Back-to-backs are now the NBA’s most ubiquitous thorn in its side, with fans, players, and coaches well aware of the setbacks and melodrama two games in two days can bring. But the schedule makers gave the Brooklyn Nets as pleasant a back-to-back as you could draw up on Thanksgiving weekend.
On Saturday night, the Nets defeated a Miami Heat team missing their four leading scorers — only one out with a long-term injury — at home. They didn’t have to leave Barclays Center Sunday night to battle the Bulls. who’ve suffered many close losses this season but nonetheless entered action at 5-12, their collective soul withering away before a trade deadline when ownership will (please) benevolently pull the plug.
In other words, the conditions were prime for Brooklyn to notch two wins in 24 hours and climb back to .500, firmly putting a three-game skid in the rearview mirror. Wouldn’t make for a bad weekend, right?
The Nets answered the question in the affirmative, not only winning but bouncing back from a pathetic first quarter to blow the doors off the hapless Bulls, who looked like they were the team playing twice in two days. After falling behind by 21 points in the first quarter, the Nets treated the home crowd to a historic 3-point shooting performance while locking in on defense. It wasn’t just any win, but a comfortable, joyous victory to pull Brooklyn back to .500.
Final score: Brooklyn 118, Chicago 109.
Despite the friendly circumstances, the Nets couldn’t escape some of the traditional back-to-back-itis. Nic Claxton was a late scratch on Sunday evening with a sprained left ankle, the same injury that caused his extended absence earlier this season.
In an apparent act of solidarity with Claxton, his teammates didn’t show up to play either. The Bulls raced out to a 30-9 lead, as Brooklyn’s performance wandered from disturbing to simply amusing. Chicago, one of the league’s worst 3-point shooting team in every year of the LaVine/DeRozan/Vucevic era, were already 8-of-10 from deep halfway through the opening frame.
Coby White and burgeoning Nets-killer Patrick Williams (starting in place of Alex Caruso) each hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, but nobody in red faced any defensive resistance. There was no single area of incompetence on Brooklyn’s end, and their own inability to get buckets injected the Bulls with energy. By the time Brooklyn tightened their defense up, White was already onto hitting contested, off-the-bounce shots.
“Going into the game there were some dudes we were gonna allow to shoot the basketball. Pat Williams was a guy that started...So we tested him early to see if he was gonna make shots, he ended up making three threes. We let Coby White, a guy that we don’t want to make threes, walk into two of those.”
Five quick points from Trendon Watford and a triple from Cam Johnson salvaged the end of the quarter for the Nets, who went into the second quarter trailing by an only-moderately embarrassing 36-19.
Sizable first-half deficits are little more than inconveniences these days, given the offensive talent in the league, not to mention the caliber and volatility of 3-point shooting. But teams that are able to overcome such deficits often do it in spurts, rather than in one fell swoop.
The Nets, however, didn't just nip at the Bulls’ tails in the second quarter, but blew out Chicago 44-19 in the period to take a 63-55 lead into the break, erasing any bitter aftertaste from the first quarter.
Much praise (or blame) goes to a Bulls team that’s displayed the structural fortitude of a balloon animal in recent seasons, a team that all but encouraged the Nets to catch up...
The Bulls called a timeout up 37-28 after a 9-1 Nets run. Here is everything that transpired before Billy Donovan called another timeout. This team man: pic.twitter.com/r5ZNO6uhar— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 27, 2023
A bench-heavy unit led by Royce O’Neale, Lonnie Walker IV, and Day’Ron Sharpe got the momentum rolling in earnest. O’Neale, who got the surprise start in Claxton’s place, was Brooklyn’s best player in the first half, leading the team with seven boards and frequently pushing the ball in transition:
Royce pushes the break and hits Day'Ron for a lob. Nets up by five, what a ridiculous first half: pic.twitter.com/GrRmjwilFl— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 27, 2023
Walker credited O’Neale for “passing, rebounding, really keeping the ball moving, setting screens. You know, Royce does a little bit of everything to be honest with you. So, he’s one heck of a player and knows the game, has a very high IQ. He really makes the game easier for us because he keeps the ball flowing, setting screens, being ready to catch and shoot, making the extra pass, he plays the right way.”
Those two were Brooklyn’s only double-digit scorers before the break, as they each hit four triples to combine for 26 points, the last of which came from about 30 feet:
Royce O'Neale are you kidding me?? pic.twitter.com/dar3qDCs4W— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 27, 2023
O’Neale and Walker — who must be used to hearing this by now — led the charge, but no Net could miss from deep in the second quarter. The team hit 11 triples, setting an all-time franchise record for makes in a quarter —any quarter, matching then exceeding Chicago’s flame-throwing first quarter.
Said Walker: “It kind of hit a point where I was just like, ‘Damn.’ I looked at Mikal after Royce hit a three and he was just like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is crazy,’ we had like four minutes left in that second quarter. I’m happy that we kind of found that, you know. That was very fun as a team, collectively. We found what was working for us and we just kept it going.”
In Sunday’s first half, the shot-making flowed with the players’ energy, rather than the reverse. Brooklyn was rewarded for stifling the Bulls with a zone defense and tenacious rebounding to start the second while. From then, the swishes started to follow.
“We’ve had [zone defense] in our toolbox before,” said Vaughn. “We’ve periodically practiced it. There were some games that we thought we were gonna use it that I didn’t use it. Tonight we needed to shift the momentum, we got them to miss some shots. Then when you’re in the zone and a team misses shots, that’s to your benefit.”
The Nets kept scoring in the third quarter, though not quite at a historic pace. Chicago started switching against Brooklyn’s pick-and-rolls providing Spencer Dinwiddie the opportunity to go to work. While the Nets’ pace slowed, and some possessions were a bit uneven, Dinwiddie turned up the aggression. He finished with a team-high 24 points and seven assists, with much of his damage coming after the break:
The Chicago Bulls rebounded in the third quarter, with DeMar DeRozan (27 points) and Zach LaVine (20) leading the charge with an array of tough buckets. White (23) and Williams (20) kept scoring too, giving Chicago an impressive. four 20-point scorers on the evening. It didn’t matter, as the Nets continued to get buckets to keep their lead in the safe zone. Brooklyn would finish the night with a whopping 25 3-point makes, the second-most in franchise history and a season-high across the NBA.
The Bulls simply had no answer, even after Cam Johnson was forced to leave the game with cramping for the second time in three games. Watford joined the starters in his place down the stretch and helped to put the game away with some rare two-point buckets...
Trendon Watford with an and-one, inside hand take. He and the crowd are loving it: pic.twitter.com/dllNjauUAw— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 27, 2023
Hot on Dinwiddie’s heels, O’Neale and Walker each scored 20 points on six made treys as the leaders of the Nets’ historic long-range attack. The Twins had quieter games in comparison, but even before Johnson’s premature departure, he and Mikal Bridges combined to score 25 points on a sparkling 9-of-15 shooting; even better, they each dished six assists.
It’s hard to believe such a well-rounded performance for Brooklyn began so poorly. The Nets displayed exquisite ball movement and pace after starting the night off in zombie mode, and turned the game into a textbook math loss for the Bulls, who have suffered many such defeats in recent seasons.
Total rebounds? A slim 40-39 advantage for Chicago. The turnover battle? A modest 11-9 advantage for Brooklyn. Chicago even went 17-of-22 from the free-throw line to Brooklyn’s 11-of-15.
None of that matters when the disparity in 3-point shooting is so massive. After starting 8-of-10 from deep, the Bulls finished the game just 12-of-32, settling for mid-range looks and misses while the Nets poured in three after three on the other end. As the Bulls faded into obscurity in the second half, it was they who looked like a squad struggling to self-motivate on the second leg of a back-to-back. Not Brooklyn, who tossed aside a slow start to compete with pace, energy, and physicality.
The historic 3-point shooting simply followed.
Said Jacque Vaughn: “I’ve been a part of some interesting games along the way...not sure I can remember any game like that.”
As you might expect, many of Sunday's milestone relate to the Nets’ historic 3-point shooting output, and their dominant second quarter.
- Brooklyn’s 11 3-point makes in the second quarter set a franchise record for any quarter, and their 16 3-point makes in the first half did the same.
- Their 25 3-point makes is an NBA-high this season, and the second-most in franchise history (27 makes, 2/15/21 at Sacramento).
- The 44 points Brooklyn scored in the second quarter is the most they’ve scored in a quarter this season. It’s also the second-most for any second quarter in Nets’ franchise history, trailing only a 45-point second quarter against the Golden State Warriors on 12/21/22.
- Brooklyn won that second quarter by 25 points (44-19), their largest margin of victory in any second quarter in franchise history.
- Cam Johnson’s six assists represent a career-high, as he notched his third consecutive game with five-plus dimes.
- Royce O’Neale’s 20 points and six 3-pointers were both career-highs.
Who does all that spectacular statistical searching? During the YES Network broadcast, Ryan Ruocco revealed it’s Eli Pearlstein of the Nets PR department. Ruocco, speaking the truth said no team can match the Nets in finding and analyzing data.
Prior to the game, Vaughn was quite confident Nic Claxton would be ready to go, saying, “Yeah, so you saw in the game the other day, he kind of tweaked that ankle again, it’s the same one. He’ll actually — I think he might be listed as probable. He’ll do his warm up and hopefully he’s ready to go. He did participate in our shoot-around earlier.”
Immediately following Vaughn’s pregame presser, Claxton was downgraded to questionable, then out. Just another reminder that bad news is seemingly always around the corner when it comes to injured Nets.
As for Cam Johnson’s late departure, his second this week, Jacque Vaughn merely confirmed Johnson suffered from “some cramping, so we’ll see how he is, but that’s why he couldn’t finish the game for us.”
Whether it becomes a recurring issue remains to be seen, but Johnson’s cramping late in games is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Nets Group C clinch scenarios (in next Cup game):— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 25, 2023
- Win + Boston Loss
- Win by >14, Boston Win by <23 pic.twitter.com/jxcajCL6sa
The Nets are also alive for the Wild Card berth into the knockout round, though those scenarios feature a menu of tiebreak options. Regardless, tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening.
For different perspective, head over to BlogABull, our sister site on SB Nation.
- Box Score: Brooklyn Nets 118, Chicago Bulls 109 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Brooklyn Nets 118, Chicago Bulls 109 (Video) - NBA
- Lonnie Walker IV on Nets win over Chicago (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Royce O’Neale on Brooklyn’s explosive second quarter (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Jacque Vaughn on Nets’ 118-109 win (Video) - YES Network
- Lonnie Walker IV talks Nets’ win, his strong performance (Video) - YES Network
- RoycPe O’Neale on Nets’ comeback win over Chicago (Video) - YES Network
- Nets pour in 25 3-pointers, rally past reeling Bulls - Reuters
- Nets use 3-point barrage to overcome 21-point deficit in win over Bulls - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets post jaw-dropping quarter in historic comeback win - Erik Slater - Clutch Points
- Nets’ historic three-point barrage fuels comeback win over Bulls ($) - Peter Sblendorio - New York Daily News
- Nets defeat Chicago Bulls by hitting season-high 25 threes ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets’ Nic Claxton misses game against Bulls with sprained left ankle ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets Injury Tracker: Nic Claxton out for Bulls game due to ankle - SNY
- Chicago Bulls squander lead in 4th consecutive loss to Brooklyn Nets ($) - Julia Poe - Chicago Tribune