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Brooklyn Nets defeat Los Angeles Clippers 100-93 in frenzied dogfight

James Harden returned to Barclays as a Clipper, Cam Thomas went down with an injury, but the Brooklyn Nets wouldn’t be denied in their first home-win of the season.

Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Another day ending in -y. An NBA powerhouse rolled into the Barclays Center to face the the Brooklyn Nets. This time, it was the new-look Los Angeles Clippers, featuring James Harden in his second game with his new(est) team. If it was any consolation for the Nets, though, the Clippers’ potential to dominate is just that, for now.

Bringing in a ball-handler of Harden’s stature at the expense of nearly all their playable wings means a facelift for L.A.’s rotations and play-style, far after the conclusion of training camp and preseason. Brooklyn’s previous two opponents, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, made big-time trades as well, but in the off-season, and for players whose fit are more obvious on the surface. Early November may be the ideal time to face this Clippers squad.

This may also be the time, however, to face the Brooklyn Nets. They were missing three starters in Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton, and Ben Simmons, a late scratch with hip soreness. On top of that, Cam Thomas would exit in the third quarter with an ankle sprain. Yet, the new-look Clippers could not take advantage of an injury-riddled Nets squad that looked remarkably similar to the healthy version.

Once again, Brooklyn utilized their depth in a tight, exciting contest that went down to the wire, getting all-around contributions from everybody who touched the court. Only this time, the Nets pulled out a victory over the big bad contender. Feels nice, doesn’t it?

Final score: Brooklyn 100, Los Angeles 93.

Despite the anticipation of Harden’s second game as a Clipper and his return to the Barclays Center — where he was met with consistent boos and a “Da-ryl Mor-ey” chant — not to mention the promise of another exciting game, all these Nets seem to play, you would have been better off sleeping through the opening 12 minutes.

The first quarter ended with a 21-13 lead for the Clips, mainly thanks to Paul George and Ivica Zubac, who matched Brooklyn’s point total by themselves. It was hard to say anybody else on either side came to play, and the numbers reflected that. Los Angeles shot 31% from the floor, enough to make your eyes water even before glancing over at Brooklyn’s 27%.

The Nets also handed the ball to L.A. five times, forfeiting what had been a strength of the offense; Brooklyn entered Wednesday’s action averaging the third-fewest turnovers in the league.

“I think we were pretty stagnant at the beginning of the game, just overall, offensively, and that affected us on both ends of the floor,” said Jacque Vaughn of his team’s slow start.

Yet, thanks largely to the Clippers’ apathy, driven more by missed shots than a lack of cohesion, a sluggish first quarter didn’t kill the Nets. They were just a couple shots from getting right back in the game, and that’s exactly what happened in an exciting second quarter.

In what is now tradition, Lonnie Walker IV got to quick work off the bench; he scored eight points in the first half, and here is your daily acrobatic finish from the 24-year-old guard:

Trendon Watford, sent down and called up from Long Island earlier in the day, chipped in five points off the bench, inserted into the rotation thanks to Simmons’ absence, playing a similar point-forward role and taking it right at P.J. Tucker on this possession:

Vaughn was quite complimentary of his forward’s effort on Wednesday night: “You take a guy like Trendon Watford who practiced earlier and then played in tonight’s game. And so, a guy who has dedicated himself — and the entire bench has — to keep themselves ready. Whether that’s extra work on days off, whether that is doing extra conditioning after the game when they haven’t played, the professionalism that we’re trying to create and the standard that we’re trying to create hopefully allows these guys to excel when they get their opportunity.”

Most importantly, the Nets improved from 1-of-10 from deep in the first quarter to 5-of-10 in the second, allowing them to take a brief lead before entering the break down 49-46. Just as the sun rises, Cam Thomas hit a bunch of contested, off-the-bounce pull-ups to finish the half with 14 points, leading the way for Brooklyn.

Yet, Thomas would finish with just those 14 points, through minimal fault of his own. While he did miss the only three shots he took after the break, he certainly would’ve fired up more had he not sprained his ankle early in the third quarter on this play:

Thomas was quickly ruled out with, duh, a sprained left ankle, which would have dampened the mood considerably more had Walker not replaced him and immediately hit three 3-pointers, including this toughie:

Walker would finish with 21 points, leading Brooklyn’s six double-digit scorers.

When asked how he has been consistently been able to produce a spark off the bench, Walker replied, “I really put a lot of time and effort into the game. I sacrifice a lot of time and effort into the game. What you put in is what you’re gonna get out of it, and I think my work ethic is starting to show, just how hard I’ve been working on the court.”

Outside of Thomas’ injury, the scariest sight for Nets fans in the third quarter was the look in Kawhi Leonard’s eye, who jumped from six points to 15 in the period. Yet, the Nets’ defense made him work exceptionally hard for his looks, as they did for all of L.A.’s stars. As a result, the Clippers offense stalled out, turning into the isolation-heavy basketball many pundits feared would overtake this team whence formed.

As L.A.’s four-headed monster took turns trying to take over, Brooklyn got contributions from everywhere. Walker wasn’t the only stud off the bench, as Watford kept stuffing the stat-sheet, finishing with 9/5/2 and three steals. While the reserve forward did turn it over four times, his aggressiveness also resulted in some highlight plays, such as this coast-to-coast take:

Not to mention Dennis Smith Jr. and Day’Ron Sharpe, who each rebounded from difficult first halves to play strong minutes in the second, mostly together. Smith assisted his backup big on multiple plays, including every Nets fan’s favorite play of the night:

Sharpe posted an 11-and-10 double-double, and eloquently captured Brooklyn’s identity postgame: “When they play us, they need to be ready to play some hard-going guys, some dawgs. That’s all I got to say, for real.”

Walker echoed that statement, defining the Nets as not only a team with “a lot of dawgs that are ready to play,” but “with a lot of players that are starving on this team. They wanna play and they wanna prove themselves.”

Brooklyn took an ominous 89-79 lead early in the fourth quarter, which matched the exact score of their largest lead against Milwaukee, one which they squandered. Wednesday, however, was different.

The Clippers’ offensive process improved in the fourth quarter, cutting the Brooklyn lead to four points multiple times, but they just couldn’t cash any of the open 3-point attempts they created; they finished a putrid 8-of-36 from deep on the night. The PG/Kawhi duo (24 and 17 points, respectively) bricked their way to 3-of-16 from three as Brooklyn’s D helped generously to shut off driving lanes.

Harden shot 5-of-9, but turned it over five times in addition to his five assists, finishing with a team-worst -15 on the night. Perhaps ramping it up, playing just his second game of the season, Harden was rarely in attack mode despite handling the rock a whole lot. His backcourt mate, Russell Westbrook, was ineffective in the opposite way, shooting just 6-of-18 and perhaps too gung-ho in attacking the basket, though he did dish out eight assists.

Yet, this game was there for the taking. Neither team shot well enough in the fourth quarter to run away and hide, but in a game that was often sloppy, it was the Nets who forced the issue.

Sure, they gave it away 14 times, but Brooklyn also forced 15 turnovers, a pre-game emphasis for their head coach: “It’s been stressful for me, on my mind, thinking about how we can create [turnovers]. Overall tonight, our guys were just more aggressive, they just reacted. They just did it, didn’t worry about if it was going to be a mistake, and that’s what you get to if you’re going to create turnovers.”

Brooklyn also grabbed four more offensive boards than their opponent, despite the Clippers closing the game with Zubac guarding Dorian Finney-Smith. The key sequence of the night occurred with a 92-88 lead with 2:59 left. Three offensive rebounds and a 45-second possession later, Mikal Bridges flew in from the wing to score a put-back layup:

Vaughn felt the play was indicative of his team’s effort: “I told the guys we kind of imposed our will at the end of that game. It’s two minutes to go in the game, I think a four or six-point game, and we get three offensive rebounds, and then we end with a score. So, the effort and concentration behind playing each play until the end of it, give our guys credit, and we played hard tonight.

Two possessions later, Spencer Dinwiddie, who had just entered the game for his first fourth-quarter action in nearly a week, hit the dagger, step-back three:

Bridges and Dinwiddie combined to shoot just 6-of-19 for 17 points, but given their late-game heroics, each contributed in spades to Brooklyn’s win. Bridges in particular had a strong all-around game, finishing with eight boards, a season-high seven dimes, two steals, and two blocks.

Finney-Smith, playing center once again, blocked three shots and grabbed nine boards while shooting 4-8 from deep to score 12 points. Royce O’Neale provided two of Brooklyn’s season-high ten blocks on back-to-back possessions:

Nine Nets hit the court on Wednesday night; all of them played over 18 minutes, and all had memorable moments while dispatching L.A. Brooklyn’s identity is setting, and it is headlined by depth. By the fourth quarter, Vaughn was missing three of his starters, and had watched his sixth man fall to injury. The mighty Clippers, equipped with their A-Team, were facing off with the Nets’ B-Team (at best) down the stretch of a tight game. Advantage: Brooklyn.

“It is why I like doing this man,” said Jacque Vaughn. “To get a bunch of dudes together to try to have a common goal and be unselfish on a nightly basis and try to get a win together and compete harder than the dude in front of you, that’s the greatest part of team sports right there.”

The Streak Hits 400

The only true contender for the NBA’s fictional Iron Man Throne, Mikal Bridges, appeared in his 400th consecutive game when he stepped onto the court November 8th. Of course, including the 39 straight postseason games Bridges has also played may render the regular-season qualification a bit arbitrary.

However, players miss regular-season games far more frequently, whether due to injury, well-deserved rest, personal reasons, or any other potential calamity. That Bridges has appeared in 400 straight regular-season games, on top of his playoff appearances, after his four-year stint at Villanova playing every game, and it’s clear: Bridges deserves some serious praise for this streak.

Jacque Vaughn obliged, pregame: “That means he plays through pain. Like I said the other day, once the season starts, no dude is 100%. You can forget it...So it speaks volumes to the process that Mikal goes through on a nightly basis. Not like he’s the strongest and thickest dude out there, so he gets hit, he responds, he gets up, and he’s learned how to have a mindset that he’s going to play every single game, and that’s what it starts with.”

Play of the Night

The play of the night wasn’t made by a Net, yet it wasn’t made by a Clipper either. Rather, Ian Eagle added to his legendary career with as impressive of a broadcasting highlight as you can have. Just try to watch this one without smiling:

The vision, the anticipation, the hands, it’s all there. Unfortunately, Brooklyn is out of roster spots for Bird, so it looks like he’ll have to keep watching the games from the announcers’ table.

Milestone Watch

Just to finish up on the consecutive game streak...

  • The next-longest active streak belongs to Kevon Looney - 201 straight. This is the first 400 straight games played streak since Tristan Thompson- 447 straight games from February 10, 2012 to April 4, 2017.
  • The last five players to appear in the first 400+ games to start their NBA careers:

Mikal Bridges (400) - 2018-present

Ray Allen (400) - 1996-2001

Michael Finley (490) - 1995-2001

Cliff Robinson (461) - 1989-95

John Stockton (418) - 1984-89

Beyond the streak, there were a few other stats of note:

  • Brooklyn recorded 20 “stocks” — 10 steals and 10 blocks, season highs all around.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie’s first 3-pointer of the game was the 486th of his Nets career, moving him past Deron Williams (485) into sole possession of sixth place in franchise history.
  • Lonnie Walker has come off the bench in all seven games he’s played, DNP’ing Opening Night, but he’s scored in double-figures in all of them. That represents the second-longest streak in his career
  • Day’Ron Sharpe (11 points, season-high-tying 10 rebounds) has recorded his first double-double of the season, the fifth of his career.

Injury Updates

We’ve got a few to cover, per usual. Vaughn didn’t have much to say about Thomas’ injury, just that the young guard will be receiving an MRI on Thursday morning to determine the severity of his ankle sprain.

Elsewhere, Ben Simmons was a late scratch with left hip soreness, which Vaughn deemed as emanating from this awkward play against the Bucks on Monday:

While it’s too early to forecast Simmons’ status moving forward, according to Vaughn, he did provide a few details about this new injury:

“He came in this morning to do his regular game prep, even though we didn’t have shootaround, and just reported the soreness. And so did some manual therapy to go through his normal routine, and just for us, it’s the best thing for him to be out tonight.

In addition, on Wednesday afternoon, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton, each currently on the shelf with lower-leg injuries, made the trek out to Long Island to go through a full practice with the G-League Nets.

According to Vaughn in pregame, the day went well: “...Cam Johnson and Nic were able to participate, scrimmage. Both got up and down, and no adverse reaction that I’ve received from the performance staff, and we’ll see how they respond tomorrow,” later adding that there is “No timeline. You know, really just expose them to a different atmosphere of playing and scrimmaging. You don’t get that opportunity a bunch throughout the course of the year, and both made it through it.”

While the news that each is playing full-throttle five-on-five is certainly encouraging, Vaughn wasn’t too eager to expound on each of their conditions. While Johnson was tagged as DOUBTFUL prior to Wednesday’s game before being ruled out, Nets fans apparently shouldn’t read too much into that, or compare his status to Claxton’s.

Said Vaughn: “Yeah that’s the old reporter system I guess, the doubtful. He’s in the system as doubtful. Just being honest with you, I don’t want to compare the two; they’re two different injuries and they both have their own pace of getting back.”

Next Up

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Nets are hitting the road, this time to face a familiar opponent in the Boston Celtics. Boston dropped a tough game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, 106-103, so they’ll be ready to go on Friday after dropping two games in a row.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night, and the game will count towards the NBA Cup standings, where the Nets are 1-0, and Boston has yet to play a game.

After that though, eight of the Nets next 10 games will be played at Barclays Center. Indeed with so much of the rough opening stretch of the season over, the Nets have the most home-heavy six weeks in the NBA.