The Brooklyn Nets are on the upswing. Their record has been within two games of .500 since Opening Night, so for all the early ups and downs of Brooklyn’s season so far, they’ve been fairly self-contained. In fact, Thursday night’s game against the LaMelo Ball-less Charlotte Hornets represented a chance at the Nets’ first four-game winning streak of the season.
“It’s time to get greedy,” said Sarah Kustok on the YES Network broadcast. And while unrepentant sinners may chuckle at Kustok’s characterization of a potential 10-8 record as greedy, the Nets have arrived at the eye-widening section of the schedule. No disrespect to a Charlotte Hornets team missing their best player, but — okay, maybe a little disrespect. They often bring it upon themselves.
On Thursday night, the disrespect went too far. The Nets did not treat the Hornets like a worthy opponent, allowing an avalanche of wide open shots. When it was time for Brooklyn to buckle down and get serious, Charlotte was already there, waiting for them. What should have been a comfortable win on paper resulted in a tense, back-and-forth contest, and it was hardly any fun. The Nets left it up to fate, but as Cam Johnson’s potential game-winner clanged off the rim, fate didn’t look upon the Nets too kindly. Understandably so.
Final score: Charlotte 129, Brooklyn 128.
The Nets limped out of the gate, matching a sleepy Barclays Center atmosphere befitting a Thursday night contest against an uninspiring opponent. Brooklyn found themselves down 11-4 before the first whistle thanks to three quick Hornets triples. That would become a theme on the night, but not before Brooklyn corrected course.
The hosts went on a 13-2 run to grab their first lead of the night, and spent the rest of the first quarter doing what you’d want them to do to a team of Charlotte’s caliber. The Nets finished the frame up 37-31 despite their slow start, winning on all the margins. Down their starting point guard, Charlotte coughed it up six times, sparking Mikal Bridges in transition:
Here's the formula for Brooklyn, forcing back-to-back turnovers that Mikal Bridges impressively turns into five points: pic.twitter.com/JXiiw4Af1D— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
Bridges scored nine points in the first quarter, and his offense would have been the main story if not for the return of Cam Thomas. Thomas wasted no time reminding Nets fans, as if they could have forgotten, of his scoring capabilities:
Cam Thomas is very much back. Has eight points in his first four minutes, including three classic fadeaways: pic.twitter.com/zJvRx3sDLD— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
Thomas tied Terry Rozier with 17 first-half points to lead all scorers, breaking out his usual array of step-back swishes while taking a dozen shots in as many minutes. A three-week absence evidently changed very little for the 22-year-old.
Thomas did not do it alone; the Nets did whatever they wanted against a characteristically poor Hornets defense, setting a season-high in first-half points. The home team scored 34 points in the paint, shooting 20-of-30 from two and an equally impressive 8-of-18 from three. Unfortunately, they did not both to bring their own defense to the party.
A brief period of defensive intensity in the first quarter, which allowed the Nets to take the lead, was history by the second quarter. Brooklyn’s switching was often poorly communicated, and they didn’t have much success navigating screens either. The Hornets made open three after open three, and eventually caught a rhythm even strong contests couldn’t disrupt.
Charlotte shot a ridiculous 11-of-19 (57.9%) from deep, and worse yet, sophomore center Mark Williams was dominant on the inside, the sole reason his squad matched Brooklyn’s ten second-chance points:
Nets can't keep Mark Williams off the glass. Has 12 points and five o-boards already: pic.twitter.com/8FRr6l1l9W— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
“It’s a concentration issue,” said Jacque Vaughn. “At the end of the day, defensive rebounding has not been a problem for us. When you don’t concentrate, then it becomes a problem. Without a doubt, Mark Williams was on our pregame tape, on our shootaround tape, all of the above, of how he can impact the game.”
The Nets likely deserved a worse fate than a 73-71 halftime deficit, but then again, Charlotte wasn’t playing much defense either.
Out of the break, each side settled into the groove of what became a back-and-forth affair where defense was slightly less optional, but still not strong enough to stop the game’s leading scorers.
Mikal Bridges and Cam Thomas continued their attacking ways, bailing the Nets out of some stagnant possessions with tough buckets.
Mikal Bridges' rips through for a tough and-one, and an interesting celebration to boot: pic.twitter.com/6wGTPfPpF3— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
Neither, though, could match the output of Terry Rozier, who had 27 points and 11 assists by the end of the period. When Rozier wasn’t getting into the lane and kicking out to Hornets shooters that refused to miss, he was taking any and all comers off the bounce.
“I feel like Terry was just making tough shots,” said Cam Thomas, who knows a thing or two about tough shots. “Mikal was guarding him well, he shot over him. Nic was guarding him well some possessions, he just shot over him and made tough shots. That’s what we do to teams, so you know, sometimes you’ve just got to live with it...he just played a great game, so tip your hat to him.”
Rozier’s fellow starters kept pace; as Mark Williams cooled down, the wing duo of Miles Bridges and Gordon Hayward heated up finishing with 23 and 22 points, respectively. 2022 second-round pick Bryce McGowens, making his first start of the season, hit his first five shots on the way to 14 points.
If Charlotte’s bench had contributed more than 21 points on the night, they may have ran away with it. P.J. Washington, who went 2-of-11, had the only poor shooting night on either side. Thomas led the scoring charge for a potent Brooklyn bench, but Trendon Watford, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Lonnie Walker IV added a total of 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
It all added up to a 106-102 lead for the Nets entering the fourth quarter, just the seventh time in franchise history that they and their opponent each reached triple-digits before the fourth. Finally, the scoring slowed.
Cam Johnson’s night was up and down, but he certainly had the loudest bucket of the night, dunking all over Mark Williams to put the Nets up 115-112. Mikal Bridges couldn't believe it, nor could the bench, and it briefly felt like the basketball gods wouldn’t let it go to waste:
Terry Rozier, however, must be an atheist. Brooklyn broke out their ace in the hole extensively down the stretch, switching Claxton onto the Nets-killer, but it hardly slowed Rozier. He’d finish with a monster 37 and 13 assists, willing the Hornets to a late lead:
Good switching possession from Brooklyn but Terry Rozier is simply on one: pic.twitter.com/8QwYkzD5TP— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
The Nets did have a chance. It wasn’t due to Mikal Bridges, who scored just two points in the fourth to finish with 22, nor Cam Thomas, who led the team with 26 points, for the final four minutes due to a minutes restriction.
A visibly frustrated Vaughn quickly explained the decision in postgame: “Minutes restriction...Everyone knew going into the game minutes restriction. I’m not gonna say what that is, but good to have him back.”
Thomas, for his part, repeated the message, saying, “I mean, it was just a minutes restriction, obviously. Obviously you want to be out there, that’s the competitor in me. But whatever the plan is, that’s the plan...so it’s all good.”
Rather, Brooklyn’s last gasp was thanks to Nic Claxton, their best player on the night. Down 129-126 with under a minute left, he grabbed his career-high ninth offensive-board and scored a layup, cutting the deficit to one. He then switched onto Rozier and forced a miss in isolation, leaving Brooklyn with a chance to win the game in the final six seconds.
Jacque Vaughn opted against calling a timeout, watching Spencer Dinwiddie push the pace to find a wide-open Cam Johnson on the right wing. Johnson had shot just 6-of-17 to that point, the worst of any Net, but had a chance to erase the memories of his bricks. Could he throw down an exhilarating poster dunk and hit a game-winner in this fourth quarter?
As it turns out, that may have been too greedy...
Game-deciding sequence here. Claxton gets the stop on Terry Rozier, Nets get out on the break, but Cam Johnson can't hit the game-winning three: pic.twitter.com/PFZOon3Unn— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 1, 2023
Johnson said the look was “as clean as I could have asked for.”
Vaughn agreed, calling it a “Great shot...Great push, it’s the best opportunity, in my opinion, to get an open look, just because the defense usually panics a little bit and they’re thinking more selfishly than unselfishly. Great pass, great look.”
It just wouldn't fall.
Even on a night like Thursday, Brooklyn showed positives. Nic Claxton’s 20-point, 14-rebound, two-block line is now routine, but no less impressive. He led an overwhelming attack on the glass, as the Nets scored a season-high 31 second-chance points, and dominated the points-in-the-paint battle 66-38.
On any other night, those numbers result in a win for the Nets. However, Charlotte shot an incomprehensible 21-of-36 from three, good for a scorching 58.3%. At first, it was thanks to an awful Brooklyn defense. By the end of the night, no defense could’ve bothered Charlotte’s shooters, once again proving that you can never, ever take NBA players lightly. No matter what uniform they’re wearing.
“For us to give up 70-plus points in the first half, some of those threes they made, they made ‘em because they were comfortable,” said Vaughn. “And so when you give an NBA guy a little comfort, who hasn’t made shots historically, then the confidence builds and you’re able to see the ball go through the hole. And we paid for that tonight, for letting them be too comfortable.”
Forget greed, that was Brooklyn’s unforgivable sin on Thursday night. The Nets willingly surrendered an inch, and to their credit, the Hornets took a mile. It didn’t just result in a three-point barrage; they grabbed timely offensive boards and watched the Nets clench up.
By the fourth quarter, the Hornets were playing freely, and the Nets were playing scared of the unacceptable fate that awaited them. Back to .500 it is.
Even a loss as dispiriting as that has a couple milestones; maybe they’ll distract from the end result. Maybe.
- Cam Thomas has come off the bench in two games this season. He’s scored 36 points and 26 points, the two highest-scoring games for a Brooklyn reserve this season.
- Brooklyn’s 31 second-chance points marked a season-high, and it was their 3rd game this season with 20-plus offensive rebounds (22). This is already the most games with 20+ offensive boards for Brooklyn in a season since 2012-13 (five).
The Brooklyn Nets will be taking on the Orlando Magic, who sit at 13-5, just one game behind the Eastern Conference’s best record. Brooklyn dismantled Orlando in an In-Season Tournament game earlier this season, and a repeat performance would certainly help wash out the taste of Thursday's loss.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday night from the Barclays Center.
- Box Score: Charlotte Hornets 129, Brooklyn Nets 128 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Charlotte Hornets 129, Brooklyn Nets 128 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Terry Rozier / 37 points, 13 assists (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn discusses tight loss to Hornets (Video) - YES Network
- Nets set to take on Orlando Magic Thursday (Video) - Meredith Marakovits & Julianne Viani-Braen - YES Network
- Cam Thomas on his return and big performance in loss (Video) - Meghan Triplett - YES Network
- Mikal Bridges shares thoughts on performance against Hornets (Video) - YES Network
- Terry Rozier (37), Hornets hang on, edge Nets 129-128 - Reuters
- Nets’ defense shredded in loss to lowly Hornets as win streak ends - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Cam Thomas scores team-high 26 points in return from injury as Nets fall to Hornets ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News