of-5 shooting. Really, shooting wasn’t Miami’s problem; they shot 45% from deep in the first half, as Jaquez, Kyle Lowry, Haywood Highsmith, and Cole Swider all hit two bombs.

Brooklyn, however, took care of everything else, blocking five shots and forcing 11 early turnovers. Those possessions were the difference in a first half where each squad grabbed 17 rebounds, and Brooklyn also lit it up from beyond (50%).

Said Vaughn: “Just give our guys credit for continuing to work at [forcing turnovers]. This is something new, elevated risk at certain times throughout the course of the game and possessions. Tonight, we got rewarded for it.”

Other than a brief injury scare, where Nic Claxton landed on an opponent’s foot and walked gingerly to the locker room...

...the first half was worry-free, ending with a 63-53 Brooklyn lead. When Claxton returned to action after just a brief respite, the good vibes continued, and he opened the third quarter with six straight points and two blocked shots before Miami was forced to call a timeout:

This time, the Nets’ bench units did not let the Heat climb back into it. Royce O’Neale played a very Royce O’Neale game, posting a quiet but well-rounded 6/2/4/1/2 game and taking care of business on both ends. Lonnie Walker IV scored all eight of his points before the break enough to push Brooklyn to just their second double-digit halftime lead of the season. Trendon Watford hit a three and a floater on his way to seven points, and Day’Ron Sharpe blocked two shots while going 4-4 from the line.

Thus, the Nets did not bring one double-digit scorer off the bench, but those who played allowed the team’s most familiar starting lineup to shine.

The Spencer Dinwiddie/Bridges/Johnson/Dorian Finney-Smith/Claxton group was Brooklyn’s go-to starting five down the stretch last season, and now team-wide injuries have forced Jacque Vaughn to re-deploy that crew. In year two, they’ve been one of the best five-man combinations in the early NBA season, outscoring teams by 15 points per 100 possessions. That number is due for an increase after Saturday's contest vs. Miami.

All five Brooklyn starters started reached double-digits, and all five played off each other’s strengths, using their length on the perimeter to force turnovers for one of the few times this season, taking advantage of Claxton’s rim-protection on the backline. Some of their defensive prowess after weeks of futility was of course due to who wasn’t playing for the Heat. Nonetheless, the Nets did their jobs on Saturday, with the starters leading the pack.

Bridges led the way with 24 points and saw his 3-point percentage continue to rebound with a 3-of-6 performance from beyond the arc. CJ finished with 19/10/5, and Finney-Smith shot a near spotless 7-of-9 to score 16; Claxton’s only blemish was one missed free-throw, but even then, most Nets fans will take 3-4 from their starting center any day of the week.

Yet, it was Spencer Dinwiddie with the most impressive stat-line, double-doubling for the second consecutive game with 14 points and 11 assists.

“That’s how important Spencer is for us,” said Vaughn of his starting point guard, citing “his ability to play with either unit, playing on the ball, off the ball, making big plays for us.

The Heat opened the second half with a bucket to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 63-55; it was the last time the visitors got within single-digits. For the first time this season, the Nets won every quarter of play, and we were even treated to some more-interesting-than-normal garbage time.

Armoni Brooks took the floor along with Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney for the final stretch of this one, with the latter two making their NBA debuts. Whitehead even scored his first NBA point, adding a free-throw that delighted his teammates:

“It means everything, honestly,” said Whitehead, the NBA’s second youngest player, of his debut. “I feel like a healthy Dariq Whitehead can be very special, so knowing if I get my feet under me, get everything right...I think I’ll be 100% fine and ready to go.”

Whitehead had foot surgery in early June.

“He’s just worked so hard coming back from injury, so, [we’re] happy for him to get his first NBA points,” said Bridges of his youngest teammate.

Whitehead’s freebie was the perfect cap to a relaxing evening at the Barclays Center, where the short-handed Heat made the Nets work, but not sweat for their 15-point victory. Caleb Martin led the visitors with 22 points off the bench, scoring 16 of them in the second half, but none of his teammates joined the fun after the break. Despite Spoelstra playing many deeper reserves, they went through the same woes you’d expect of high-minute players on a back-to-back, shooting just 14.3% from three in the second half.

But the Brooklyn Nets won this game. They needed it too, ending a three-game losing streak to move to 7-8 on the season, and they now face three straight .500 or worse opponents, all from the friendly confines of the Barclays Center, which announced another sellout on Saturday.

“I thought our guys were pretty much locked in the beginning of the game. The start of it got us in a good position, and we were playing from in front the entire game because of that,” said Jacque Vaughn.

A return to last year’s form doesn’t sound too promising, on its face. Brooklyn would undoubtedly love to get Cam Thomas, Ben Simmons, and Dennis Smith Jr. back into the rotation as soon as possible. But two days after Thanksgiving, Nets fans were certainly thankful for the only starting five they’ve grown accustomed to during this transitional period for the franchise.

Against the short-handed Heat, the Nets played who was in front of them, admittedly not overly intimidating. Mikal Bridges even addressed Saturday’s contest as a “trap game” after the win. But a win is a win.

The Brooklyn Nets handled business on Saturday night; you can’t ask for for much more than that.

Milestone Watch

Saturday’s Milestone Watch is about as well-rounded as the win was.

  • Cam Johnson posted five assists on Saturday, just as he did on Wednesday in Atlanta. It marks the first time in his career he’s dished five+ dimes in consecutive outings. Johnson’s also recorded his fourth-career double-double (points/rebounds) on Saturday, his second as a Net.
  • On Wednesday, Spencer Dinwiddie moved up to fifth all-time in franchise NBA history in assists. On Saturday, he became one of just three Nets with 500+ threes and 1500+ assists in NBA franchise history, joining Vince Carter and Jason Kidd.
  • Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney became the second- and third-youngest Nets to appear in an NBA game, trailing only Derrick Favors by a matter of weeks.
  • Not exactly a milestone, but impressive nonetheless: Nic Claxton has played seven games this season, and has multi-block performances in all but one. He’s recorded three blocks in five-out-of-seven games.
  • Even less of a milestone. Still, though:

Not tampering

Absolutely not tampering. Devin Booker, whose team plays the Knicks Sunday at the Garden, chose to spend his evening at Barclays Center, prompting this retweet of the news from Mikal Bridges...

The Nets have three of Booker’s former teammates on their 18-man roster. In addition to Johnson and Bridges, Keon Johnson, who was on the Phoenix roster in training camp, is on a two-way contract with the Nets.

Next Up

Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

It’ll be a quick turnaround for the Nets, as they get ready to play the second of five consecutive home games. Their opponent will be the Chicago Bulls, with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday evening.

For a different perspective, head on over to HotHotHoops, SB Nation’s Heat blog.